NFL Union Chief Upshaw Dies of Cancer at 63

Hall of Famer helped players get free agency during 25-year tenure
By Dustin Lushing,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2008 10:00 AM CDT
Gene Upshaw, seen in a 1970 file photo, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after 15 seasons with the Oakland Raiders, during which he made 7 Pro Bowl appearances and won 2 Super Bowls.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Gene Upshaw, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman who, during a quarter century as head of the players union, helped get NFL players free agency and the riches that came with it, has died at 63, the AP reports. Upshaw died last night at his home in Lake Tahoe, Calif., of pancreatic cancer, which was diagnosed only last Sunday, the NFL Players Association said today.

"He was a giant in the NFL," New York Jets owner Woody Johnson said. "He played a colossal role in the success the NFL enjoys today, even more than many people realize." Upshaw played 15 seasons with Oakland; he became executive director of the players union in 1983, and had been described as one of the most powerful men in US sports.