William Clay Ford, the last surviving grandchild of automotive pioneer Henry Ford and owner of the Detroit Lions, has died. He was 88.
Ford Motor Co. said in a statement Sunday that Ford died of pneumonia at his home in Grosse Pointe, Mich. Ford helped steer the family business for more than five decades. He bought one of his own, the NFL franchise in the Motor City, a half-century ago.
He served as an employee and board member of the automaker for more than half of its 100-year history.
To the masses in Detroit, Ford was simply the owner of the Lions who struggled to achieve success on the field despite showing his passion for winning by spending money on free agents, coaches, executives and facilities.
"In so many NFL locker rooms, if the owner is around, players put their heads down and hope not to get noticed," former Lions, Kansas City Chiefs and 49ers receiver Johnnie Morton said. "In Detroit, I noticed right away that players would go up to him to say hello. One time, I hollered, 'Big Willie is in the house,' when he walked in the locker room. Some guys were looking at me like I was about to get cut, but then Mr. Ford later came over and cracked up about it.
"He was just a genuine, down-to-earth, cool dude -- the epitome of people from Michigan -- that just happened to own a car company and the Lions."
Ford's first full season leading the Lions was in 1964, seven years after the franchise won the NFL title. The lone playoff victory he enjoyed was in 1992. The Lions are the only team to go 0-16 in a season, hitting rock bottom in 2008 after he finally fired general manager Matt Millen.
The Lions made the playoffs in 2011 but lost a combined 21 games over the next two seasons.
"Detroit is a football town with fans who want to win -- bad -- but what they miss is Mr. Ford wanted to win more than any of the fans did," Millen said. "For a variety of reasons, it didn't work out. It wasn't because he didn't want to. He was willing to try anything and he did."
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Cardinals: Running back Rashard Mendenhall is retiring from the NFL at the age of 26. Agent Mike McCartney confirmed via Twitter that Mendenhall will end his playing career after six NFL seasons, all but one of them with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After signing a free-agent contract with Arizona, he was hampered by a toe injury much of last season.
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