William Clay Ford Sr. bought the Detroit Lions in more than 50 years ago. During that time, his team never won an NFL championship.
The last surviving son of auto magnate Henry Ford will be remembered for a long, difficult stewardship of the team. Reports from Detroit, including via Twitter from TV station WDIV, indicated Ford died in his sleep Saturday night. He was 88.
Team president Tim Lewand confirmed Ford’s death to NFL.com’s Albert Breer.
“No owner loved his team more than Mr. Ford loved the Lions,” Lewand said in a statement on the team website.
“Those of us who had the opportunity to work for Mr. Ford knew of his unyielding passion for his family, the Lions and the city of Detroit.
“His leadership, integrity, kindness, humility and good humor were matched only by his desire to bring a Super Bowl championship to the Lions and to our community. Each of us in the organization will continue to relentlessly pursue that goal in his honor.”
Management of the team had passed to his son, Bill Ford Jr., in recent years.
Born in Kansas City, Mo., and the son of Edsel Ford, he was a Navy veteran of World War II.
Ford bought the Lions for $4.5 million in 1963. While the team’s value skyrocketed, it couldn’t recapture its prominent place achieved with NFL titles in the 1950s.
The nadir came under the failed management of Matt Millen.
As team owner and chairman and executive of the Ford Motor Co., Ford was worth an estimated $1.4 billion. His wife, Martha, was the granddaughter of Harvey Firestone. They had four children. Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone were giants in the American automobile industry and close friends.
Detroit radio station WWJ offered the following information about Ford.Ford was born on March 14, 1925, He attended Yale University and was elected to Ford Motor Co.’s board of directors in 1948, a year before he graduated.
Among his achievements at Ford, he updated the Continental brand that his father had created, introducing the Continental Mark II in 1955. It is said there were only two pictures on his office wall … his father’s Continental, and his updated Mark II.
During the company’s 2003 centennial celebrations, Ford spoke of learning to drive in a Model A with his grandfather and taking his first airplane ride with Charles Lindbergh.
He bought controlling interest in the Lions on Nov. 22, 1963, an event overshadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.
The Lions played in the shadow of three nearby rivals, the Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears. The franchise won three NFL titles, the first in 1932. They were among league powers with championships in 1952, 1953 and 1957.
But after their fourth title, they didn’t make another playoff appearance until 1970. They were in the playoffs twice in the 1980s and six times in the ’90s.
But in the 2000s they were among pro football’s biggest losers.