Most of us knew William Clay Ford Sr. only as the man who owned the Detroit Lions.
We didn’t know him as businessman, a family man, a community-minded man or a man with a social conscience.
In reality, we didn’t know Mr. Ford at all.
With his passing over the weekend, a picture of what kind of man Mr. Ford was has begun to emerge.
By most accounts, he was kind, generous and loyal to his family, friends, the city of Detroit and to those who worked for him — especially the men he chose to run his football team.
Even if you feel some kind of "fan’s ownership" of the hometown NFL team, these were really Mr. Ford’s Lions since 1964. And I do believe he had a burning desire to see them at the top of the NFL food chain.
But despite all his efforts, he never got them there — not even close. Ford’s Lions had just one playoff victory, which happened more than two decades ago.
When news of Mr. Ford’s passing broke on Sunday morning, many people thought I would breathe a sigh of relief, that I honestly believed his death would suddenly revive the Lions from the league’s scrapheap.
I hate to disappoint, but I just don’t feel that way.
Yes, throughout my career as a sports radio host, I have bashed the Lions and Mr. Ford’s record as their owner. He had some very good teams, a few legendary players, but a lot more losing than winning.
When it comes to describing Mr. Ford as a man, however, the one word we’ve heard more than any other is "loyalty."
In some instances, Mr. Ford was loyal to a fault. He rarely got the type of payback he sought from the men he handpicked to run his team.
There’s little doubt Mr. Ford was a man easily swayed when it came to his Lions. Maybe he wanted them to be successful so much that his vision clouded when it came to the how-to part.
Why the Lions are classic underachievers was probably just as mystifying to Mr. Ford as it is to each of us.
He put people in charge he believed would deliver and then stuck with them. Later rather than sooner, he would reluctantly make a change that put his team back to square one — never fully understanding why it wasn’t working.
It’s said that loyalty is a two-way street, though. Unfortunately for Mr. Ford — a fine man with good intentions — when it came to the Lions, it was too often a one-way street.