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Raider great Jim Otto recounts sacrifices, blessings of his career

By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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As millions across the country, including sports fans in Auburn, tune into watch the 43rd Super Bowl today, for one local man, watching the game will have special meaning. Oakland Raider legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Otto is known to many as an inspiration on and off the field. During his 15-year career with the Raiders, he helped take his team to Super Bowl II against the Green Bay Packers. Today, he is still active within his professional alma mater organization and the Auburn community. Otto plans to speak about his experience as a football player this month at a local church. “Football has been my life since I was a little boy,” Otto said. “I wanted to be the best in the world and I did become the best in the world.” While in many circles Otto needs no introduction, he is known as the one and only starting center for the Oakland Raiders during his tenure. He was only one of three players in the American Football League’s 10-year history to play in every one of his team’s 140 regular season games. His numerous career accolades earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 1980. Also during his tenure as a Raider, the team won seven divisional championships in eight years. In 1967, the then-AFL champions took on Otto’s hometown team, the Green Bay Packers, in Super Bowl II. “I remember it was very big for me,” Otto said. Otto, who grew up in Wisconsin before he left to play as a center and linebacker for the University of Miami in Florida, said when he walked into the stadium, half of his family were up in the stands rooting for the Packers while the other half were cheering for the Raiders. “It was my opportunity to basically show the people of Wisconsin, show Vince Lombardi that I could play well,” Otto said. “I tried my hardest to show that I could play well and also help the team to win.” Unfortunately, Otto said, a couple mistakes by younger players took the Super Bowl victory “out of our grasp.” Otto says that today the most noticeable change in the sport is the amount of money players receive. Otto’s career and retired life have been marked with some setbacks. He has had about 53 knee surgeries, undergone treatment for cancer, and last year had his right leg amputated for health reasons. He’s gone into septic shock during his last five surgeries and almost died on the table. “With glory in any situation in life there’s going to have to be some pain and suffering,” Otto said. “You’re going to have to sacrifice and some say I’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving up my leg.” Otto argues, however, that he doesn’t really see his physical problems as the ultimate sacrifice. Instead, he says he feels blessed to be alive. He added that enjoys life at his Auburn Valley home he shares with his wife. “Every day when I get out of bed or every night when I roll over and wake up it’s because a certain part of my body is probably hurting,” Otto said. “But I have a wonderful wife, wonderful family and different things that make me forget the pain.” Greg Denham, a long-time friend of Otto’s and Calvary Chapel pastor, said Otto epitomizes the theme of the chapel’s upcoming event, “Celebrating the Commitment to Excellence.” “When you think Jim Otto you think excellence, you think commitment, you think heart,” Denham said. Denham said Otto’s commitment to his football career, his family, his community and his friends makes him the ideal speaker for the February talk. “There’s a loyalness that he lives out that I think is, unfortunately, increasingly becoming unique,” Denham said. “He’s very loyal to his friends, to his family, to this community and to the Raiders.” Otto said he’s happy to share his past and current life with others. “I have a story to tell and I’ve always felt that I can help people in some way,” Otto said. “I like to do things for people. I love people. That’s the thing that keeps me going.” Otto still lends a helping hand in several charities, including raising money for the University of California, Davis cancer center. “I’m thankful I’m a Christian and I believe the Lord is helping me and has a place for me,” Otto said. “Whatever it is, that’s why I’m here.” Jim Otto is the featured speaker at the “Celebrating the Commitment to Excellence” sponsored by the Calvary Chapel Christian School from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Calvary Chapel, located at 1101 Auburn Ravine Road in Auburn. Call (530) 885-6332 for more information. The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com. ---------- Fast Facts: Jim Otto Residence: Auburn Football career: Played 15 seasons with the Oakland Raiders from 1960-1974. During his career, played with the Raiders against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1980. Did you know: He still works for the Oakland Raiders and has an office there Hobbies: hunting, fishing, charity work, spending time with his 10 grandchildren Fun fact: Otto’s jersey number was “00.” His current address and phone number end in “00.” Super Bowl XLIII on television When: 3 p.m. Pacific time Where: NBC, channel 3