Gene Upshaw brought the same intensity to his position as head of the NFL players' union as he did to his role as an offensive guard for the Raiders, writes John Clayton for ESPN. "He talked tough and conceded little," says Clayton, crediting Upshaw and his unforgettable "We are the game" speeches of the 1980s for getting a revenue share for players—albeit after devastating strikes—and making them partners rather than just cogs.
Still, he did not put players' interest above the game. He battled owners but worked ably with them once labor peace arrived, and he will be tough to replace. "Without Upshaw, the NFL is like a quarterback vulnerable to a blind-side blitz," writes Upshaw. "There is no succession plan for the NFLPA. The plan for getting future labor peace was in Upshaw's mind because he had all the relationships and all the background to get a deal done."