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.