August 15, 1945|
|Died:||August 20, 2008
Lake Tahoe, California
|Height:||6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)|
|Weight:||255 lb (116 kg)|
|High school:||Robstown (TX)|
|AFL draft:||1967 / Round: 1 / Pick: 17|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
Eugene Thurman Upshaw Jr. (August 15, 1945 – August 20, 2008), also known as "Uptown Gene", was an American football player for the Oakland Raiders of the American Football League (AFL) and later the National Football League (NFL). He later served as the executive director of the National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA). In 1987, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is also the only player in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl in three different decades with the same team.
Upshaw was born in Robstown, Texas, and graduated from Robstown High School. He played college football at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville), where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. In 1967 at age 22, Upshaw married Jimmye Lee Hill-Upshaw (née Hill). Together they had one son, Eugene Upshaw III, and later divorced.
After playing football in college at a number of offensive line positions, he settled at left offensive 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, making him the first player to reach the game in three different decades (Jerry Rice and Bill Romanowski would later accomplish the feat in 2003). 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.
He was part of a particularly strong offensive line during the 1976 season, with interior linemates Dave Dalby at center and George Buehler at right guard. In the 1976 AFC championship game of the 1976–77 NFL playoffs, the Raiders beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, rushing for 157 yards and passing for 88 yards. The Raiders then beat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI, rushing for a whopping 266 yards and passing for 180 yards, as Upshaw overwhelmed the opposing defensive tackle, Alan Page, a Hall-of-Famer. In the 1980 AFC championship game of the 1980–81 NFL playoffs, the Raiders beat the San Diego Chargers, rushing for 138 yards and passing for 261 yards. The Raiders then beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV, rushing for a 117 yards and passing for 261 yards again, as Upshaw, Dalby, and right guard Mickey Marvin outmatched Eagle nosetackle Charlie Johnson and inside linebackers Bill Bergey and Frank LeMaster.
In 1999, he was ranked No. 62 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
Over the course of his sixteen seasons in the NFL, Upshaw witnessed—and, in many cases, participated in—many iconic NFL games and plays. These include the Heidi Game, the Immaculate Reception, the Sea of Hands Game, Ghost to the Post, the Holy Roller Game, and Red Right 88. He also reached three Super Bowls in three different decades (1967, 1976, and 1980); in total, Upshaw played in 24 playoff games with the Raiders.
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.
In an infamous 1987 incident during labor negotiations between the NFL and the NFL players association (NFLPA), Dallas Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm told Upshaw, “Gene, here’s what you have to understand: we’re the ranchers and you’re the cattle, and we can always get more cattle.”  
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." While Upshaw's comments were true on the letter of the NFL's benefit rules—the NFLPA is charged with the union rights of active players, and any matters dealing with retirees are subject to negotiations between the NFLPA and the NFL Management Council—they were badly received by both former and current players, fans, and the media. 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 realized. Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae, president of the NFLPA, had denied reports of mass callings from players for Upshaw to step down.
Upshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
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.
In mid-August 2008 at his home in Lake Tahoe, Upshaw began to feel ill. His wife Terri (née Buich) 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, five days after his 63rd birthday.
In 2011, his son Eugene Upshaw III filed a lawsuit in Fairfax County Circuit Court regarding how the will was handled at the time of his father's death, stating his father was too ill to be able to understand the document he was signing. The case was settled out of court prior to the trial, but brought forward issues with the money handling of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).
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 the number 63, Upshaw's 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.
Gene's wife, Terri, and sons Justin and Daniel, established the Gene Upshaw Memorial Fund in memory of Gene. In recognition of the extraordinary care he received at Tahoe Forest Hospital, The Gene Upshaw Memorial Fund has created a partnership with Tahoe Forest Health System to provide funding for important health programs and research. The mission of the Gene Upshaw Memorial Fund is to honor Gene Upshaw's legacy and advance the Upshaw family's passion for quality medical treatment, care for patients and their families, sustainability and advancement of medical technology, and funding for research in areas such as traumatic brain injury (TBI). The Gene Upshaw Memorial Fund is currently partnered with Tahoe Forest Health System, the Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center, and the Tahoe Institute for Rural Health Research (TIRHR) to advance its mission.
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