After going through numerous personnel changes this offseason, the Detroit Lions will also have to deal with tragedy. Owner William Clay Ford, who purchased the team in 1963, died this morning at the age of 88. Ford succumbed to pneumonia, according to a press release from the Ford Motor Company. The former owner would’ve turned 89 later this week and was the last surviving grandchild of Henry Ford.
Often maligned for not being able to bring a Super Bowl to Detroit, Ford was the owner of the Lions for over 50 years and in today’s day and age of instability and quick turnover, Ford was loyal to everyone in his organization, unfortunately to a fault. From the hiring of Matt Millen as GM in 2001 to the only 0-16 season in NFL history in 2008, Ford’s tenure in Detroit will be ranked among the worst of any owner in professional sports at anytime, but there were some good moments that seem to be pushed aside.
Under Ford, the Lions produced seven Hall of Fame players, including one of the greatest running backs ever in Barry Sanders and two of the best players of all-time in Joe Schmidt and Charlie Sanders, whom Ford presented for induction into the Hall of Fame. Under Ford, the Lions reached the postseason 10 times, although they would only earn one victory during these appearances. In 1991, the Lions reached the NFC Championship game after defeating a Dallas Cowboys‘ team that would go on to become one of the best dynasties in NFL history.
The ownership mantle will most likely get passed down to Ford’s son, William Clay Ford Jr. While most of us will remember Ford Sr. for his repeated failures in Detroit, he did help maintain one of the NFL’s oldest franchises for half a century, something few have done.