Center Jim Otto played for the first Oakland Raiders team in 1960 and to this day he is recognized by longtime members of Raider Nation as the player who was, and is, the face of the 61-year-old franchise.
Otto came out of Miami (Fla.) at only 6-2 and 210 pounds, moved into the Raiders starting lineup on the first day, and never missed a start despite numerous injuries, playing 210 consecutive regular-season games from 1960-74.
“His skills as a center were just perfect,” Raiders Hall of Fame Coach John Madden said. “He was one of those guys who never wanted to come out of practice. That’s the opposite of most starters, who will say, ‘Send in the second guy.’
“Jim was the Oakland Raiders center, and he wasn’t going to give up his spot.”
Otto, who is known as “The Original Raider,” almost didn’t wind up in Oakland because the eighth and final franchise in the American Football League when the league was being formed in 1959 was supposed to go to Minneapolis.
However, the National Football League also had its eyes on that city and convinced the prospective owners to go with the established league and offered them a franchise that became the Minnesota Vikings.
With the eighth AFL franchise in limbo for several months until Oakland owners led by Wayne Valley, Chet Soda, and Ed McGah came along, the other seven teams in the league raided the list of players that the prospective owners in Minneapolis had drafted.
Running back Abner Hayes wound up with the Dallas Texans and wide receiver Don Norton was grabbed by the Los Angeles Chargers, but somehow the other owners missed Otto—who turned out to be the best football player on the list.
When Al Davis took over as coach and general manager of the Raiders in 1963, he made sure that Otto knew he was the leader of the Silver and Black on the field. When Otto was shaken up and took himself out of a game that season, Davis was waiting for him with a message when he got to the sideline.
“When I was with the Chargers, we felt if we could get you out of the game the rest of the Raiders would quit because you are the leader of this team,” Davis told him.
Otto, who played next to Hall of Famers Gene Upshaw and Art Shell on one of the great offensive lines in NFL history during the early 1970s, never again left the field under his own power when the Raiders had the ball.
Which is exactly what Davis wanted.
“What Al said to me became etched indelibly in my mind,” Otto said, who grudgingly gave up his job to another outstanding center, Dave Dalby, in 1975. “I took a beating sometimes, but I stayed in the game. I didn’t want to disappoint him, the fans, my family, or my teammates. I was captain for 12 of 13 years and I guess I was the leader.
“It was hard sometimes because I had a chronic problem with my neck. I would get a stinger and it would just about knock me out. But there was no way I was going to come out of the game. What Al said that one time was enough.”
When the time finally came for Otto to step aside in favor of Dalby in 1975, Otto was recovering from his latest knee surgery but asked if he could play once more in the final preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers.
When Otto and other Raiders were making public appearances during the early 1960s while trying to establish themselves in Northern California, some of the 49ers made fun of them and the new league.
Otto never forgot.
The Raiders said he could play in the first half of that game, so Otto whipped himself into shape and kicked butt against the Niners one more time.
“I can still do it,” Otto said afterward, but Raiders had made up their minds and his brilliant career was over.
Otto, who worked out diligently in the early years to build himself up to 260 pounds, was the only All-AFL center the league had in its 10-year history, and also played in the Pro Bowl and made the All-Pro team in the first three seasons after the AFL-NFL merger was complete.
In addition, he was selected the All-Time AFL Team, the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time team, and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1999—his first year of eligibility.
“I just wanted to be the best, ’cause I knew I was the best,” Otto, nicknamed ‘Double-0’ because of the No. 00 he wore most of his career, said in an interview with Reddit recently. “And I was the best. I was determined to describe how I feel with my helmet and shoulder pads, and I kicked butt all the time.
“ … Hit or be hit. And be the best that you can be. I love the Raiders and cherished my time there. It was my favorite part of life. The Raiders are great.”
Late last year, The Twin Spires posted online a list of the 10 best centers of all-time, and Otto was listed No. 1. “Otto set the standard for excellence at center,” the article said.
However, Otto paid the price, as he has had 74 surgeries, including 28 knee operations, and in 2007 his lower right leg had to be amputated.
In a book he wrote called “The Pain of Glory,” Otto described near-death experiences from medical procedures, including fighting off three life-threatening infections due to complications from his artificial joints.
During one six-month period, he was without a right knee joint because he had to wait for an infection to heal before another artificial knee could be implanted.
“It was all worth it and I would do it over again,” Otto, now 83, has said several times, and he was a constant presence at Raiders' home games in Oakland before the Silver and Black moved to Las Vegas last season.
Jim Otto has another nickname: “Mr. Raider.”
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