Saturday, Dungy Remember Hall of Fame Guard, Players Director Upshaw
INDIANAPOLIS – On the field, he was among the best who ever played.
Off the field, he was influential on a level that helped shape the NFL into its current state as one of the dominant organizations in s
And hours after hearing the news that Pro Football Hall of Fame guard and NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw had died Wednesday night, center Jeff Saturday and Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said that's how they hope the former Oakland Raiders offensive guard will be remembered.
As a player. And as a leader.
"Gene was great leader for us and someone I've gotten to know the past few years," Saturday said Thursday afternoon. "I'm very shocked. It's just a real shocked moment. Obviously, I feel bad for (his wife) Terri and his sons. I can't imagine what his family is going through."
Upshaw died of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 63.
According to the NFLPA, Upshaw learned of his condition Sunday.
"I heard when I was on the way to work this morning," said Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, who played with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1977-1978, toward the end of the Steelers-Raiders rivalry that helped define the NFL in the 1970s. "Very surprised, obviously. Gene was a guy I played against and knew for a long time – since 1977, actually. I thought he did a tremendous job with the union and was a great player and did a great job in that capacity.
"You hate to see that happen. It's a very, very tough day."
Upshaw, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, played with the Raiders from 1967-1981 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, his first year of eligibility.
He had been the executive director of the NFLPA since 1983, overseeing the union through the 1987 players' strike, as well as more than two decades of labor peace.
"Any player who has touched our game in the past 20 years has been positively influenced by his leadership," said Saturday, who serves as the Colts' representative to the union. "Whether it be raising the (salary) minimums for rookies, for veterans, for retired players – you name it.
"You continue to look back over the past 20 years and he's done nothing but improve our game from the players' perspective. Everybody can sit back and some people might criticize certain things he has done, but overall, I don't think you could have asked for a better leader for the past 20 years."
Said Colts President Bill Polian, "I was shocked and saddened to hear today of Gene's passing. On behalf of Jim Irsay, Coach Dungy and every member of the Colts organization, I extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to Gene's wife, Terri, and his three sons. Gene was a Hall of Fame player, a Hall of Fame executive and a wonderful man. His life story is a shining example for every young person in this country.
"For those of us who worked with him through the years, Gene will be remembered as a man of integrity who respected and loved the game. His contributions on behalf of NFL players and to the NFL were among the greatest in the history of sports in this country.
"He will be missed by everyone in the NFL, but most of all by those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him."