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July 17, 2009
PHIL WEIDINGER: I think we all know that Gene Upshaw was a good friend to a lot of us here, a special individual, and well beyond this golf tournament with the National Football League, first as a Hall of Fame player with the Oakland Raiders and as Executive Director of the NFL PA.
More importantly, he was a good man, a good husband and a good father. When we lost Gene last year, we wanted to do something to keep his legacy alive. Months and months ago Gary Quinn, NBC Sports, suggested a scholarship for a local athlete and student to honor Gene's memory and the idea was embraced by everyone associated with the tournament.
When Edgewood Tahoe heard about it, they let NBC know they would like to match their $1,000 donation with one of their own as well to make it 2,000. We're absolutely thrilled that Terri Upshaw, Gene's wife, and one of his sons, Daniel, have joined us today for this special presentation.
Here to make the presentation are Gary Quinn, Director of Business Development, NBC; Brad Nelson, President and CEO of the Edgewood Companies. Also with us is Sue Shannon, the principal at Whittel High School.
Our scholarship recipient is Nick Warner, a senior at Whittel High School. This young man is 17 years old. All-State football player and baseball player. Pretty good lines from his godfather, who is Chili Davis, by the way. We've seen his dad play golf out here. We know he gets that ability from Chili. Sorry, Steve. (Laughter).
He's also a responsible, thoughtful young man off the field. One of the stories that came about when we were looking for a person that would represent the leadership qualities of Gene was a young man that has a great story.
This one, one of the things that Nick did, there was a group of kids going out to a movie one night. And there was a young man who doesn't have very good hearing. A lot of the guys didn't want him to come. And Nick stood up and said, "No, he's coming."
So this kid went out and afterwards said later, he goes, "That was one of the best nights of my life." Nick, nice job.
I'd like to introduce Gary Quinn of NBC Sports to tell us more about how this award came about. And then we'll ask each of the folks for a little bit of input and some questions, thanks.
GARY QUINN: Hopefully I can get through this because it touches me personally. I try not to use the word "I", but Gene has been -- he's been my favorite, he's always been my favorite celebrity coming here. I've been working on the event for 16 years.
We have a player meeting every Wednesday of event week, and he was always the first one to come over and pat me on the back and recognize the work that was put into it. And a wink or a smile or a "what can I do to help you, how can I get some players to come to the event?"
And the last few years my boss has been nice enough to recognize me in front of the players for working on the event and preparation. And Gene was always the first one to stand up and give me a standing ovation and totally humbled me.
And when I saw him last year, I saw he had lost some weight, I said, "Wow, you look like you're in great shape." And I wanted to make sure he was okay. And he was tough as nails. "Oh, yeah, everything's great." But I did recognize that he had lost a lot of weight.
In the back of my mind I was hoping that he was okay. Obviously, a few weeks later, found out that what had happened. And it really, really took me a while to -- it was a tough one to take.
And Phil and I had talked about it. We're always looking to figure out ways where the tournament can leave a nice legacy for the locals. And couldn't think of a better person to honor on an annual basis than Gene, who just had tremendous leadership ability. Obviously was probably one of the best leaders in sports and a man that I would like to pattern myself after.
And I know that he's looking down right now real proud of the fact that Nick's going to be the first recipient of this award.
So, Terri, it's great meeting you. And I just am glad that we can do this every year starting now. And just thank you everybody.
PHIL WEIDINGER: Brad Nelson, if you'd talk to us a little bit about why you guys, why Edgewood Companies wanted to get involved.
BRAD NELSON: Sure. We were approached on this some time back, and the family that owns Edgewood Companies, the Park family and extended family, are very concerned about the Tahoe community.
When we saw this was an opportunity to honor one of the students in this area and the fact that Terri is part of this community also, we thought this was a perfect example of what we stand for in the sense of community and supporting the people that live in this area.
And we, of course, have been excited for a number of years to have Gene as part of this tournament. And I can't go into the details of the relationship I had with him, which was only very limited the last couple of years. But it's a great opportunity for us to stand up and support the community and commit to this for the coming future of the scholarship in memory of Gene.
PHIL WEIDINGER: Thank you, Brad. Terri, we'd like you to say a few words, if you would. Nice to have you here, thank you for coming and being a part of this, the Inaugural Gene Upshaw Scholarship Award.
TERRI UPSHAW: Thank you for having me. And it is an honor to be here today. It's tough, I'll admit. It's really tough.
GARY QUINN: I thought I was going to be first to cry.
TERRI UPSHAW: I cry every day. I beat you on that one.
Gene was, as you spoke, a remarkable person on and off the field. He was passionate about his family, his faith, football, the Tahoe community.
He was just a very, very hardworking, dedicated person, and gave a lot of himself to a lot of people. I can't tell you how we miss him daily. But he's in our hearts forever.
I'm so proud of you and honored to be able to be here. I don't know if you know, but Gene was also a heck of a baseball player in college and almost went to play baseball, but ended up choosing football. And the rest is history.
So I'd like to congratulate you on this award. And keep up the good work. You have a great future ahead of you, and make everybody proud.
PHIL WEIDINGER: Nick, how about a few words from you.
NICK WARNER: I have a speech, in fact. I would like to thank NBC for the scholarship, Edgewood Tahoe and the Celebrity Golf Championship, the friends and family of Mr. Upshaw and my principal, Ms. Sue Shannon, and the whole administrative staff at Whittel High School for nominating me, of course.
I'd also like to thank my parents for leading me on the right track through life and through sports. Also my football coach, David Atherton, baseball coaches Don Amiral and Starbuck Teevan.
Eugene Thurman Upshaw was a man of magnificent standards. As an NFL player he played guard for the Oakland Raiders. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selected player and the only player in professional football history to play in three Super Bowls in three separate decades.
His lifelong dedication to the National Football League showed his enormous passion for the game of football. Football is a game that can break and tear a person's self-esteem and confidence to the point where it nearly doesn't exist.
But in order to continue to play this sport, you have to have the drive to overcome all the constant yelling and orders thrown at you by a coach, whether it's running wind sprints until you throw up or climbing the highest peak in Nevada as a team, your commitment and contribution is exposed.
But it's at the moment when the game's on the line, it's third down and you have to stop the offense from gaining a first, and as soon as the quarterback yells "hut," you break through the offensive line, lay down not only a sack but a five-yard loss. It's at that exact moment when all the break and tear of your self-esteem disappears and suddenly you feel like you're on the top of the world and no one can touch you.
Football is an excellent game that teaches a kid how to become a man. See, for a guy my size to be playing offensive guard, you might think, "Wow, that's pretty illogical."
I mean, it just doesn't seem right. I weigh between 160 and 170, and I'm going up against guys over 100 pounds higher than my weight class. And so like my football coach's always telling me, "We need to get you the ball. We need to have you running. You need to get some touchdowns." I'm like "Who's going to block for me if I have the ball?"
And I see that I'm not the biggest kid on the field, but I have a weapon greater than all the other players and that is my heart.
With this I can overcome any obstacle in my way and I can use every bit of energy in my body multiple times to throw over my opponent and push him wherever I want him to go.
It's my heart that gets me First Team All League and the only one under 250 pounds to receive that award.
It's a passion that I believe a Gene Upshaw admired and that's what made him respect the game of football.
As a student-athlete I've been able to learn how to commit myself on multiple levels, by applying myself in the classroom and putting myself on the line for both my sports teams. On and off the field I've gained enormous amount of self-discipline and respect from my peers which hopefully will help me in the future as a student.
Honestly, I haven't found out what school I want to go to yet; but wherever I go the scholarship will definitely make an impact on my tuition, and it's a real honor to be a part of the commemoration of Mr. Upshaw. So thank you.
PHIL WEIDINGER: There's one other person I'd like to introduce. When we first started the search for the scholarship award winner, I talked with Carol Chaplin, the Executive Director at the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.
She got ahold of Sue Shannon at the high school. They went back and forth with a bunch of names. So, Carol, thank you for your involvement. Appreciate it.
We'd like to open it up to questions from the media. Who would like to fire away?
Q. Nick, how did you find out that you were receiving the scholarship?
NICK WARNER: Ms. Shannon called my mom. She was like, "Hey, we've got a scholarship for Nick. He needs to apply for it as soon as possible."
Oh, man, I'm leaving because I go on a lot of trips during summertime. I had to whip out a resume really quickly. And I didn't really know much about the scholarship. I was just told put on my achievements as an athlete and as a student.
And I knew it was focused more towards football, but honestly I had no idea how intense it was going to be. And so I put down everything I've done, all my accomplishments. Then I got a phone call while I was in New York City last week and I received the scholarship.
And I thought it was only for $1,000. But when I heard that Edgewood was going to throw in another thousand dollars, I mean, I just hit the roof. It was awesome.
So thank you, Ms. Shannon. Thank you, Carol. And that's pretty much it.
PHIL WEIDINGER: Any other questions? Quiet group today. This is unusual for us.
Q. Have you had an opportunity to ever watch any film of Gene Upshaw?
NICK WARNER: I've seen him as an offensive guard, me and him play the same position. And when I first was told that I was going to be playing that position, you know, I had to do some research and stuff. I've never played on the offensive line. It's kind of out of my comfort zone.
But I went on the Internet and I saw -- I just typed in "offensive guard" and this video of Gene Upshaw did come up. It was pretty cool. Like I definitely got a good idea of what my job was supposed to be doing as a football player and what I needed to do, how I needed to block.
I mean, Gene, he wasn't as big as some of the linemen, that you can see him just throwing around and totally manhandling all over the field. And I fell I had to use that same intensity that he had in order to have myself stand out on the field.
Q. Any ideas as far as colleges are concerned?
NICK WARNER: I honestly want to go to San Diego State. Hopefully for baseball. But anywhere down in Southern California or pretty much any school that will have me. (Laughter).
Q. Sun, beach and girls, that's not a bad combination.
NICK WARNER: It's comfortable. It's a comfortable environment for myself. (Laughter).
Q. What's it really like being a Whittel Warrior? What are some of your good memories you've had from Whittel High School?
NICK WARNER: If most of you don't know, Whittel is a very small school. We only have maybe 250 kids at our high point per the year. And it's awesome. The environment, like the connections that you feel, like with the students, it's phenomenal. Like you wake up every day, you go to school and some kids go to a school where you don't know all the kids there, maybe not all the kids in your own grade.
But at Whittel you know everybody. You know everything about them. It's like spending nine hours a day with a family. And that's exactly what it feels like.
And sports, sports-wise, I think that we are extremely dominant in pretty much everything, because we all work as a team. Like we are a family. And so if any one of us gets down or starts slacking in whatever sport may it be, like girls volleyball -- Dan, yeah -- there's teammates and kids all over the school that are going to build you up to definitely have you expose your true potential as a student and as an athlete.
Q. Terri, tell us about your sons. What are they doing now?
TERRI UPSHAW: I have two boys. I have a 22-year-old who just graduated from Santa Clara. And my youngest son is starting Saint Mary's in Moraga in the fall. They're both on the West Coast but we live on the East Coast. So who knows.
I'm originally from the Bay Area. And that saying where "You leave your heart in San Francisco," I did leave my heart in San Francisco. And it's a beautiful place, the Bay Area. So I will be out visiting my youngest one and hopefully my oldest one will find a job. Neither chose to play sports outside of high school. I think they just decided to do other things.
Football was never pushed in the house. If you wanted it, it was there. But we just let our children choose where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do with their lives. So after high school that was it for them. But they're good kids. Good kids.
Q. Terri, first of all, you guys have a home at Tahoe. Is it in the Squaw Valley area?
TERRI UPSHAW: We have a house in Northstar, on the North Shore.
Q. When did you know last year -- Gary brought it up that he had lost some weight. When did you know about the cancer?
TERRI UPSHAW: Honestly did not know about the cancer until I took him to the hospital on Sunday, because he was just exhibiting signs of fatigue more than anything. I mean, we had been on vacation in June together as a family. We went to Italy as we did every summer and Gene was fine. I mean, he looked thin. But he was under a lot of stress, a lot of things going on within the NFL. And a lot of traveling. A lot of, just a lot of pressure.
But it was a gut feeling for me that something just didn't seem right. And he just seemed really tired. So we went to the hospital on Sunday and they ran tests. And, honestly, Gene passed away before the results came back to say it was pancreatic.
They weren't sure if it was his liver, his kidneys or his pancreas. And pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, and you don't come out of it typically, and it's kind of -- it's hard to explain, but it's really a silent killer.
And he exhibited no signs of pain, other than the day of the tournament, the last day of the tournament here last year, he pulled out because he said his back was bothering him.
And being true Gene, I was like, "Well, let's get you to see a physical therapist." And he got on a plane the next day on Monday and flew back to Washington. In a matter of two weeks, from about the 15th of July to the 1st of August, he had been in San Francisco twice, Houston, New Orleans and working in Washington D.C.
So in 14 days he had been all over the place. And, of course, I would say to him -- I was out here -- "How's your back?" "It's fine. I'm fine."
And when he came out after The Hall of Fame in August he just seemed really tired to me, and I just started growing concerned about it. But it was that fast.
Q. Do you feel that a lesser person -- he was such a tougher person -- that maybe somebody who is not so tough wouldn't have been able to deal with it the way he did? It's almost like he was too tough for it.
TERRI UPSHAW: I don't know, honestly, I don't know, because I really -- you know, I don't know. I mean, he was tough. There was no doubt about it. And he had stamina and energy. And the people in his office will tell you they cannot keep up with him.
He would travel like all over -- just be all over the place, on and off planes and taking redeyes back from the West Coast and in the office straight from the airport, working a full day.
His staff that would travel with him to do team visits would say, "Hey, we need to stop and have lunch." He'd say, "No, we're on the next plane and we're getting out of here. You can grab something at the airport, we're not stopping for lunch." That's the way he rolled.
So I don't know. He just was a strong person.
Q. Terri, going through something as you have with your family, how important is it to you to see NBC and Edgewood Tahoe partnering up with a foundation such as Lance Armstrong and Livestrong, how does that make you feel?
TERRI UPSHAW: It's wonderful. It's absolutely wonderful. And to be sitting here, I never thought I would be sitting here. I don't usually speak. Gene did all the talking when it came in front of a mic.
I am just honored for this and this scholarship and to be here to present it is wonderful. And I continue to support and look forward to attending and being a part of this every year. And I appreciate that you've done this. It's beautiful.
Q. The Edgewood Companies, you indicated you had only known Gene for a couple of years. Why would your company be one of the first sponsors of this scholarship?
BRAD NELSON: That's right. I've only been with the company two and a half years, that's why I said that. But, of course, the company has been here for 150 years and committed to the community. And when we saw the opportunity, particularly because the scholarship was serving local people, that's when we said that's what we want to do.
I think if it had been for a scholarship somewhere else in the country we might have said we're not interested, we want to focus on the Tahoe Nevada community here and do what we can to serve them.
Q. Nick, how does it make you feel to have a role model such as Gene Upshaw, and how does it affect you in your life moving forward as a young man?
NICK WARNER: It's phenomenal. It's crazy to think, like when you see in NFL all the GUs on the jerseys, seeing how the NFL was definitely remembering Gene as much as they could, that definitely brought the NFL together, in my opinion. And then having to be a part of that as an individual is just insane to describe. I mean, being a part of remembering your husband is just crazy. I can't really -- I'm almost speechless. But it's awesome.
PHIL WEIDINGER: Thank you.
End of FastScripts