The expectations on Lions rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson were going to be high anyway, when they used a top-10 pick on him.
But after he asked to wear the number 88 jersey, they got even higher.
He’s the first player to wear that number since the late Lions Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders was enshrined in Canton. Sanders continued to work for the team after his retirement in a variety of roles. Because of that link, they didn’t hand the jersey out lightly, and his family said they appreciated the courtesy of letting them know in advance.
“The Sanders family appreciates the organization communicating with us prior to their announcement that T.J. would suit up in Dad’s legendary jersey this fall,” said Sanders’ daughter Charese Sanders-Sailor in a statement released on behalf of the family, via the Detroit Free Press. “We want the community to remember that our father honored the Fords and the Detroit Lions organization with great character and humility for nearly 50 years, while they too honored him. Amongst all of his accolades and positions, he enjoyed representing the Fords and Lions culture as their ambassador while yet on staff in the scouting department until his passing.
“Although we would have loved for our father’s number to be officially retired, we understand T.J. Hockenson’s work ethic, background, and love for family are characteristics in alignment with the Great 88’s legacy and the Lions’ decision. We look forward to meeting him at training camp! If Dad were here, he would probably tell T.J. with a firm shoulder pat, squeeze, and look straight in the eye. . . . ‘Make me proud son.'”
Hockenson has a long way to go to approach the kind of impact Sanders made on the organization, and having the blessing of the family is a good way to start an anticipated rookie season.