Gene Upshaw Remembered

The death of Gene Upshaw, president of the National Football League Players Association, sent shockwaves through the sports world yesterday.  Not only was Upshaw a hugely influential person in the present-day NFL, but he had been for 25 years.  Upshaw led the NFL players to the riches of unrestricted free agency and the current collective bargaining agreement that provides NFL players with a greater percentage of team revenue than ever before.

Upshaw was also controversial.  His close relationship with former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was scrutinized, as was the NFL’s lack of guaranteed contracts.  Most recently, Upshaw tangled with a group of former NFL players, led by Mike Ditka, that sought improved benefits for retired players. 

It has been said that Upshaw never lost the persona he created as a Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders.  Tenacious, stubborn and unyielding, he often appeared to treat his role at NFLPA president with the same vigor as a guard seeking a linebacker to hit.   It worked for the Raiders and in large part, worked for the NFL players.
A few years back, at a Walter Camp Football Foundation event in New Haven, I had the opportunity to meet Gene Upshaw.  In person, Upshaw still looked as if he could perform his trademark tape-job on his forearms and play in the NFL.  But he was a true gentleman.  He seemed to make time for everyone in the room, many of whom just wanted to meet a Hall of Famer.  Later, while I was supposed to be guiding some of the VIPs to their limousines to go from Yale back to the hotel, I ran into Upshaw again.  I showed him to his limo and looked at me and said “are you coming?”  I quickly abandoned my post to ride with Upshaw and Cornelius Bennett.  During the short ride to the hotel, Upshaw went out of his way to include me in the conversation.
Gene Upshaw, in many ways, was that Oakland Raiders guard throughout his post-NFL life.  But in my experience, he was also a gentleman.

Comments

  1. Flutie Magic says:

    Telll all the retired, disabled, NFL players that he abandoned, how he is a gentleman. I bet they don’t share the same opinion of him!!!

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