June 23, 2024

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Hall of Fame center Jim Otto, “Mr. Ryder,” has died at the age of 86

Hall of Fame center Jim Otto, “Mr. Ryder,” has died at the age of 86

HENDERSON, Nev. — Jim Otto, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who wore his signature No. 00 jersey as the middle of the Oakland Raiders offensive line for 15 seasons, has died at the age of 86.

The Raiders, who moved from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2020, announced his death on Sunday night, calling him “the original Raider.” The cause of death was not immediately known.

Otto was the dominant center of his era – and many would argue any era – as he had one goal: “They’ll never kick my ass.”

In fact, Otto made most of the at-bats during a 15-year career in which he never missed a game. From the first NFL season of 1960 until the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and his retirement after the 1974 season, Otto started 210 consecutive regular season games, 223 including the playoffs, was a 12-time Pro Bowler, and was a first-team All-Pro selection 10 times.

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

“I accept that, and I cherish that,” he said in 2014.

While many have long suggested that Otto’s face should be the logo worn in the eye patch on the side of the team’s helmet, Otto disagreed.

“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 was one of only three players to play in all 140 regular season matches (George Blanda and Gino Cappelletti being the others).

“Playing football was always a serious proposition for me,” Otto said in 2021. “I wanted to put everyone on their back and go home smiling with my wife. So, it was a tough game for me. I had guys like Ray.” Nitschke I wanted to grab him and put him on his ass, and he wanted to do the same to me.

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

“He broke my face mask here, which broke my nose and put it here,” Otto said in 2014. “He broke my cheekbone, my zygomatic arch bone here, and he separated the retina in my left eye… I was blind.” “For six months in my left eye it was so bad, I couldn’t see, but I kept playing.”

Despite a long list of injuries, Otto said he has no regrets. But those injuries ultimately came at a cost, as he underwent 74 surgeries by his count, in addition to more than 20 concussions, and in 2007 he had to have his right leg amputated above the knee after developing a life-threatening infection. He also fought prostate cancer.

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His autobiography was titled “The Pain of Glory.”

“I know I went to war and I got out of the fight with what I got, and that’s the way it is,” Otto told PBS Frontline’s “League of Denial: NFL’s Concussion Crisis.”

“There’s been so many times I’ve walked off the field and my eyes were wide open. Or what if you had two days of amnesia? When you looked at your wife and you didn’t know who she was, like, ‘Who’s this chick?’

Otto wore number 50 during his first season in Oakland before switching to 00. He was also 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 NFL 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 has helped organize reunions of former players and events for fans at luxury boxes, and has made public appearances for the team.

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

Otto was in The Raiders locker room celebrates the team’s season-ending win over the Denver Broncos in January.

“When you come across someone who impacts you in some way, personally and professionally, with everything he went through, Pops was the founder behind the iron that created the Raider Family,” former Raiders All-Pro tackle Lincoln Kennedy told ESPN. “When I first joined the Raiders in 1996, he showed me what it meant to be a Raider. What it meant to be a Raider.

“He was using crutches and was going to lose his leg but he said he would play there again if he could. I felt honored to be part of the organization… We lost another part of the family.”

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Three-time Raiders Pro Bowl linebacker Maxx Crosby was among those who took 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.

In an impromptu encounter at the 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 emblazoned with a Raiders Shield logo.

“I was probably a little excited, ’cause my pants fell down,” Otto laughed in 2014. “It’s like that old country-western song — tequila makes my pants fall down.”

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 a linebacker on defense.

He was not drafted by the AFL but turned himself into the face of a generation of AFL offensive linemen who held a grudge against the establishment.

Yes, the team also called him the “Original Raider” on Sunday night.

“I’m from Wausau, Wisconsin, so I had some things toward Green Bay,” Otto said in 2021. “I just wanted to get it straightened out, you know? It was a great thing, and I thank everyone.”

Otto leaves behind his wife Sally, son Jim Jr. and daughter-in-law Leah, and 14 grandchildren – Alice, Sarah, Amy, Amanda, Josiah, Hannah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jennifer, Avery, Noah and Aiden. And Roman and Eli.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.