Somehow, the news that Gene Upshaw has died at the age of 63 does not shock. Ex-football players tend to die young. “We have a short life span,” said another Hall of Fame guard, Joe DeLamielleure, Upshaw’s contemporary and more recently, his antagonist. “It’s just the way it is.”
Rather more surprising is that the cause of death — pancreatic cancer — was reportedly diagnosed just last Sunday. In other words, Upshaw never saw it coming.
Ex-players usually don’t. In fact, ex-players usually don’t think of themselves as ex-players. Certainly, Upshaw wasn’t an exception.
Last year, when DeLamielleure charged Upshaw’s decertified union with abandoning retired players, the boss responded as if they were still young men in their primes. “A guy like DeLamiellure says the things he said about me, you think I’m going to invite him to dinner?” Upshaw told the Philadelphia Daily News. “No. I’m going to break his … damn neck.”