Former Gopher to be honored

The tight end will be the sixth Gopher enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Tiff Clements

In 1964, Charlie Sanders left his home in the racially charged South and headed north to play football as a Golden Gopher.

Sanders felt the social-climate change between North Carolina and Minnesota when he walked into Bridgeman’s Ice Cream Shop, then on the corner of Fourth Street and 14th Avenue.

“I remember walking in the front door, and I remember that I couldn’t feel the tension,” he said. “That was the greatest experience I had and I knew I was at the right place.'”

NFL officials announced Sunday that Sanders will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August in Canton, Ohio.

Sanders played on both the offensive and defensive lines throughout his career with the Gophers from 1964 to 1967. He settled on the tight end position his senior year.

Sanders is the sixth University alumnus and the seventh tight end in NFL history to receive the honor.

The Detroit Lions drafted Sanders in the third round of the 1968 NFL draft, 74th overall pick.

He spent the entirety of his 10-season pro-football career as a Lion and still works in the organization’s front office.

He said his time at the University had a tremendous impact on him.

“I always say to people that the University of Minnesota was probably the difference-maker in terms of who I am and how I interact with people,” Sanders said. “Because it basically opened my eyes and educated me in a sense that there was another world out there in terms of racial differences.”

Sanders said a shared background and strong friendships helped bring the Gophers a share of the 1967 Big Ten title (Indiana and Purdue were co-conference champions).

“All we had was each other,” he said. “The majority of us had come from either racial tension or a bad background, so we bonded.”

McKinley Boston played with Sanders at the University from 1964 to 1967. The two came from North Carolina together and were roommates during their time at the University.

Boston said he remembers Sander’s quest to bulk up over the summer of 1967 to play tight end.

“The thing that I remember most is living over in Dinkytown and every day he would drink these protein milkshakes and lift weights,” he said. “And he gained roughly 30 pounds that summer and from there he became a first-team all-Big Ten tight end.”

John M. Williams shared the field with Sanders as an offensive tackle before being drafted by the Baltimore Colts as the first-round NFL draft pick in 1968.

Sanders had an upbeat attitude, Williams said.

“Charlie was the type of guy that always had a smile on his face. He was always a happy-go-lucky guy and a hard worker,” he said.

The 1967 Big Ten championship team will hold its 40-year reunion in August. Williams said he’d like to do it in Canton, Ohio, to coincide with Sanders’ induction ceremony.

“We’ll get the guys together, go out there in support of Charles and hopefully have our reunion,” he said.