You never saw the skin.
When Gene Upshaw played guard for the Oakland Raiders, his arms were always wrapped in tape from top to bottom, giving him legalized clubs for his work in the trenches. Believe me: He used them.
|Gene Upshaw was the first full-time guard elected to Canton. (US Presswire)|
I remember it well. Why? When I was a smallish guard in high school, I taped my arms just like him.
Gene was the guy I emulated. I wanted to have clubs as weapons just like he did -- and use them just like he did.
Now he's gone, dying Wednesday night at the way-too-young age of 63 after a bout with pancreatic cancer.
Upshaw died in his current job as the head of the NFL Players Association, a position he has had for the past 25 years. The younger generation of football fans will remember him for that, but let's not forget his playing days. Most of the obits written so far have focused on his work with the union, but I'd like to remind people of his days on the field.
Gene Upshaw was a badass.
Playing next to tackle Art Shell on the left side of the Oakland line, they formed arguably the best side of any one line in NFL history. Shell would maul people with his size, but could also move. While Upshaw had the power inside, he might be remembered most for the way he led the Oakland sweeps, running swiftly like the backs he led around the corner.
Wearing jersey No. 63, Upshaw would pull out with his catlike quickness, lead the backs behind him, throw an explosive block, those clubs-for-arms sending an opposing defensive player to the ground, and then keep on moving. It couldn't have been fun for 180-pound cornerbacks, forced to take on Upshaw as he came at them full speed.
Upshaw was named All-Pro 11 times in his career. He was also the first player who play guard exclusively to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He made it cool to play guard.
The Raiders drafted Upshaw in the first round of the 1967 AFL Draft. They put him in at left guard as a rookie starter to help handle the big defensive tackles in their division, players like Kansas City's Buck Buchanan. Upshaw was tough and at 6-5, 255 pounds, big for the day. His battles with Buchanan would be highlighted in a big way if the league were covered then like it is now, two great players going at it twice a season, sometimes three times.