This is a tremendous shock to the NFL community. Gene Upshaw, former player for the Oakland Raiders and director of the NFL Players Association, has passed. According to multiple sources, Upshaw had long suffered from pancreatic cancer. He did not disclose his illness to the media.
Upshaw presided over the NFL Players Association as director, and helped players gain significant increases in salary and guaranteed money during his tenure. Many have said his relationship with former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue helped to mold the successful business that is the modern NFL. It was Upshaw that worked to have the union accept the modern NFL salary cap, the clause which many attribute to the NFL's sense of parity between its teams. Upshaw also led the unsuccessful players strike in 1987. Others said Upshaw's relationship with Tagliabue was anything but respectful. HBO Sports' Bryant Gumbel famously stated that Upshaw was Tagliabue's "personal pet" with a "leash."
Upshaw had rough dealings with the NFL retired players, who claimed the NFL and the Players Association did not care about them after football. Upshaw stated "I don't work for them. They are not union members and they have no vote."
Upshaw's playing career was with the Oakland Raiders as an offensive guard. Upshaw was drafted in both the AFL and NFL drafts, back when the two leagues were separate. He played from 1967-1981, and is considered a Raider legend., and a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Upshaw was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, according to Wikipedia, "Upshaw was currently the only player in Pro Football history to play in three Super Bowls with the same team in three different decades."
A lightning rod for players, owners, and fans alike, there is no denying that Upshaw had a profound and lasting impact on the game and business of football. He was 63 at the time of his passing.