Gene Upshaw, Hall of Fame offensive lineman and executive director of the NFLPA, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 63.
Upshaw played for the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders from 1967 through 1981. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and an 11-time All-Pro, playing on two Super Bowl-winning teams with the Raiders. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, but has been better known for the past 25 years as the executive director of the NFL Players Association.
From his involvement with the NFLPA as a player through his tenure as executive director, Upshaw took part in negotiations of the 1977, 1982 and 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreements between the NFL and NFLPA, and extensions of the CBA in 1998, 2002 and 2006.
Upshaw was born on Aug. 15, 1945, in Robstown, Texas, and played collegiately at Texas A&M. He was a first-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 1967 and became the starting left guard as a rookie. He quickly became part of one of the NFL’s most dominant offensive lines, lining up between fellow Hall of Famers Art Shell at tackle and Jim Otto at center. Upshaw became the first player who was exclusively a guard to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
It is no exaggeration to say that Upshaw had as much of an impact on the shape and success of the modern NFL as any owner or group of owners. His influence on the game and his advocacy for and on behalf of players (past and present) was a major factor in making football such a popular sport. R.I.P.
UPDATE (James Joyner): Truly a sad and unexpected loss. Driving in this morning, I heard the news on Sirius NFL Radio. They were stunned that Upshaw hadn’t told anyone but, as it turns out, he only learned of his illness this past weekend.
I started watching the NFL on a serious basis with the 1979 season, during which I also collected the Topps player cards. Here’s the front and back of Upshaw’s card from that year (via Milo’s Cards):
I should note, too, that when I tuned into the middle of the Sirius discussion about how the upcoming labor talks would go without Upshaw, I presumed he had been fired. In recent months, there was a movement within the union seeking to replace Upshaw because he was perceived as too cozy with ownership. They’ll soon find out, to their chagrin, how good they had it.