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Gene Upshaw, RIP

The sudden death of Gene Upshaw has obviously caught the league by surprise, and it's no different in Ashburn. Players were in meetings all morning ahead of an early practice today - on the field at 11 - but have tried to get what information they can about the death of the head of their union.

Everyone was wondering the same things: How long had been ill? How much did he suffer? Pancreatic cancer can be terribly swift. According to a brief posted on the homepage of the NFLPA's website, Upshaw learned he was sick "just this past Sunday, and he dies with his family be his side."

It was not unusual to see Upshaw at Redskins Park, given the proximity of the NFLPA's headquarters in downtown DC, and I remember seeing him quite a bit during linebacker LaVar Arrington's drawn-out grievance case with the Redskins over his contract.

Upshaw, 63, had become a controversial figure of late, often criticized for the union's handling of pensions and treatment of former players and for having what some believed was too close a relationship to the NFL leadership, particularly when Paul Tagliabue was commissioner.

But he certainly was a leader of men, on the field and off. His persona melded with the big, bad Raiders teams he played on, as a dominant offensive lineman, and no one disputes that Upshaw, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was one of the greatest players ever.

Personally, I didn't always agree with the stance the union took on some issues under his guidance, but the man was certainly a major figure in helping the NFL become the all-dominant entity it is today, helping to usher in an era of unparalleled prosperity for players and owners alike.

He was bold and stuck by his convictions and if you ever happened to be in a room with him, well, you knew he was there. He had a gravitas and ability to command attention without seeming to really try.

His death comes at a time of great uncertainty for the league and the union. The league and the PA are at a crossroads in this current CBA, with the possibility of an uncapped year possibly looming. Upshaw had to withstand some torrents from his own constituency in recent years as well, and various figures had been jostling to eventually replace him.

Certainly among those who would be considered to succeed him would be the NFLPA's chief legal counsel, Richard Berthelsen, who was with Upshaw through all of the major negotiations. Former Redskins safety Troy Vincent, a longtime president of the PA, could emerge as well. (Kevin Mawae is the current president of the NFLPA).

Upshaw had held the position since 1983, and will obviously be difficult to replace given his deep institutional knowledge and a generation of intimate dealings with league officials.

We will provide as much reaction from Redskins Park as we can, with the players and coaches coming off the field likely sometime around 12:30 or so. Coaches like Jim Zorn, Sherman Smith and Stump Mitchell played against Upshaw, and, of course, he represented all of the players on the roster.

By Jason La Canfora  |  August 21, 2008; 10:37 AM ET
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people who do this are terribly stupid

Posted by: 1st is gay | August 21, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Sad to see him go. Despite rumblings of certain ex-players, Upshaw has overseen a lot of victories for the players over the years and should be applauded for his work. I feel he's been unfairly blamed for the lack of medical funds for retired veterans - that's on the owners.

In any case, RIP Gene.

Posted by: Ben | August 21, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Little soon to seriously look at his replacement, not a knock on JLC, but I would not mind seeing Vincent take the spot.

Posted by: Alex35332 | August 21, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Well, that stopped the blog...

How bout this for a convo piece.... if Zorn goes 6-10, do they dump and run for Cowher?

Or, what record would constitute a one and done?

I say 1 win...

Posted by: Zebra | August 21, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

using gay as an insult is kinda bigoted isn't it?

Posted by: not 1st | August 21, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Very much so not 1st.... flag on the... oh wait, hypocrit alarm going off in my head,

I have referred to a certain choking starting QB of our hated rival as tony homo... my B

Posted by: Zebra | August 21, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse


I don't want another Petibone fiasco. Hasn't there been 6 head coaches in the last 8 years or something ridiculous like that? Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 his first year before winning all those SBs.

I hope management gives Coach Z a longer tether to build this team in his image.

Posted by: SCSkins | August 21, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Oh i agree SCS,

They were talking about it on 980 yesterday and they seem to think Cowher is still a very big bait for DS...

I personally say 3 year min til they give up on him, but just like Spurrier, he could give. But I just dont see that in him.

How bout Harbaugh? He hasnt impressed me nearly as much as Zorn, which is to say Zorn presents himself much better on tv.

2 years most for Harbaugh

Posted by: Zebra | August 21, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

NFL predictions

Afc East
1) Pats*
2) Jets
3) Bills
4) Fins (sorry coat)

Afc North
1) Steelers*
2) Browns*
3) Bengals
4) Ravens

Afc South
1) JAGS!!*
2) Colts*
3) Titans
4) Texans

Afc West
1) Chargers*
2) Broncos
3) Cheifs
4) Raiders

*Denotes Playoffs

Posted by: Zebra | August 21, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

This Upshaw story is really bumming me out. Hate to see a legend like that go so soon; he's my dad's age and it's kind of sobering in that respect.

Zebra, is it alright if Zorn coaches a regular season game before we toss him out of Redskins Park, Fresh Prince of Bel Air-style? The front office reshuffling that would likely follow a Cowher hiring makes that move highly unlikely. Besides, after initially HATING this hiring, I'm now intrigued by Zorn and looking forward to seeing what the guy can do.

Posted by: brownwood26 | August 21, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse


I only have time to troll for Redskins news, so I don't know about Harbaugh.

I really like Zorn's candor. He also seems to be a "player's coach," meaning that he can get in the minds of his troops and properly motivate/chastise where appropriate. I really like him getting on Thomas and Kelly for their lack of conditioning, but he is also quick to praise players with a strong work ethic.

The dude seems to be a born leader, and this homer is definitely on the Zornwagon.

Posted by: SCSkins | August 21, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Fresh Prince

I agree I like to count the dead when the battle is over. You don't have to agree with that but shouldn't we at least wait till the battle commences?

Having said that, I like Zorn personally and am cautiously optimistic. I'm certainly cheering for him to succeed beyond the obvious Redskins fandom.

Posted by: Skinz | August 21, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse


2) Skins*
3) Gmen
4) Iggles

1) Pack*
2) Vikes
3) Bears
4) Lions

2) Saints*
3) Panthers
4) Falcons

1) Seahawks*
2) Rams
3) Zona
4) 9ers

Posted by: Zebra | August 21, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Im not bouncing him out, I want him to be good. Just positing a theory on whatr type of shenanigans need to ensue for the unthinkable to happen... a new haed coach next year.

Posted by: Zebra | August 21, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Even though I should give this Cowher convo NO attention, I just have to add a couple of other thoughts:

1) Cowher is holding out for the Carolina job. He went to college there, has a home in Raleigh, and I have a hard time seeing him coming back to a situation that sucks. Working for Dan Snyder (unless your last name is Gibbs) sucks.

2) Dan Snyder will have effectively repeated the very past he's running from. Take this into account: Marty is here for a year. Smash-mouth, conservative coach. Then in comes Spurrier. New age, pass-oriented offense. Total changes in philosophy and personel. He's gone and then it's Gibbs--back to smash-mouth conservative approach. By that time, Stephen Davis (perfect Gibbs back) is gone and you're stuck with the likes of Taylor Jacobs and Chris Doering at WR. By firing Zorn and bringing in Cowher, you're going from conservative/smash-mouth to WCO and back again. Doesn't make sense, makes Snyder look even dumber than ever (considering he's done the same thing before with horrible results), and regs and anons alike would set aside differences and organize a hostile takeover of Redskins Park.

If only I could use this creativity for the forces of good...

Posted by: brownwood26 | August 21, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse


Drop the Saints and give 2 wildcards to the NFC East, probably the Iggles with the Gints lumbering along with a post-SB hangover.

Posted by: SCSkins | August 21, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I was tempted, but who do the iggles really have? Westbrook? Against the defenses in this division... nope, they are 4th

Posted by: Zebra | August 21, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

RIP in Gene. My heart goes out to your close friends, family, and all those impacted your departure.


Posted by: WaPoLiveFan16 | August 21, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse


Like your predicts, but gotta assume 3 NFC east teams are *.

Posted by: RambleOn | August 21, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

True. By why the Saints over, say, the Panthers? And I just read that Steven Jackson is ending his holdout. I'm doubting the Saints pick moreso than sticking with any particular team at the 6-slot.

Who do the Saints really have. Reggie Bush?

Posted by: SCSkins | August 21, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Ditto on dropping the Saints from the playoff predictions. The NFC South is lucky to have even 1 playoff team, much less 2. That division could quite possibly produce the first division winner with a losing record!

Posted by: brownwood26 | August 21, 2008 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Why the Bucs. Who do the Bucs really have? Earnest Graham?

Posted by: SMACK | August 21, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Why the Pack? Who do the Pack really have? Atari Bigby?

Posted by: SCSkins | August 21, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Why the Shehawks? Who do the Shehawks really have? Julius Jones and TJ Duckett?

Posted by: SMACK | August 21, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Why the Pats? Who do they really have? Tom Brady and Randy Moss?

Posted by: brownwood26 | August 21, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Well, The saints bolstered their defense, and in that division, they could rack up wins... the vikes are an intriguing prospect, but that all depends on Jackson. We showed how you beat them last year.

I think the vikes would make it only if they beat the pack out for the division.

And it happened last year, but it is doubtful that the NFC east put 3 in again.

The west is pathetic...

Posted by: Zebra | August 21, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse


SAD about Upshaw. Here's a tip

My wife had a weird looking dark growth on her ankle. We'd been married two years. I thought it was a freckle. But she really wanted it looked at. I went with her when she had the stitches removed. "Doc would like to talk to you," the nurse said.

That is where I first heard the ugly word "Melanoma."

She had more surgery, a section around the growth was cut out. Because she had gone early, there was hope it had not spread, a condition that is usually fatal. But there were several days of horrific uncertainty waiting for lab results.

Oh, this happened in 1972 and she is still very good about getting odd looking growths looked at.

You should be, too.

Melanoma can be beaten early. But don't wait.

I'm going Anon out of concerns for my wife's privacy.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 21, 2008 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Who do the Raiders really have? Adam Archuleta?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 21, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

This day stinks. Joe Bugel's daughter, Holly, has died.

Posted by: Cindy | August 21, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse


Man can we get this day over with... Gene Upshaw’s death, the ignorance of 9:30 comments and now The Buges daughter...

This has been a tragic month.

Posted by: Taw2u | August 21, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I like Gene as a player with the raiders.
They were my AFC Team.
Now as an Union Pres. he was awful.
When people say that Players makes to much money they are trippin.
Football is a hard sport.
A lot of the injuries you get while playing will be there the rest of your life!
Owners they don't have that risk!
So how can you not respect what these people do for our entertainment.
If Players elect VINCENT for there President they deserve everything they don't get! The guy is to close to management.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 21, 2008 3:21 PM | Report abuse

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