Great Raiders From History: Gene Upshaw

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NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 25: Arthur Whittington #22 of the Oakland Raiders carries the ball led by guard Gene Upshaw #63 against the Philadelphia Eagles during Super Bowl XV at the Louisiana Superdome January 25, 1981 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Raiders won the Super Bowl 27-10. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

As the off-season moves along, the Oakland Raiders department of Last Word on Pro Football will be doing a series on great Raiders from history. We’ll revisit Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders that are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, reminiscing on their careers and impact on the silver and black. This week, Gene Upshaw is the topic of discussion.

Great Raiders From History: Gene Upshaw

Has there ever been a greater Raiders offensive lineman than Gene Upshaw? Drafted in the first round of the 1967 draft, Upshaw went on to play 16 seasons for the Silver and Black, reaching six Pro Bowls, named a three-time First Team All-Pro, and winning two Super Bowls. Gene Upshaw is truly one of the great Raiders from history.

Early Years

Upshaw grew up in Texas in the 1940s and 50s. A talented baseball player, he could have pitched in the minor leagues but instead chose college. He attended the close-to-home Texas A&I University. As he grew into his huge 6’5” frame, he became a monster offensive lineman who had the strength to dominate inside, but the speed to pull outside too. A strong performance at the 1967 Senior Bowl boosted his draft stock, and Al Davis selected him in the first round of the 1967 draft.

The Raiders Addressed A Position of Need

Phil Villapiano, famed Raider linebacker, suggests that Davis drafted Upshaw so high with one particular plan in mind: to deal with the great Buck Buchanan of the Kansas City Chiefs. Buchanan had been drafted first overall in the 1963 AFL draft and led a dominant Chiefs defensive line that had won Super Bowl IV whilst allowing just 69 yards of rushing. He was an interior force, a dominating and crushing defensive tackle.

For the most part, Upshaw got the job done. In his 16 year career, the Raiders had only one losing season.

Speed and Strength

Upshaw is often one of the players credited with revolutionising the offensive guard position. He was strong enough to keep Buchanan and his ilk away from Raider quarterbacks, but also fast enough to get outside and pave the way for a succession of Raider runners.

Upshaw himself was clear that a great joy of his job was getting outside on sweep plays, saying in an interview, “it’s sorta nice when you turn the corner and you look into that defensive back’s face and he looks a little frightened.”

It’s sorta nice when you turn the corner and you look into that defensive back’s face and he looks a little frightened

And you’d look frightened too if Upshaw’s huge frame was bearing down on you. This YouTube clip shows the speed at which Upshaw could reach the edge, and the power he then brought to bear on the unfortunate defensive backs that he found in his way.

A True Raider Great

Upshaw played soley for the Raiders during his career. A career so long that only five offensive guards have played more games than him. He was a ten year team captain, and was the first player to reach a Super Bowl in three different decades.

And this doesn’t even begin to look at his career after his playing days were over. As the executive director of the NFLPA, he helped create the modern NFL as we know it. But that’s for another day. This series is to celebrate Upshaw for what he was to the Raiders – and that’s one of the greatest in our history.

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