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Jim Otto was the original Raider and an original AFL superstar

The Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, separated by about 10 miles and the Bay Bridge, often attended the same local functions back in the 1960s. Legend has it that the Raiders center, Jim Otto, would be ready to fight any 49ers player who dared to make a disparaging remark about his team or the AFL in general.

They didn’t call Otto the Original Raider for nothing. They also called him Mr. Raider, and why not? Not only was he their first center, but he played every damn game for them during his 15-year career.

Otto passed away on May 19 at the age of 86, but he left behind a football legacy that was truly remarkable.

Otto, who grew up in poverty in Wausau, Wisconsin, played his college ball for the Univeristy of Miami, where he was also a linebacker.

Otto, undersized for a center, went undrafted and unsigned by the NFL before being selected by the Minnesota franchise in the AFL’s inaugeral draft prior to the 1960 season. But when the city of Minneapolis dropped out of the AFL after the NFL awarded it an expansion team, Otto’s rights went to the Raiders.

The rest, as they say, is history. After wearing No. 50 as a rookie, Otto changed his number to 00 “Aught-Au,” and that became his trademark for the rest of his career.

Of course, it helped that Otto was a star right out of the gate–including his rookie season when he was named First-team All-AFL for the first of nine-total times. Otto also played in nine-straight AFL All-Star games between 1961-1969.

During his first decade in the league, Otto helped to establish the Raiders as one of the premier teams in the AFL and all of professional football. The Raiders won the 1967 AFL Championship before losing to the Packers in Super Bowl II.

The Raiders lost the AFL title game the next two years before the league officially merged with the NFL in 1970.

Not surprisingly, Otto was named a First-team NFL All-Pro in 1970 and made the first of three-straight Pro Bowls. All-in-all, Otto was named First-team All-AFL/NFL All-Pro 10 times during his career and played in 12 AFL All-Star Games/NFL Pro Bowls.

The Raiders never got back to another Super Bowl during Otto’s career and lost in the AFC title game in 1970, 1973 and 1974.

Otto retired following Oakland’s 24-13 loss to the Steelers in the 1974 AFC Championship Game.

To reiterate, Otto played in every damn game during his Raiders career, starting 210-straight between 1960-1974.

Otto was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility. He was named to the AFL’s All-Time Team and to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

According to his Wikipedia Page, Otto underwent 70-plus surgeries–including 28 on one knee both during and after his career–and was plagued by back and neck problems after his playing days. After suffering through several infections and even near-death experiences due to joint replacement surgeries, Otto utlimately had to have his right leg amputated in 2007.

Otto played in an era where toughness was often personfied by playing through pain and even injury.

Despite his many ailments, Otto said he had no regrets and remained an ambassador for the Raiders, even after they moved to Las Vegas in 2020.

Otto became a Raider during their inaugural season in the AFL. He became one of their first star players. He became one of the AFL’s first stars, even as a center. Otto played in Vince Lombardi’s last game as head coach of the Packers (Super Bowl II). He was involved in that weird regular-season matchup vs. the Jets in 1968 where the ending–including the Raiders remarkable comeback–was pre-empted by the television film, Heidi, better known as the Heidi Game. Otto was on the losing end of a 1972 divisional-round playoff game when the Steelers Franco Harris grabbed a richotted football out of the air and galloped into the end zone to complete one of the greatest–and most controversial–plays in NFL history. It was a play that would soon be known as the Immaculate Reception. Perhaps, it’s fitting that Otto’s second-to-last game–a thrilling divisional-round playoff victory over the Dolphins, the two-time Super Bowl champions–would come to be known as the Sea of Hands Game.

Otto remained a Raider during their move to Los Angeles in the early-’80s and stayed with them when they moved back to Oakland in the mid-’90s. He was still with them in the locker room when they defeated the Broncos in Las Vegas to close out the 2023 regular season.

Jim Otto was a Raider through-and-through.

But beyond that, he was the greatest center in AFL history and one of the best the sport of professional football has ever produced.


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