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Eugene Thurman Upshaw, Jr. (a.k.a. Uptown Gene) (August 15, 1945 – August 20, 2008) was an American football player for the Oakland Raiders of the American Football League and the NFL, later and executive director of the National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA). In 1987, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Famemarker.

Early life and football career

Upshaw was born in Robstown, Texasmarker, USA. He graduated from Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University-Kingsvillemarker), where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate fraternity established for African Americans.

After playing football in college at a number of offensive line positions, he played guard for the Oakland Raiders in the American Football League and the National Football League for 15 years. During that time, he played in three Super Bowls; in the 1967, 1976, and 1980 seasons. He also played in three AFL Championship Games, seven American Football Conference title games, one AFL All-Star game, and six NFL Pro Bowls. He was selected by The Sporting News' to the 1969 AFL All League team.

Upshaw is the only player in Professional Football history to play in three Super Bowls with the same team in three different decades. In 1999, he was ranked number 62 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.

He was the older brother of Marvin Upshaw, who was a defensive lineman with the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals.

NFLPA career

Upshaw was an active member of the bargaining committee for the National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA) throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. He led the NFLPA in its unsuccessful strike in 1987 and through years of anti-trust litigation against the league, including a brief period in which the NFLPA became a professional association rather than a union, that ended with the union's acceptance of a salary cap in return for free agency and an enhanced share of league revenues for the union's members. Until his death, he was the Executive Director of the Association.

He alienated many retired players after comments he made in response to 325 former AFL and NFL players receiving minimal retirement benefits. When the former players attempted to have the league and the Association consider their plight, Upshaw responded: "The bottom line is I don't work for them. They don't hire me and they can't fire me. They can complain about me all day long. They can have their opinion. But the active players have the vote." Upshaw later said he was misquoted and was speaking solely about fellow Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure, further saying "A guy like DeLamielleure says the things he said about me; you think I'm going to invite him to dinner? No. I'm going to break his damn neck." Prior to his death, a campaign was allegedly being led by Ravens kicker Matt Stover to oust Gene Upshaw as head of the NFLPA; however, all parties have denied such a plan. Stover along with a number of other players claim to have only been seeking a definite succession plan in order to avoid a drawn out and messy transfer of power such as Upshaw's death has seen realised. Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae, president of the NFLPA, had denied reports of mass callings from players for Upshaw to step down.

Hall of Fame and other honors

Upshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Famemarker in 1987, for his achievements as both a player and a union leader.

In 2004, the NCAA Division II sports information directors awarded the first Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year award. It is presented each year during the weekend of the NCAA Division II Football Championship by the Manheim (Pennsylvania) Touchdown Club.

Death

While on vacation in mid-August 2008 at his home in Lake Tahoemarker, Upshaw began to feel ill. His wife Terri noticed that his breathing was labored, so she convinced him to go to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on August 17. On August 20, Upshaw died with Terri and his sons Eugene III, Justin, and Daniel by his side.

After his sudden death, the NFL announced that for the opening weekend of the 2008 season, all 32 teams would wear a patch on the left chest of the jerseys with the initials "GU" and his number 63, his jersey number with the Oakland Raiders; the patch was also painted onto every NFL field for Week 1. Beginning in the second week of the season, all teams wore the patch as a decal on their backs of their helmets instead of a shoulder patch; the Raiders continued to wear the patch on their shoulder throughout the season.

See also



References

  1. Ex-players say NFL neglects retirees: Hall of Famers: League, union leader fall short in providing benefits
  2. Hall of Famer Upshaw loses battle with pancreatic cancer
  3. NFL players to wear uniform patch this season in honor of Upshaw


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