DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions say Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders has died at age 68.
Sanders, who played from 1968 through 1977, died Thursday from cancer. He spent 43 years with the Lions as a player, assistant coach, scout and radio broadcaster.
Lions President Tom Lewand says Sanders was "one of the greatest Detroit Lions of all time." Only late owner William Clay Ford was associated with the team for more years.
Sanders was elected in 2007 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He made 336 catches over his career, a team record that would stand for 20 years until Herman Moore passed him.}
He is considered the "finest Tight End in Detroit Lions history," and he proved to be a "secret weapon" in the passing game during a period where the tight end was primarily a blocker, CBS Detroit reported.
Drafted by the Lions in the third round from the University of Minnesota in 1968, Sanders was the only rookie that season selected to play in the Pro Bowl and he finished second to then-teammate Earl McCullough for NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
In his first season, he hauled in 40 passes for 533 yards and scored one touchdown, and perhaps the single-greatest game of his career occurred in the season finale when he grabbed 10 receptions for 133 yards against Washington.
He was forced to retire due to a knee injury, according to CBS Detroit.
Sanders later served as the Lions' Assistant Director of Pro Personnel and had been affiliated with the Lions in various capacities for 40 years.
Although he grew up in North Carolina, he never left Metro Detroit after his first day as a Lion.
"This is home," he once said. "The city has always been nice. It's been nice to me, nice to my family. I enjoy coming to work.
"I just enjoy the Lions."