Eugene Thurman "Gene" Upshaw, Jr. (a.k.a. Uptown Gene) (August 15, 1945 – August 20, 2008) was an American football player for the Oakland Raiders and executive director of the National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA). In 1987, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Early life and football careerEdit
Upshaw was born in Robstown, Texas, USA. He graduated from Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville), where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate fraternity established for African Americans.
After playing football in college at a number of offensive line positions, he played 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. 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.
Upshaw was the only player in pro football history to play in three Super Bowls with the same team in three different decades. In 1999, he was ranked number 62 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.
Hall of Fame and other honorsEdit
Upshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, for his achievements as both a player and a union leader.
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.
After his sudden death, the NFL announced that for the entire 2008 season, all 32 teams will wear a patch on the left chest of the jerseys with the initials "GU" and his number 63, his jersey number with the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders, with whom Upshaw played his entire 15 year Hall of Fame career, honored him in their season-opening game against the Denver Broncos with a video tribute and a replica of the uniform patch painted onto the field. The patch was also painted onto the field at Giants Stadium, when the New York Giants and Washington Redskins opened the NFL season on September 4th.
While on vacation in mid-August 2008 at his home in Lake Tahoe, Upshaw began to feel ill. His wife Terri 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. In his honor, the NFL has announced that for the 2008-2009 season, every player will wear a "GU" patch, also with Gene's number 63; for the opening games of the season, the "GU" and "63" are inscribed on the field. However, during week 2 of the 2008 NFL season, the "GU 63" patch was replaced by a helmet decal on all NFL players. Only the Oakland Raiders will wear a jersey patch for the entire season. He died at the age of 63. Coincidentally, the jersey number he wore during his Hall of Fame career was 63.