Sometimes, one’s life journey is so unpredictable and rich it’s seems unfathomable.
The road of Eugene Josiah Upshaw Jr. qualifies as such.
Known as “Highway 63” to most of us, Gene Upshaw’s life began in dusty small-town Texas weeks before the end of World War II. It took him to Oakland from small-school Texas A&M-Kingsville as Al Davis’ first-round pick in 1967. It turned out to be one of Al’s greatest moves. Upshaw was a key part of two Super Bowl champion teams as an athletic, rugged guard. Upshaw’s football journey was not over with his Raiders’ rings. He was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he became the president of the NFL Player’s Association.
Upshaw’s journey from Robstown, Texas (population 11,000) to the Bay area allowed him an opportunity to find one of the great joys of his life – the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Many of the world famous 1970s Oakland Raiders found retreat in Tahoe. Upshaw was one of the first to buy property there. He loved the winter skiing and the summer golfing. Upshaw and his wife, Terri, made their home there.
“Gene just loved the Truckee-Tahoe area,” Terri Upshaw told RaidersSnakepit.com this week. “It was a big part of him.”
Gene Upshaw died of pancreatic cancer in his beloved Tahoe 10 summers ago. He was 63, just as Raiders’ fans remember him. Yet, his legacy lives in the area, arguably the most beautiful in the country.
On July 9, Terri Upshaw will conduct the 10th annual Gene Upshaw Memorial Golf Classic in her husband’s beloved Truckee. Many of Upshaw’s Raiders’ friends, including Marcus Allen, Tim Brown, and Mike Haynes, Tom Flores and Raymond Chester. and many around the NFL and sports world converge to the Sierras every July for the event.
Not only does the tournament offer Upshaw’s friends a chance to catch up and remember him, it, most importantly, serves as a way to assist Upshaw’s great legacy. Over the years, the tournament has raised $1.5 million for the Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center.
The center is a unique full-service hospital a for cancer patients who live in the area. It was an under-served community for cancer patients until this building was erected shortly after Upshaw’s death. It was dedicated to his memory a few years later. The center also does CTE research as well.
“It’s a beautiful place, it’s more like a spa setting than a hospital,” Terri Upshaw said. “I don’t know how many people I came up to me and thank me because of Gene Upshaw cancer center. It’s been very special.”
The heartbeat of the Upshaw cause is the golf tournament. It’s is an event that is right up with boating, hiking and blackjack in the Tahoe area.
“It’s a first-class tournament, with a hometown feel,” Terri Upshaw said. “That’s what Gene was. He was just Gene in Tahoe. Whether, he was in the hardware store, in Safeway or we were out at a restaurant, he was just Gene … He’d be so happy to know he’s helping so many people in an area where he loved.”
Thus, Gene Upshaw’s wonderful life road will never cease.