NEW YORK (AP) - Gene Upshaw, the Hall of Fame guard who as union head helped get NFL players free agency and the riches that came with it, has died. He was 63.
Upshaw's death was announced by the NFL Players Association, which he headed for a quarter century.
A statement on the NFLPA website read: "We are deeply saddened and shocked by the sudden and unexpected death of our leader, Gene Upshaw. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Terri, and their three sons ? Eugene, Justin and Daniel. Gene learned he was sick just this past Sunday and he died with his family at his side. We ask that the media respect our need to begin the process of dealing with this unexpected tragedy and to begin the grieving process."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also released a statement: "Gene Upshaw did everything with great dignity, pride, and conviction. 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. Gene's tremendous love of the game also showed in his wide-ranging support of football at all levels. It is a sad day for the NFL, but Gene's positive impact and legacy will live on for decades to come. All of us in the NFL reach out with our sympathy to Terri and the Upshaw family."
His outstanding 15-season playing career was entirely with the Oakland Raiders and included two Super Bowl wins and seven Pro Bowl appearances. Upshaw's biography was posted on the front page of the Hall of Fame Web site Thursday along with his enshrinement speech from 1987.
Jay Glazer of FOXSports reports that the NFLPA has called an emergency meeting today.
In 1983, he became executive director of the players' association and guided it through the 1987 strike that led to replacement football. By 1989, the players had a limited form of freedom, called Plan B, and in 1993, free agency and a salary cap were instituted.
Since then, the players have prospered so much that NFL owners recently opted out of the latest labor contract, which was negotiated two years ago by Upshaw and then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Upshaw was criticized by some for not being tough enough in negotiations with Tagliabue, a close friend of the union head. He also was blamed by many older veterans for not dealing sufficiently with their health concerns.
But the salary cap for this season is $116 million and the players are making close to 60 percent of the 32 teams' total revenues, as specified in the 2006 agreement. In all, the players will be paid $4.5 billion this year, according to owners.http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/8474 ... 3?MSNHPHMA