Raiders Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw dies

August 21, 2008 11:45:20 PM PDT
A legendary Oakland Raider has died. Gene Upshaw passed away at his home in Lake Tahoe, just days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Rick Morales bought an autographed picture of Gene Upshaw from Vella's Locker Room, a Raiders souvenirs shop in Castro Valley.

"He's gone and my son will have this for his lifetime," said Morales.

Store owner John Vella was on the offensive line with Upshaw back in the glory days.

Hanging above the counter, was poster of them after winning Superbowl XI. He says Upshaw always spoke his mind, even when quarterback Kenny Stabler would take forever in the backfield.

"He said 'Kenny, looks like you're a statue back there. Can you move around so they don't think we're holding all the time?'" said Vella.

Upshaw was drafted in the first round by Oakland in 1967. He played 15 seasons, all for the silver and black. He was in two Superbowl wins and seven pro-bowls. In 1987, he was inducted in the football hall of fame.

"The thing that sticks out to me is, what a quality person. He's meant so much to older players as much as younger players," said Lane Kiffin, the current Raider's coach.

Former quarterback Jim Plunkett remembers what Upshaw told him when he became a Raider.

"Uppy says, 'Look, you're with the Raiders now. And every time we step on the field, we expect to win.' That's the kind of leadership he showed," said Plunkett.

"He was as good with his mouth as he was with his blocks," said Marv Hubbard, a former Raiders fullback on the superbowl team. "He kind of reminded me of a country lawyer."

That gift of gab served him well 25 years later when he became head of the Players Association. In 1987 he led the union through a strike. Three years later, he got his players free agency and the riches that came with it.

Willie Brown is the Raiders assistant coach and former defensive back.

"You won't be able to find a better person in terms of taking care of former players, players in the league, former players with the Raiders better than Gene Upshaw," said Brown.

However, he was also criticized by former players for not getting them health benefits.

"As far as representing the retired players which I am one now, I'm not pleased with what happened there," said Hubbard.

Upshaw died in his Lake Tahoe home only three days after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Former coach John Madden saw him just a couple of weeks ago.

"He lost a lot of weight but nothing came up. He was always saying 'I'm working hard. I'm running a lot that was always the answer," said Madden.

Gene Upshaw was 63 years old. 63 was the number he wore on his jersey.


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