Two were his own quotes, when his anger at all the head slaps finally spilled. "The bottom line is I don't work for [retired players]," he told The Charlotte Observer in January 2006, responding to DeLamielleure's cries against him and their benefits. "They don't hire me and they can't fire me. They can complain about me all day long. They can have their opinion. But the active players have the vote. That's who pays my salary. [The retirees] say they don't have anybody in the [bargaining] room. Well, they don't and they never will. I'm the only one in that room. They don't even have a vote."
Literally, his words were correct. Labor law dictated that a union—unless management waived the restriction—could bargain only for current employees, not retired ones. But the connotations were disastrous, and the recounting of that quote in newspapers and on the Internet made it seem as if the mummy were taunting the ghosts again and again.
DeLamielleure kept banging. "The only guy who's been in power longer than Gene Upshaw is Fidel Castro, and he thinks he's done a great job too," he said. "We need the government to step in and clean up this act. Nobody thought a guy who'd played with us would throw us under a bus."
Upshaw flared again, this time to the Philadelphia Daily News. "A guy like DeLamielleure says the things he said about me, you think I'm going to invite him to dinner?" he growled. "No. I'm going to break his goddam neck!"
Lord, did DeLamielleure and the ghosts make hay with that one. They sprayed it across cyberspace, along with DeLamielleure's claim that his family feared for his life.
They got hold of Upshaw's union income for the year ending on Feb. 28, 2007: $6.7 million! A few months later, when they persuaded Congress to call a hearing on their plight, Upshaw didn't show up. He was vacationing in Europe.
Now there was tape dangling everywhere for the ghosts to grip and rip. They ravaged him in the media, they got a second congressional hearing, they paraded their most piteous in a series of press conferences. One of Upshaw's key lieutenants, regional director and former New York Jets running back Clark Gaines, shook his head in disbelief. "I've never seen such hatred spewed at one person," he said.
I looked around. The ghosts, for the moment, were gone. I asked the mummy if he'd sit down and unwrap some more.
HE OPENED a desk drawer, rifled through it, then opened another. No, he really didn't have time for this. Each morning at seven he grabbed The Washington Post, a banana and a coffee, and headed to his office in downtown Washington, skipping lunch to work till 9 p.m., running to airports to address the active players in team meetings at the NFL's 31 cities and catching red-eyes home so he could pack a dozen more work hours into the next day, a job he'd been doing longer than any other sports labor leader in American history. He was a 62-year-old man—two years from his retirement after a career in which he'd won for his players 60% slice of the revenue of the world's richest sports league—who had been blindsided in the final moments of the game, and somewhere in this damn desk there was a piece of information that would help prove that he....
He came upon his screwdriver, hammer, pliers and drill instead. He'd been installing coat hooks for his colleagues, hanging photographs in the union's new offices, and a few days back had repaired his office toilet. Maybe he was a stonehearted, stonewalling, pension-plundering fat cat. But I'd never seen one of those do his own plumbing.