For 15 years, he was such a bedrock of the Oakland Raiders’ offensive line that he became the first player used exclusively at guard to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And in an extraordinary second act, for 25 sometimes contentious years, he led the players union through the tumult of a strike, the gambit of decertification, the victory of free agency, an explosion in player salaries and the debate over provisions for retired players.
Late Wednesday night, with his union preparing for another contract negotiation with owners, Upshaw died at age 63 of pancreatic cancer. The union confirmed his death Thursday. His death stunned the N.F.L. because almost nobody knew he had been ill. Upshaw had appeared so gaunt at the recent Hall of Fame induction ceremony that some of those who saw him worried about his health. Upshaw was found to have cancer only last Sunday, when his wife took him to the hospital while the family was on vacation.