Wow. I had heard rumors that Gene Upshaw was sick this summer. When I saw him in Canton the first weekend of the month, Gene looked gaunt, like someone who had lost too much weight. When I told him he was looking really thin and asked if he was dieting, as some high-ranking NFL officials had told me, he kind of evaded the comment. Obviously, the rumors were correct since there are reports that Upshaw, the union’s leader for more than two decades, has died at 63 of pancretaic cancer.
Upshaw, a Hall of Fame guard for the Oakland Raiders, was just as tough and fearless in his post-playing career. He held the NFLPA together through de-certification and the 1987 strike and wound up negotiating a collective bargaining agreement which produced unrestricted free agency after four seasons and an average salary in excess of $1 million.
The recent movement by a majority of the NFLPA Executive Board to find Upshaw’s successor now takes on major urgency what with the NFL having opted out of the CBA and an uncapped year looming not too far down the road.
Despite that tumult and the benefits battle with the retired players, Upshaw’s lgeacy is one of success.
— David Elfin