As you've all heard by now, the dominant football story of the day has been the sudden passing of former Raider and NFL Players Association head Gene Upshaw at the age of 63.
Upshaw was an outstanding offensive lineman for the Silver and Black from 1967 to 1981. During that fifteen season stretch, he was named to the Pro Bowl seven times and won two Super Bowls, one of which came against the Beloved Purple (Super Bowl IX). Over the course of his career, he started 207 consecutive games, an outstanding number for an interior lineman. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. Had Gene Upshaw simply ridden off into the sunset after his playing days were over, he would have been known solely as one of the greatest guards in the history of the NFL.
However, where Upshaw really made his mark was as the head of the NFLPA, a post he took over in June of 1983, a mere two years after his retirement from football. While he may have had a few shortcomings as a union leader, he's left an indelible mark on the National Football League, as he was a part of negotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements with the league in 1977, 1982, and 1993 (as well as all of the extensions that were negotiated in between).
But the most important mark, in my opinion, was what Upshaw did after guiding the NFLPA through the 1987 player strike (during which we got the abomination that was replacement football). Two years after the strike in 1989, the NFL implemented a limited form of free agency known as "Plan B." Finally, when the CBA was negotiated again in 1993, Upshaw fought the league until full-fledged free agency was included as part of the deal. As we've seen in the 15 years since then, the players have prospered so much from Upshaw's hard work that the owners chose to opt out of the CBA early as a result.
Whoever the next head of the NFLPA is, they're going to have some mighty big shoes to fill.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Gene Upshaw on this somber occasion.