Gene Upshaw, 15 Aug 1945 - 20 Aug 2008

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2008 by Travis Cody in

Gene Upshaw, Hall of Fame offensive guard for the Oakland Raiders and long time executive director of the National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA), died yesterday from pancreatic cancer. He was 63.

That picture shows the prototypical offensive guard from the 60's and 70's...lean and fast and strong.

My emotions have been in a jumble all day.

I grew up with the Raiders. Mr Upshaw was a first round pick for Oakland in the 1967 AFL draft. This was just before the AFL/NFL merger. He is recorded as the NFL Raiders' third round pick that year. He went on to play 15 seasons. He appeared in three Super Bowls, losing to the Packers in his rookie season and winning championships in 1976 and 1981. He's a member of the 1970s All Decade team, and a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary team. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1987.

I was three years old in 1967. I remember watching football with my mom. She taught me and I learned. And there was no other team but the Silver & Black, the Pride & Poise boys who were Committed to Excellence. I clearly remember the agony of losing to Green Bay in Super Bowl II, and to this day I detest the Packers. I remember the joy of finally breaking through in 1976 and destroying Minnesota. And I remember crowing to all my friends in 1981, my senior year in high school, when Oakland became the first wild card team to win a Super Bowl.

So I guess you could say that Mr Upshaw and I came to the NFL at the same time, and grew with it. We're lifetime Raiders.

And I hurt today. I mourn today.

There are so many memories. It's almost too much.

Maybe I shouldn't be so upset by this. Maybe it's silly, and a bit foolish for a grown man to hang on to that kind of adulation for a former professional athlete. He was a football player, then a politician with the players' union. What does that have to do with me?

It has everything to do with me and my memories. I can't explain it. Maybe I don't have to explain it.

Maybe it's enough that the death of Gene Upshaw hurts today. It hurts because it does.


  1. Jeni says:

    I can relate to your feelings -I think. Remember I am a Penn State Nittany Lions fan (and alum) and as such, the coach who will always be in my memory of Penn State would be Joe Paterno. Now I know there are many -Penn Staters as well as other non-Nittany Lion fans -who would argue with me about him being a great coach and all that, but my greatest memories of Penn State Football fall under his reign -and yes, I would mourn if/when something happens to him as he did build himself into quite a legand, didn't he? And to mourn is to feel the loss private or public of something you hold near and dear so, no need to explain that aspect in my book Trav.

  1. Linda says:

    I don't think there's anything wrong in feeling sad and mourning when one of your heroes, no matter who he or she was, passes away - especially way too young like Gene Upshaw did.

    It's never wrong to mourn the passing of someone who meant something to you.

  1. It does hurt. He was a man to celebrated for sure.

    I am so tired of cancer.

  1. DrillerAA says:

    Death reminds us of our mortality. It can also remind us of our age. I am only a year younger than Gene. It seems that everyday, some entertainer, sports figure, or other famous figure that I enjoyed as a young man, finds their way into the obituary column. I read those and think to myself, you're not getting any younger yourself. When our heroes pass away, a little bit of us seems to die as well. It is only natural to mourn for those who leave this life and have been a part of ours for so many years, even if it was only a vicarious part of our life.

  1. Marsha says:

    I was a Green Bay Packers fan back in 1967 when they started the Super Bowl. And of course, my favorite was Bart Starr. I had the pleasure of meeting him about 5 years ago and I was proud of myself for not being a 'fan idiot'. We chatted for a bit and as I expected, he's a very nice man.

    I totally understand about losing a hero. Unfortunately, seems we are hard pressed to find any decent 'heros' these days. Always remember yours fondly!

  1. Anonymous says:

    PC is such an insidious disease. Almost invariably a life sentence...My dad died of PC complications...

    I hate cancer.

  1. I've always been a Raiders fan, even though I never lived close to them. I just liked how they played the game. I've probably lost some of that loyalty over the past ten years but I still wish them the best.

    sorry to hear about Upshaw.

  1. Ivanhoe says:

    It was not a good day yesterday. In addition to Gene, Ohio's great congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs-Jones passed on as well :o( She was just 58 years old...

  1. Bond says:

    NO explanation needed...

    My heart fell when Thurman Munson died...My heart hurt when Mickey died...

    These men were our heroes...they were important to our youth (or yut if you will - LOL)

    Mourn your loss today...nothing silly about it.

    Sorry I was the one to have to break the news.

  1. Jeff B says:

    Sorry to hear about Upshaw, and no you don't have to feel silly about feeling a personal loss because of his passing.

    He may not be blood or even a close friend, but he represented something dear to your heart...memories.

  1. I'm sorry to hear about Upshaws death, and the effect it has on you. Personally, I think it's alright to mourn for someone even if we don't know them personally especially since you have so many childhood memories about him.

  1. the teach says:

    Travis, I'm sorry for his passing. :(

  1. jennifer says:

    I am sorry. I really do understand. I knew who the University of Alabama's football coach was (Paul 'Bear' Bryant) before I knew who the president was. I was raised on Alabama Football.

    So I really do understand loving a team because that love is part of your childhood memories.

    Sorry Trav.

    Your Mom sounds like an amazing woman. Teaching you about football...loving Zepplin. What a cool mom!!


  1. I'm sorry you're hurting and no, it is most certainly not silly. Too young. Too fast. Damn cancer. Where is the cure? I can't believe the brightest minds in the world have not found one in 100 years. It's puzzling and frustrating.

    Hugs to you my friend.

  1. Chuck says:

    I feel the same way when somebody from my past dies. Even if I didn't know's like part of us dies, is taken from us 'cause they're connected to the memories. Nice write-up you did here. Hang in there, Trav and remember that life brings about changes and we all grow from them.

  1. Akelamalu says:

    It is not foolish to mourn a great sportsman's demise Trav. My condolences to you m'dear. x

  1. Travis says:

    Thanks to everyone for your positive feedback and words of support. I appreciate it.

  1. jennifer says:

    Just checking in. I hope that you were able to enjoy your Saturday in spite of your recent upset.

    The comment you left made me smile! Of course the Vixen EXPECTS cape doffing, but such grand gestures make plain old Jen blush. :)

    Hope you have a restful day tomorrow.

  1. Kimmie says:

    I'm sorry you are hurting Trav. I agree with Linda. "It is never wrong to mourn the passing of someone who meant something to you." May you always remember the best of times of your hero Gene Upshaw...I know in time you will find peace with his passing. Sending Hugs.