Charlie Sanders was a collegiate star in both football and basketball at the University of Minnesota. His athletic prowess drew the attention of the Detroit Lions who selected him in the third round of the 1968 draft.
Not surprisingly, Sanders enjoyed instant success in the National Football League. In an era where the tight end served more as a blocker than as a pass catcher, it did not take long before he became the Lions' secret weapon.
Opposing defenses were caught off guard as Detroit quarterbacks Greg Landry and Bill Munson made Sanders one of their favorite targets. Sanders combined his great leaping ability, big hands, and strength with unusual speed and elusiveness to help fuel the Lions offense in the late 1960s and the 1970s.
As a rookie in 1968, the 6'4", 230-pound tight end hauled in 40 passes for 533 yards and scored one TD. His single greatest game of his career came in that season's finale when he had 10 receptions for 133 yards against the Washington Redskins. Sanders was the lone rookie to earn a Pro Bowl selection that season. More prolific play continued the following year as Sanders recorded the finest season of his career. He caught 42 passes for 656 yards and 3 TDs. For his efforts, he was named first-team All-NFL, the first of three straight all-league selections for Sanders. Following his run of all-pro years, Sanders suffered a broken shoulder during a 1972 preseason game that forced him to miss action during the regular season. However, he quickly rebounded and returned to his all-star form.
Sanders recorded 30 or more catches in a season seven times and amassed more than 500 receiving yards in six seasons. By the time he retired following the 1977 season, Sanders ranked as the Lions' all-time leading receptions leader with 336 career grabs. His 4,817 receiving yards was second in the team's record book. He also scored 31 touchdowns during his 128-game career.
Sanders, who was the Lions' leader or co-leader in receiving six times during his 10 seasons in Detroit, was voted to seven Pro Bowls. He earned first- or second team all-conference selections in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975, and 1976. Regarded as one of the best tight ends of his era, he was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1970s.