Sunday, July 05, 2015

Charlie Sanders

Charlie Sanders, a tight end for the Detroit Lions from 1968 to 1977 whose sticky fingers, fleet feet and shifty elusiveness helped redefine a position that had traditionally been reserved for stolid blockers, died on Thursday in Royal Oak, Mich., near Detroit. He was 68.

The cause was cancer, the Lions said on their website.

Big — he was 6 feet 4 inches and played at 225 pounds and above — fast, strong and sure-handed, he was a potent force in the conventional role of run blocker, but he was as much or more of a pass-catching threat, an unusual enough set of skills at the time that he was sometimes referred to as the Lions’ secret weapon.

A prototype of the 21st-century tight end, a progenitor of the likes of Kellen Winslow and Tony Gonzalez, he led the Lions (or tied for the team lead) in receptions six times, and caught more passes, 336, than any other Lion in history until the record was surpassed in 1996 by Herman Moore, a player Sanders coached.

He scored 31 touchdowns, and for his career, he averaged 14.3 yards per catch, a figure more typical of wide receivers than tight ends. He was selected for the Pro Bowl seven times, and for three consecutive seasons, 1969 through 1971, he was named a first-team All-Pro by The Associated Press.

Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, he was also one of two tight ends (Dave Casper of the Oakland Raiders was the other) to be named by the Hall of Fame selection committee to the National Football League’s all-decade team for the 1970s.

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