But those decisions are in the future. On Wednesday, people from both the sports and labor world rushed to pay tribute to Upshaw, one of the few African-Americans to lead a major union. That there were few indications that Upshaw was ill made his death even harder to take.
“He was and will remain a part of the fabric of our lives and of the Raider mystique and legacy,” Davis said. “We loved him and he loved us. We will miss him.”
Said Indianapolis Colts center and player representative Jeff Saturday: “Everybody can sit back, and obviously, some people might criticize some of the things he’s done, but overall, I don’t think you could have asked for a better leader.”
Upshaw, blunt to a fault, wasn’t universally loved, especially by the retired players — he once said “I represent the current players” when reminded about their complaints about health care and benefits.
When Joe DeLamielleure, also a Hall of Fame guard, criticized Upshaw, the former Raider replied: “I’d like to break his neck.” But DeLamielleure was among to the first to react to Upshaw’s death.
“The reality of life for all the guys who played in the NFL, including Gene, is that we have a short life span. It’s just the way it is,” he said. “I have sympathy for his family. I have sympathy for his wife and children.”
Upshaw’s friends also recognized the strike-back part of his nature.
“In both careers, if you hit him in the head, he could hit you back twice as hard, but he didn’t always do so,” Tagliabue said. “He was very tough but also a good listener. He never lost sight of the interests of the game and the big picture.”
Many others echoed those thoughts.
“Gene Upshaw did everything with great dignity, pride, and conviction,” Goodell said. “He was the rare individual who earned his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame both for his accomplishments on the field and for his leadership of the players off the field. He fought hard for the players and always kept his focus on what was best for the game. His leadership played a crucial role in taking the NFL and its players to new heights.”
Detroit Lions president Matt Millen was a rookie in 1980 when veteran Upshaw took him under his wing and Oakland won its second Super Bowl. He remembered his friend this way.
“You can look at that body of work that he had when he played and he’s in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “You look at the body of work since he’s played and it’s Hall-of-Fame material, too.”
CSN: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has been contacted by police investigating a possible homicide in North Attleboro, Mass. Hernandez is not believed to be a suspect but a rental car in his name is connected to the death.
NFL mourns death of Gene Upshaw
Aug. 21: Gene Upshaw, head of the NFL Players Association and former Oakland Raiders lineman, died of cancer Thursday at age 63. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
Gone, not forgotten
Notable sports deaths of 2008.
Gene Upshaw: Player and Director
A look at an NFL legend both on and off the playing field.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Police search Patriots player’s home
Police in Massachusetts searched New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez after a body was found near a car that was rented in Hernandez’ name.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.