The “WCF” Initials on the Detroit Lions’ Uniforms Are a Touching Tribute

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Sep. 25 2021, Published 11:37 a.m. ET

When the Detroit Lions face the Baltimore Ravens at the Ford Field in Detroit on Monday, Sept. 26, it’s a safe bet some NFL fans will be distracted by the initials on the players’ sleeves.

So, what does the “WCF” on the Detroit Lions’ uniforms mean anyway?

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Turns out, those initials are a tribute to William Clay Ford Sr., a former owner of the team. After Ford’s death in 2014, the players wore a “WCF” patch on the left breast of their uniforms. In 2016, the patches became a permanent part of the Lions uniforms, and in a uniform redesign the following year, the letters were screen-printed on the left sleeve, as Sports Illustrated reports.

William Clay Ford was a grandson of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford.

William Clay Ford Sr.
Source: Getty Images

William Clay Ford Sr.

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Ford is a big name in Detroit, the Michigan metropolis nicknamed “Motor City,” and sure enough, William Clay Ford was a grandson of Henry Ford, the developer of the assembly line and the founder of the Ford Motor Company.

Plus, William was married to Martha Parke Firestone, granddaughter of Firestone founder Harvey Firestone. William and Martha’s union brought the Fords’ auto company and the Firestones’ tire company together, as The New York Times reported in William’s obituary.

According to the newspaper, it was William’s older brother whom Henry chose as successor. But William eventually became Ford Motor Company’s vice chairman, and he was the one who led the team behind the popular Lincoln Continental Mark II. “He had exquisite taste, and he knew when an idea was right,” colleague John Reinhart told Automobile Quarterly in 1974, per the Times.

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William bought a controlling share of the Lions in 1964 for $6 million, and by 2013, the franchise was worth an estimated $900 million. But the Lions have never made it to the Super Bowl, William was frequently harsh in his assessments of the team, and he stoked controversy by moving the team to a stadium in the Detroit suburbs in 1975. (The Lions moved back downtown when Ford Field opened in 2002.)

The team ownership passed to William’s widow and then to his daughter.

William, Henry’s last surviving grandchild, died of pneumonia in March 2014 at 88 years old. He left behind his wife, Martha; his son, William Clay Ford Jr.; his daughters, Martha Ford Morse, Sheila Ford Hamp, and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis; as well as 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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“I wish people knew the Mr. Ford that I knew,” former Lions general manager Matt Millen told the Associated Press at the time. “He was a very, very fascinating guy who played golf with President Eisenhower, ran with the Rat Pack, talked to President Kennedy on the phone. As a kid who grew up sitting at the foot of a grandpa who invented everything, talking to him was a history lesson and I absolutely loved it every time.”

Martha took ownership of the Lions following William’s death, and last June, Martha passed the team on to daughter Sheila.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to create a winning organization, especially on the field,” Sheila said at the time, per ESPN. “I grew up playing competitive tennis, it’s an individual sport and me out there by myself and I hated to lose. I still hate to lose. That’s my message to fans. I’ll hate to lose as much as they do. And I’ll try not to.”

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