Hall of Fame center Jim Otto, 'Mr. Raider,' dies at 86

ByABC News
May 19, 2024, 11:39 PM

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Jim Otto, a Pro Football Hall of Fame center whose iconic No. 00 jersey anchored the middle of the Oakland Raiders' offensive line for 15 seasons, has died at age 86.

The Raiders, who moved from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2020, announced his death Sunday night, calling him "The Original Raider." The cause of death was not immediately known.

Otto was the dominant center of his era -- many would argue of any era -- as he had a singular goal: "Never will they kick my butt."

Indeed, Otto did most of the kicking in a 15-year career that never saw him miss a game. From the AFL's initial season of 1960 through the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and his retirement following the 1974 season, Otto started 210 straight regular-season games, 223 including the playoffs, and was a Pro Bowler 12 times, a first-team All-Pro selection 10 times.

He was known later in life as "Pops" in the Raiders organization.

"I accept that," he said in 2014, "and cherish that."

Many have long suggested Otto's face should be the eye-patch-wearing logo on the side of the team's helmet, and Otto did not disagree.

"But with a broken nose," he joked at the time.

He was the only All-AFL center in the league's entire existence from 1960 to 1969, and he was one of only three players who played in all 140 AFL regular-season games (George Blanda and Gino Cappelletti were the others).

"Playing football was always a serious proposition for me," Otto said in 2021. "I wanted to put everyone on their backside and go home smiling, with my wife. So, it was a tough game for me. I had guys like Ray Nitschke. I wanted to get him and put him on his backside. He wanted to do the same to me. We had great times."

Otto said the hardest hit he ever received in a game came from Nitschke, in 1972.

"He broke my facemask in here, which broke my nose and set it over here," Otto said in 2014. "Broke my cheekbone, and my zygomatic arch bone here, and detached my retina in my left eye. ... I was blind for six months in my left eye. It was really bad. It all swelled up, and I couldn't see, but I kept playing. I never went out of the game."

Despite a long list of injuries, Otto said he had no regrets. But those injuries did eventually come at a cost, as he endured 74 surgeries by his count, plus more than 20 concussions, and in 2007 he had to have his right leg amputated above the knee following two life-threatening infections. He also had prostate cancer.

His autobiography was titled "The Pain of Glory."

"I know that I went to war and I came out of the battle with what I got, and that's the way it is," Otto said on PBS' "Frontline" special "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis."

"There were so many times that I would walk off the field and my eyes would be crossed. Or what about if you had amnesia for two days? When you looked at your wife and you didn't know who she was, like, 'Who's this chick?'"

Otto wore No. 50 during his first season in Oakland before switching to 00. He was also was selected to the Pro Bowl in the first three years after the AFL-NFL merger.

In his 15-year career, the Raiders won seven division titles and were AFL champions in 1967, losing to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II. Otto later returned to the Raiders to work in the front office.

Otto most recently served as the team's director of special projects. He helped organized reunions for former players and events for fans in the luxury boxes, and made public appearances for the team.

He also played a key role in negotiating the team's move back to Oakland from Los Angeles before the 1995 season.

Otto was in the Raiders' locker room celebrating the team's season-finale win over the  Denver Broncos in January.

"When you come across an individual who affects you in a way, both personally and professionally, with everything he's gone through, Pops was the founder behind the iron that created the Raider family," former Raiders All-Pro right tackle Lincoln Kennedy told ESPN. "When I first got to the Raiders in 1996, he showed me what it was to be a Raider. What it meant to be a Raider.

"He was on crutches and would lose his leg but said he would play again right there if he could. I felt proud to be a part of the organization. ... We've lost another part of the family."

Raiders three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Maxx Crosby was among those to take to social media Sunday night to share his thoughts on Otto's legacy.

Otto was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility. In 2019, he was named to the NFL 100 all-time team.

At an impromptu reunion at Raiders sports bar and grill, Ricky's, in 2009, Otto was convinced to lift up his pant leg to reveal his black prosthetic leg, which was adorned with the Raiders shield logo.

"I might have gotten a little excited, that my pants fell off," Otto laughed in 2014. "It's like that old country-western song -- tequila makes my clothes fall off."

Otto grew up less than 100 miles from what would become Lambeau Field, and attended the University of Miami, where he starred as a center on offense and linebacker on defense.

He was undrafted by the NFL but turned himself into the face of a generation of AFL offensive linemen with a grudge against the establishment.

Yes, as the team called him, the "Original Raider."

"I'm from Wausau, Wisconsin, so I had some things toward Green Bay," Otto said in 2021. "I just wanted to even them out, you know? It was a great thing that I had, and I thank everybody."

Otto is survived by his wife, Sally; his son, Jim; his daughter-in-law, Leah; and his 14 grandchildren, Alice, Sarah, Amy, Amanda, Josiah, Hannah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jennifer, Avery, Noah, Aiden, Roman and Ellie.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.