(NEW YORK) -- Gene Upshaw, who went from an outstanding NFL career as a guard with the Oakland Raiders to notoriety as a union head for NFL players for a quarter century, has died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Lake Tahoe, California. He was 63.
He was diagnosed only last Sunday after an emergency room visit.
Upshaw was drafted in the 1st round by Oakland in 1967 out of Texas A&I -- an NAIA school. He was an All-American at center, tackle and end, but was switched to left guard by the Raiders, where he remained through his playing career.
Upshaw, with two Super Bowl championship rings and seven Pro Bowl appearances, was enshrined in the NFL Hall-of-Fame in 1987. He became executive director of the players' association in 1983 and guided it through the 1987 strike that led to replacement football.
By 1989, the players had a limited form of freedom, called Plan B, and in 1993, free agency and a salary cap were instituted. Since then, the players have prospered so much that NFL owners recently opted out of the latest labor contract, which was negotiated two years ago by Upshaw and then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Upshaw was criticized by some for not being tough enough in talks with Tagliabue, but players are making close to 60% of the 32 teams' total revenues, as specified in the 2006 agreement.
Upshaw recently became more aggressive in his dealings with the owners and Tagliabue's successor, with the intent of getting rid of the salary cap by 2010.
The NFLPA also has its own marketing arm, Players Inc., established in 1994 during Upshaw's tenure. It has grown into a multimillion dollar operation.
Upshaw came up against controversy in 2006 when some 325 retired players from the AFL and NFL came forward with accounts of being given minimal disability benefits.
His wife Terri and sons Eugene Jr., Justin and Daniel were by his side when he died at home.
Upshaw's family is only going to have a private service. The NFL office and players' association are discussing how to honor Upshaw, with the opening of the season less than a month away.
Upshaw's death came only two days after the union announced he would hold a briefing on labor negotiations before the Sept. 4 opener between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants.