When I heard the stunning news of the death of Gene Upshaw this morning, I thought: How many people in NFL history have been as impactful on the game as Upshaw? A few, certainly. But how many people have had two totally different careers in the same sport and been giants at each?
Upshaw is one of 61 first-ballot Hall of Famers, the result of a 15-year career during which he was the unquestioned offensive leader of the one of the best offensive teams in the last 40 years. June marked his 25th anniversary as executive director of the NFL Players Association, and there are few labor leaders in modern sports who can boast of his record of 20 straight years without a job action.
This morning, I asked the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s vice president and resident historian, Joe Horrigan, if there was anyone in football history who had two such distinctive, separate and stellar careers as Upshaw. Horrigan thought out loud about Chuck Noll and Don Shula, marginal players and terrific coaches, and about other people from other eras, then said: