One of the few players in NFL history to leave an impact on the field as well as watching over it, Gene Upshaw’s legacy was left not only a Hall of Fame player, but also was the head of the NFL Player Association.
Upshaw was the Oakland Raiders' first-round choice in the first combined AFL-NFL draft in 1967. The 6-5, 255-pound lineman had played various offensive positions in college, but the Raiders made a decision to move him to guard, and the gamble paid off as the rookie flourished, and would for the next 15 seasons.
The post-season was another stage Upshaw flourished in. He played in three Super Bowls with the Raiders, in three different decades, which was the only time a player has ever accomplished that feat. He would play in three AFL Championship games, seven AFC Championship games and would play in a remarkable 24 post-season games. He is the only player to ever start for an AFL and NFL championship team. Altogether, Upshaw played in an incredible 307 preseason, regular season, and post-season contests.
In addition to his contributions to the Raiders, he was also honored for his individual brilliance. He was named first or second-team All-League or All-Conference 11 consecutive years, and he was named to play in seven Pro Bowls. His greatest honor was being named to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1987.
After his playing career ended, Upshaw became an active member of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), and became the Executive Director of the Association in 1983.
NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw addresses the media at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
His tenure was met with both praise, but also scorn from the players. His position on retirement benefits and help for disabled players met with criticism from both active and retire players. The controversy got so bad that there was a rumor that the NFLPA was going to ask him to step down. The players also felt he was too close to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Upshaw was stricken with pancreatic cancer in August of 2008 while on vacation. When the disease was finally diagnosed, it was in its final stages, and he died three days later.
To honor their fallen leader, the opening weekend of the season would find the players wearing a patch on the left chest of the jerseys with the initials "GU" and his number 63. The patch was also painted onto every NFL field.
Gene Upshaw is on our NFL All-Time Team. Check out the article to read who else made it.
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