T.J. Hockenson knows what it means to sport the No. 88 as a Detroit Lion. The legacy that comes with that jersey number is defined by former Lions Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders, who wore the 88 jersey from 1968 to 1977 in Detroit.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Hockenson said on Tuesday. “Charlie Sanders was a great player here. Just looking back, him being a Hall of Famer and doing a lot for this community, a lot for this team, for this organization. It’s a special number, and it’s a big honor for me to be able to wear that number. And just to be able to carry on his legacy, it really means a ton.”
Sanders passed away in 2015, so there was no ceremonial passing of the torch. However, the Detroit Lions did reach out to the Sanders family before allowing Hockenson to select the number. Sanders’ daughter, Charese Sanders-Sailor, offered this official statement (via the Detroit Free Press):
“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. 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.’”
It is a bit interesting that the Lions haven’t retired Sanders’ number yet. He is one of just five Lions players to make the Hall of Fame during the Super Bowl era. However, Hockenson won’t be the only Lions player to have worn the number 88 since Sanders’ retirement. Former Lions Scotty Anderson, Reggie Swinton, and Mike Williams have all sported the 88 in the past 20 years alone.
Regardless, it seems like all sides handled this well enough. Hockenson clearly understands the weight of that number. The Lions were smart to reach out to the Sanders family before announcing the news. And Charese Sanders-Sailor’s statement was a perfect mixture of slight disappointment, yet support, for Hockenson and the organization. No drama here.