Former Oakland Raiders guard and executive director of the NFLPA Gene Upshaw has passed away at the age of 63. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only last Sunday, he died with his wife, Terri, and sons, Eugene Jr., Justin and Daniel, by his side.
His career as a player spanned 15 seasons and included 2 Super Bowls and 7 Pro Bowls. As the head of the players union, he was the driving force that helped to bring free agency to the sport, for better or worse. But it was Upshaw who paved the way for more career freedom and a better place in the game for the players.
At times, he was chided for being too soft in negotiations with Paul Tagliabue, the former NFL commissioner and also caught heat for not dealing sufficiently with the health problems suffered by former players.
Still, his place among the great players is cemented with his 1987 Hall of Fame induction. Further, the union finds itself in a much improved position thanks, in large part, to Upshaw.
He will be missed.
He was remembered Thursday by his peers.
“Few people in the history of the National Football League have played the game as well as Gene and then had another career in football with so much positive impact on the structure and competitiveness of the entire league as Gene,” former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.
“In both careers, if you hit him in the head, he could hit you back twice as hard, but he didn’t always do so,” Tagliabue said. “He was very tough but also a good listener. He never lost sight of the interests of the game and the big picture.” (Yahoo Sports)
“Gene Upshaw did everything with great dignity, pride, and conviction,” Goodell said. “He was the rare individual who earned his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame both for his accomplishments on the field and for his leadership of the players off the field. He fought hard for the players and always kept his focus on what was best for the game. His leadership played a crucial role in taking the NFL and its players to new heights.”
“The reality of life for all the guys who played in the NFL, including Gene, is that we have a short life span. It’s just the way it is,” Joe DeLamielleure said. “I have sympathy for his family. I have sympathy for his wife and children. I didn’t know Gene personally. I just knew him professionally.”
His playing career was summed up Thursday by his close friend Art Shell, who played next to him on Oakland’s offensive line; is also a Hall of Famer and who, in 1989 became the first black coach of the modern era when he took over the Raiders.
“Gene was a true pioneer as one of the few African American leaders of a major union,” Shell said. “He was the equal of owners in negotiations and made the league a better place for all players. Playing alongside of Gene was an honor and a privilege. He was a pillar of strength and leadership for our great Raider teams.”