Gene Upshaw the Ambassador of the Game

Like many, I awoke this morning to hear the sad news that Gene Upshaw had passed away. I did not know Upshaw personally or anything, but I watched him so much as a Raider, I feel like I lost a friend.  He was a legendary Raider that prevented would be tacklers from getting to the quarterback and consistently, with Art Shell, opened gaping holes for a running game that was nearly unstoppable.

Seven Pro Bowls, eleven all league or all conference selections, he was a pivotal cog on an offensive line that made it to the Super Bowl three times and won two while he held down the fort left of center.  It nearly seems appropriate that the Raiders’ and possibly the NFL’s greatest player to ever wear the number 63 also passed away at the age of 63.

Upshaw is part of the NFL’s 75 Year Anniversary All Time team, was the captain of the Raiders offensive unit for eight years.  During the fifteen years he spent as a Raider, the team went to the playoffs 11 times, won 8 divisional titles, one AFL Championship, two AFC titles, and two world championships.  He’s the only player in NFL history to participate in three different Super Bowls in three different decades.

This writer spent many Sundays watching Upshaw and the great Art Shell sweep right or sweep left and throwing lead blocks for Raider runners. It was sight for the football fan’s eyes.

Later after his playing days were over Upshaw was pivotal in getting many things done for the players in NFL as head of the (NFLPA) National Football League Players Association.

Player’s salaries have risen to unbelievable amounts while protected with pensions after three years of service. A rookie can now make a league minimum of $200,000.00 which was never the case when Upshaw came into the league. Over the years Upshaw worked behind the scenes and helped make the NFL one of the best systems in all of professional sports.

I think one of the greatest accomplishments Upshaw achieved as chief of the NFLPA is that the NFL marketing arm is both the owners and players walking hand in hand.

Gene Upshaw promoted all this unity between the players and the owners. He always worked on the belief that what was good for the players was good for the league and what was good for the league was good for the players. This was a tough act to balance, but if you grew up watching Gene Upshaw you knew he was a tough guy and could carry the load.

So tonight when we watch our heroes’ on the gridiron, take a moment to remember Gene Upshaw. The player, the pro-bowler, the NFL player executive and the man.


I am currently commuting back and forth between Abilene and Dallas. Typically I’m only in Dallas on the weekends to spend time with my son. He’s 15 and a real rock star on his baseball team. Yet he’s more of a football fan. I really enjoy watching football with him. He’s of course a Cowboys fan. He’s also a really hard core Longhorns fan. He is so emotional about his teams that sometimes it’s frustrating for me. It’s really interesting to watch the transitions a teenager goes through. Just when you think you have them figured out, they change on you.

Last season, near the end, when The Cowboys had a big loss, he took down his Cowboys myspace layout and put up an LT layout. Kelly will remember this. I was pissed! I told him that he’s being fairweathered. We had a very heated discussion about this. I really didn’t think I got through to him. Then the draft came and he had a nervous breakdown over Brady Quinn being passed over by The Cowboys. I explained that it was the right thing to do in backing up Romo, on Jerry and Stephen Jones’ part. Again, I just got that look that teenagers give and figured I had gotten nowhere.

This season, I saw that I had possibly gotten through but maybe a little too much. One good thing is that LT is still on his myspace but he’s just a hero. JD makes it clear he’s a Cowboys fan. Here are some things that he is now getting angry with me about and questioning my loyalty!

I pointed out to him the difference between Marion Barber and Julius Jones and called Julius "glass legs". To him this means I hate Julius.

The Texas OU game was coming up and I told him to prepare himself for our guys to get stomped. He was livid with me because I was not being a true fan in his opinion.

I was such a nervous wreck before the Cowboys and Patriots game, saying we’re not ready. We can’t beat them yet, but still hoping for a miracle. Well that pissed him off too.

I’m calling this a 190 degree turn. We went a little too far! But I think he’s headed in the right direction. I don’t hate Julius Jones. I don’t even want him fired or traded. I’m greedy and want to keep JJ and MB. I want The Longhorns to beat the Sooners every year in the Red River Shoot Out. I wanted The Cowboys to beat The Patriots more than I have wanted anything in a long time. I am not ever what I consider to be critical. I just see the difference between a good player and a great player. I see the difference between a really good football team and a near perfect football team. Still I am so glad I am not hearing my child say "we suck" or having knee jerk reactions like changing his flag or his colors just because of one or two bad games.

Now back to Abilene. If you know me, you know I am Dallas city urban girl. Born and raised in the heart of Big D. I love my home and I don’t love small towns, suburbia, remote places of any kind. They’re great for a weekend, but that is it for me. I hate being in Abilene but I love the time I am spending with my father here. I don’t go out much without my Dad in Abilene because I stick out like a sore thumb in this God forsaken place, wherever I go. Well, I made an exception and it was a mistake. Monday night, I had watched all my primetime shows and my Dad was away in South Texas. I was at a fairly decent drive up motel here in Abilene and my much younger brother had mentioned that the bar there was ok. I was in the mood for an Amaretto or two and I figured Monday Night football was on at the bar so I thought "what the heck". I walked in and noticed every head turn to see who was coming in the door. I went on to the bar and sat down facing the big screen with the game on. I asked the bartendress for an Amaretto and then it began. She asks me "You want the real kind? Cuz we ain’t got that here." Then she walks over and grabs the "fake kind" and shows it to me. I told her that would be fine. Then she proceeds to pour it over ice and I stopped her. I asked her to please give it to me straight up. She slaps a shot glass down in front of me and fills it up. I grinned and decided it was no big deal; especially after she said "that’s a buck-fifty". So I drank Amaretto out of a shot glass for the first time ever. 

I just kept staring at the big screen and trying to ignore the stares coming at me "the blonde stranger" in the half redneck/half college student flooded motel bar on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd in Abilene, TX (if you don’t get the humor in that then you haven’t been to Abilene). I engaged in lite football conversation with some traveling married guy looking to cheat on his wife. It was of course a conversation about football. Once I responded that I was a die-hard Cowboy fan, I blew my chances of having any fun in this bar. ‘Married guy’ had just bought me another shot of Amaretto and the bar maid says "T.O. sucks, I hate that ‘n’-word". Then some dude who appeared to come out of the wall, says "What the ‘F’ happened to The Cowboys Sunday, they need to go back to training camp". And the idiot fest was on. I heard more crap in 2 minutes from more drunk idiots calling themselves Cowboys fans in a bar adorned with Cowboys posters and neons, then you can imagine. I chugged my Amaretto, which is really gross, you don’t do that with Amaretto! And I said outloud "Well that’s my cue, if I stay one more minute, I will have to give lessons on being a REAL COWBOYS FAN and I am not interested in spending the night in jail". I had really good timing too because as the door closed behind me I heard the words "Romo" and "Homo" and I knew I would have been in trouble had I not left just when I did.

This kind of fanship is infuriating to me. One loss against the greatest team in the league and that kind of talk? PUHLEEZ! Well at least I got my kid straightened out, although he’ll never give me credit for it. Then again, he’s really smart. I didn’t meet any smart people in that bar.

GO COWBOYS!!!!!!!!!