Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford, Sr. was controversial only in the sense that his franchise rarely won. Those who played and worked for him adored him.
He was loyal to a fault, which in most businesses has redeeming value, but in sports it's widely viewed as a negative. Unless you're winning of course.
How is Al Davis perceived? He moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles, and back to Oakland, but his teams won three Super Bowls. Art Modell moved the beloved Browns to Baltimore a year after they reached the second round of the playoffs in 1994, even though the city approved $175 million worth of stadium renovations. The Ravens later won a world championship, and even though Cleveland has a new team (1999), it's never really been the same.
Baltimore had previously housed the Colts, but Bob Irsay moved them to Indianapolis in the middle of the night in March of 1984. Bud Adams moved the Oilers to Nashville after the city of Houston paid for renovations to the Astrodome. George Shinn, under sexual assault allegations, moved his Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans, even though there was a rabid fan base supporting the team in Charlotte.
Two years after reaching the Finals, Norman Green moved the North Stars from perhaps the best hockey state in the nation (Minnesota) to Dallas, and then won the Cup in 1999. Georgia Frontiere took the Rams from L.A. to St. Louis (after a failed attempt to relocate in Baltimore) and won a Super Bowl.
Do those wins and playoff appearances by those teams mean those owners are better than Ford? Shouldn't we take into account that only 10 NFL franchises since 1964 have stayed in the cities they originated? Should we consider that Mr. Ford said NO to seat licensing at Ford Field, or that he paid 49% of the cost for the stadium and then helped solicit 75% of private investment to build that state-of-the-art facility?
As much as I respect Mike Ilitch, he's asking for 58% of public funding for the new Detroit Red Wings stadium. He received 38% of the cost for Comerica Park, which isn't a lot. Unless you compare that to Bill Davidson, who paid for the Palace with his own funds.
It's glossed over because Ilitch's teams win. Look past that, Ilitch has greatly helped the city of Detroit with his teams and other ventures both financially and spiritually.
Ford has stood for Detroit when others ran from it. He protected the Thanksgiving Day game and contributed millions to organizations in need. His team may have never won, but William Clay Ford was a winner in life and I hope that counts for something.
[PODCAST] Charlie Sanders
Shep talks to Charlie Sanders, former Detroit Lions TE and NFL Hall of Fame member, about the passing of William Clay Ford Sr, his loyalty as an owner and how the ownership of the team might change in the future.
[PODCAST] Curt Sylvester
Shep talks to Curt Sylvester, longtime beat writer for the Detroit Free Press, about the death of William Clay Ford Sr, his legacy as the owner of the Detroit Lions and some key decisions that shaped the franchise.
Matt Shepard is the play-by-play voice of University of Michigan basketball, Eastern Michigan University football and the Detroit Lions television network. He can also be found on TV locally on Fox Sports Detroit and nationally on the Big Ten Network for college hockey and baseball.Learn more.