Jim Otto, Hall of Fame Raiders center who never missed a game, dies at 86

Jim Otto, the Hall of Fame center who never missed a game during his 15 seasons with the Raiders in the 1960s and 1970s, has died at 86, the team announced Sunday night. No cause of death was given.

“The Raiders Family is in deep mourning following the passing of Jim Otto,” the Las Vegas Raiders said in a statement posted on X (formerly Twitter). “The Original Raider. The personification of consistency, Jim’s influence on the American Football League and professional football as a whole cannot be overstated. His leadership and tenacity were a hallmark of the dominant Raider teams of the 1960s and 70s.”

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Jim Otto poses with his bust after being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 2, 1980, in Canton, Ohio.

(Associated Press)

Otto was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility, with a speech by late Raiders owner Al Davis.

“For more than a decade he was the standard of excellence by which centers were judged in professional football,” Davis said of Otto during his speech. “He was the most honored offense lineman in the history of professional football. But statistics are just a measure of accomplishment, not really the measure of a man. If it is true that great men inspire in others the will to be great, that alone qualifies Jim to be a great man.”

On Sunday night, the Raiders tweeted a video of current owner Mark Davis lighting his father’s memorial torch at Allegiant Stadium in Otto’s honor.

An undrafted rookie out of the University of Miami in 1960, Otto was the first person to snap the ball for the Oakland Raiders, a first-year team in the new American Football League that competed with the NFL until the leagues merged in 1970. He was a 10-time All-AFL selection, making him the only center to earn that honor, and was named to 12 Pro Bowls before retiring after the 1974 season.

He is one of three players to have played in every game during the 10-season span of the AFL. The others are Gino Capelletti of the Boston Patriots and George Blanda of the Houston Oilers and Raiders.

Otto was nicknamed “Double 0,” after his jersey number 00 — a nod to the pronunciation of his last name, “Aught-oh”) — which he wore every season except his first, when he was issued No. 50.

He also earned the moniker “Mr. Raider” during a career in which he played 210 straight regular-season games and 223 straight games counting playoffs. He played through numerous ailments and medical conditions, having undergone nine knee surgeries during his career.

“There’s something inside of you that says, ‘I want to go out there and prove my worth,’ ” Otto told Bleacher Report in 2009. “Most of the time you’re going to get injuries. That’s the life you choose. Some people need a challenge in life and they play hockey or rugby. Football was the way I could prove myself.”

In a 2012 interview with PBS’ “Frontline,” Otto stated that he had been operated on 74 times in his lifetime. He had multiple joint replacements, as well as procedures to help deal with arthritis and debilitating neck and back issues. After two major infections, Otto had his right leg amputated above the knee in 2007.

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Hall of Famer Jim Otto smiles before an NFL football game between the Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 24 in Las Vegas.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Otto also told “Frontline” he had suffered more than 20 concussions.

“I think that everything that has caused my body to be a problem has been from football, you know?” he said.

In 2002, Otto revealed he was battling advanced prostate cancer.

“A couple years ago, with readings like mine, you would have had six months to live,” Otto told The Times’ Sam Farmer at the time. “[But] we’ve got a way of fighting it, and we’re going to kick its butt.”

Four years later, after finishing his treatment at the UC Davis Cancer Center, Otto agreed to chair the center’s $35-million capital and endowment initiative.

“I would just love to see more people being saved and being cured from cancer,” Otto said at the time. “That’s why I’m doing this. You don’t want anyone else to have to go through the agony that comes along with a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment. Especially kids. I’ve visited the children in the pediatric ward and, well, that eats your heart out. Something has to be done.”

Otto was born Jan. 5, 1938, in Wausau, Wis. His family lived in poverty, at one point having to move into a chicken coop for shelter. He played football at Wausau High School and was a center and linebacker at Miami before helping establish the Raiders as a force in the AFL and later the NFL. They won their division in seven of Otto’s final eight seasons, winning the AFL title following the 1967 season before losing to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II.

“Rip Jim Otto,” Raiders star defensive end Maxx Crosby tweeted Sunday night. “Absolute Legend & Incredible Person.”

In all eight of those seasons, Otto started every game alongside fellow future Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Upshaw.

“Jim Otto personified the aura and mystique of the Raiders,” Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement. “… The Pro Football Hall of Fame will guard his legacy with the same diligence and tenacity that he guarded his teammates.”

Otto kept close ties with the Raiders organization following his retirement as a player. He played a key role in negotiating the team’s move back to Oakland from Los Angeles before the 1995 season (the Raiders moved to Las Vegas in 2020) and most recently was the club’s director of special projects.

In January, Otto visited the locker room following a win over the Denver Broncos in the final game of the season.

“The @Raiders lost a legend in HOF Jim Otto,” Rich Gannon, who was the Raiders quarterback from 1999-2004, wrote Monday on X. “I will never forget the first time I met him in the equipment room in Alameda. His stories were legendary but his kindness and humility is what I will remember the most. God Bless brother!”

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

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