Like offensive guards?
Upshaw smiles. "Players in other sports fraternize before each game. Players in the NFL can go three, four years and never even see each other. And the average tenure in the league is now down to 3.2 seasons. Most of my guys weren't even in the league when we struck.
"So Rozelle's guys are more together than mine, and he works at making sure it stays that way. Somehow, for example, the league has presented it so that cocaine isn't really an NFL problem. No, they present it as a black problem. You think blacks are the only players using cocaine? So the league manages to divide us even more. And you know what's ironic about that? Steroids really are more of a white problem—but the league never seems to try and suggest that, does it?
"But," he hastily inserts a qualifier, "understand, steroids mostly involve whites only because whites tend to play the positions where the coaches want steroids to be used most."
Like offensive guard?
Upshaw smiles. "It's our problem. It's a player problem. Because what can an offensive lineman do? They tell a lineman, gee, if you want to keep your position, you've got to gain 30 pounds and press 500 pounds. He gets the message. And that's not right."
Not all rows of cotton look shorter with time. "I would hope the NFL doesn't misjudge my courtesy," Upshaw says. "I do think they've changed their attitude toward me, and I'm sure they realize that I'm not as combative as Ed was. But they also better understand that this velvet glove has an iron fist in it."
It was only a few weeks ago that Upshaw's 17-year-old son, Eugene III, wrecked the old man's pickup truck. Upshaw "took the belt" to his son just as his father had done to him. But indeed, there is much about Upshaw that is old-fashioned. But so long as such men are not hidebound, they are quite able to accommodate themselves to the modern world.
"You see, from time to time Gene will let the environment dominate him," Davis says. "Naturally, he has a reasonable attitude toward things, but in '82 he decided to be different. Sure, Gene can be taken advantage of, because he's a conciliatory person, but the bigger risk is if he goes away from his natural approach. Because if he does, if he tries to be anything different, then I don't think Gene can do that. I don't think he can lead from another approach."
Now, of course, is not the easiest of times to be a union man. The numbers in labor dwindle and the unions' clout declines. Who wants to stand up for the common man when nobody wants to be a common man anymore? And even a labor zealot must find it hard to fret over Upshaw's minions—pulling in a quarter million a year (even if it is for only some 3� years at the cost of 1� knees)—as if they were some sort of disadvantaged lunch-bucket brigade.