Upshaw to be honored before preseason games

Hall of Fame player and longtime NFL union head Gene Upshaw will be remembered this weekend with a moment of silence at NFL exhibition games.

Upshaw, who served as the executive director of the NFL Players Association for 25 years, died Wednesday night of pancreatic cancer at his home near California's Lake Tahoe, just days after learning he had the disease. He was 63.

The NFL said Friday that it had sent a memo to the teams hosting the preseason games to ensure Upshaw would be honored. The moment of silence will be held before the game when all the players are on the field.

The first remembrance took place in Atlanta before the Falcons hosted the Tennessee Titans on Friday night. A picture of Upshaw was shown on the video board at the Georgia Dome as the public address announcer gave a brief review of the Hall of Fame guard's playing career.

Fans and players then observed a moment of silence before the national anthem.

Before kickoff of the Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys game, a moment of silence was observed prior to the national anthem.

A split image of Upshaw was displayed on two large video boards. One photo showed him during his playing days with the Oakland Raiders and the other was a more recent picture.

Another moment of silence was held in Denver as the Broncos and Packers stood on their sidelines following the anthem.

Upshaw's funeral is expected to be a private family service in California, with a memorial service to be held in Washington next month. No date has been announced. Upshaw left a widow, Terri, and three sons: Eugene Jr., Justin and Daniel.

Among the few African-Americans to lead a major union, Upshaw guided players to the era of free agency and wealth beyond anything possible when he was a rookie in 1967. However, he also was criticized for keeping ties to league officials and owners that some thought were too close, and for what retired players saw as inattention to their need for medical benefits.

As a player, Upshaw was an undisputed Hall of Famer, gaining entry as soon as he was eligible in 1987.

He played 15 seasons -- 307 games including preseason, regular-season and playoff games -- all of them for a Raiders team that reached the Super Bowl three times and won twice. The Pro Football Hall of Fame posted a tribute to Upshaw, including his enshrinement speech.

On Thursday, the union appointed Richard Berthelsen as its interim executive director. Berthelsen, the NFLPA's chief counsel and Upshaw's top aide, has been involved in labor negotiations for 37 years.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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