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Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr. dies

The auto industry billionaire and long-time owner of Detroit's most popular pro sports franchise passed away at the age of 88 on Sunday.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions team owner William Clay Ford Sr. has died at the age of 88, the team announced Sunday.

"It is with profound sadness that we mourn the loss of Mr. Ford and extend our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Ford," team president Tom Lewland said in a statement.

Having bought controlling interest in the Lions in 1963 for $4.5 million, Ford was the figurehead for the franchise for over five decades. The only current NFL owner with a longer tenure is Ralph Wilson, who founded the Buffalo Bills in 1959. Ford, who had been the last surviving grandchild of Henry Ford, made his money through the Ford Motor Company, where he served on the board of directors for 57 years.

While Ford was largely regarded as a kind and benevolent man in the Detroit community, he was a source of aggravation among the Lions fan base, who regularly criticized him for his inability to turn their team into a winner. The Lions had only 14 winning seasons and won just a single playoff game during the billionaire's half-century tenure as owner.

The Lions have not announced who will take over the team, though William Clay Ford Jr. could be a candidate. Ford Jr. currently serves as the team's vice chairman as well as the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company.

The Tennessee Titans recently went through a similar situation when long-time owner Bud Adams passed away last October. Adams's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, ended up taking over as team president and CEO.