Quotes on death of Gene Upshaw

Updated: August 21, 2008, 9:55 PM ET
Associated Press

Quotes on the death of NFL Hall of Famer and NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw:

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"The Raider organization, the National Football League, and the world have lost a great man. Gene Upshaw's career successes as a professional football player and a union leader are unparalleled. He is as prominent a sportsman as the world has known. He was and will remain a part of the fabric of our lives and of the Raider mystique and legacy. We loved him and he loved us. We will miss him. Our hearts go out to Terri and the boys." -- Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.

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"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." -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

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"It is a sad day for the NFL, but Gene's positive impact and legacy will live on for decades to come." -- Goodell.

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"Gene was a true pioneer as one of the few African American leaders of a major union. He was the equal of owners in negotiations and made the league a better place for all players. Playing alongside of Gene was an honor and a privilege. He was a pillar of strength and leadership for our great Raider teams." -- Former Oakland Raiders player and coach Art Shell, and his wife Janice.

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"Gene Upshaw was a good friend, an inspiring leader and a tireless and effective champion of players in the NFL. I can't imagine a world without Gene's larger than life presence." -- former NFLPA assistant executive director Doug Allen, currently national executive director of the Screen Actors Guild.

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"Few people in the history of the National Football League have played the game as well as Gene and then had another career in football with so much positive impact on the structure and competitiveness of the entire league as Gene. In both careers, if you hit him in the head, he could hit you back twice as hard -- but he didn't always do so. He was very tough but also a good listener. He never lost sight of the interests of the game and the big picture." -- former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

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"It's not polite to speak ill of the dead and I hope his soul is at peace in heaven. But he was a mean-spirited man, who disregarded the plight of many of his former colleagues, who sought improved pension and medical benefits. However, he did a lot for the current players. They owe their salaries to Gene Upshaw." -- attorney James Acho, who represented several former NFL players in grievances against the NFLPA, seeking improved pension and medical benefits.

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"People can say what they want to say about Gene. They didn't like him. He was too brash. He didn't stroke them the right way. But Gene always told you the truth. Gene got the job done when it boils down to it. His legacy will go on forever." -- NFLPA president and Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae.

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"Gene was a great player. He was an All-Pro. He was a Hall of Famer. If you look at the history of the NFL you're going to find out that he was one of the most influential people that the league has known. He did so much, not only for the players, but also for the owners, the teams, and the game of pro football. ... This is deeper than head of the union passing away, and it's deeper than an ex-player. This is missing someone that is and was like family. It's a tough day for all of us." -- NBC broadcaster John Madden, who coached Upshaw when Oakland won its first Super Bowl in 1977.

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"He always treated people with respect and dignity. He always was able to keep things in perspective, and maintained a positive attitude. While he was a strong advocate for the players, at the end of the day, he really wanted to do what was right for the game." -- Green Bay Packers president and former NFLPA assistant executive director Mark Murphy.

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"His union leadership has been one of the key factors to the exponential growth that the league and all of its players have enjoyed over the past two decades. Gene represented the players the way I would want to be represented: with understanding, integrity and a steadfast commitment to doing what was right for them and what was best for the game." -- New England Patriots chairman Robert Kraft.

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"After his long career as a player, he dedicated his efforts to tirelessly working to improve the salaries, benefits and working conditions of generations of NFL players. We talked often about common issues, and I will miss those conversations." -- Major League Baseball players' union head Donald Fehr.

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"I think he was a good guy. ... You don't always have to agree with everything somebody does to respect them." -- Former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka, on ESPN Radio.

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"I think any player who touched our game the last 20 years has been positively influenced by his leadership. Whether it be raising the minimums for rookies, whether it be for veterans, whether it be for retired players, you name it, you continue to look back over the last 20 years and he's done nothing but improve the game for players. Everybody can sit back, and obviously, some people might criticize some of the things he's done, but overall, I don't think you could have asked for a better leader." -- Colts center and player rep Jeff Saturday.

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"You won't find a better person in terms of taking care of former players than Gene Upshaw. Gene would do whatever is best for the players. You hear all the older players who gripe and complain that we should have better this or better that, they wouldn't have what they have today if not for Gene Upshaw." -- Former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Willie Brown.

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"It really took my breath away when I saw the message come across my desk. I just stopped and immediately thought about all the times that we played against each other. We didn't like each other when we played against each other. But he was a tremendous athlete, a tremendous leader, not only an inspiration for the Raiders -- did I mention that we didn't like the Raiders? -- and then just his leadership in the NFLPA." -- Redskins coach Jim Zorn.

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"My relationship with Gene Upshaw goes back over three decades. He was a friend and confidant long before we became colleagues in the sports labor movement. My respect for him both personally and professionally are exceeded only by my deep sense of shock and loss at his passing. The NFL, its players, fans and the entire sports industry have lost an icon whose impact was truly unique. Our thoughts and prayers are with Gene's family." -- Billy Hunter, director of NBA Players Association, said in Beijing.

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"I've known Gene over 30 years, and I can still see him now warming up in Memorial Stadium in 1977 and in the playoffs when we had that toughest loss, losing to the Raiders in double overtime. We've been friends for a really long time, we kind of grew up together -- in different organizations, obviously, he as a player and me as just a guy around the team. He's probably one of two or three guys I can think of who could be put in the Hall of Fame a second time because that's how much he's done for the game." -- Colts owner Jim Irsay.

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"I only had the opportunity to get to know Gene Upshaw over the last year, but during the short period of time that I knew him, I found Gene to be an engaging and candid individual. Gene was a staunch advocate of NFL players' rights and was concerned not only with the well being of his membership but for players in other professional sports as well." -- Paul Kelly, executive director of the NHL Players Association.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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