Jim Otto: Elder Statesman of the Oakland Raiders

Al's WingmanAnalyst ISeptember 28, 2008

I recently re-read Jim Otto's autobiography The Pain of Glory and was reminded how much of a gladiator he was and how much of a football legend he is today.

All Raiders fans owe it to themselves to read this book. To understand the Raiders' mystique you have to understand it through the eyes of Jim Otto, who precedes Al as an Oakland Raider.

Basically, Jim Otto is a tough guy with a tough early life who toughed out an extensive and storied pro football career—though what we see today is a gnarled, shopworn, medical catastrophe sitting in the luxury box with Al Davis. Both of them, behind the glass, appear as fossils.

But make no mistake, Jim is no Al bootlicking Yes Man. Jim Otto is his own man and his book is incredibly forthright and personal on a variety of subjects. His relationship with Al Davis as a coach, mentor, friend, and team owner is all laid out.

Jim listened to the Green Bay Packers games on the radio as a youngster and there was an instant connection. He knew he had to learn to play the game and be just as great as his home team.

Starting out was rough since he did not have the right mentorship to learn how to play the sport. Jim was demeaned by his high school football coach and had to stick it out as a benchwarmer until ultimately getting his shot.

Though he was a strapping blond dude who had no problem enjoying himself socially, his greatest passion was football. His perseverance conquered his limitations.

As his head coach in 1963, Jim describes Al's coaching style as curt and gruff, not a player’s coach. His primary focus was teaching and then demanding execution the way the position was supposed to be played.

That means, as a player, nothing in your life mattered except mastering your assignments and exceeding your own limitations wherever possible, because other teams will have no mercy on you.

You have to not only survive the other man’s onslaught, but you have to excel and dominate. You don’t get glory without reaching for it and squeezing everything you have to achieve your goal. Whatever it takes, do it.

This became the Raider way, as defined by Al Davis in the 1960s, and it lived through the embodiment of Jim Otto. That's why he gets invited into the luxury box. It is the reward for a career of sacrifices made for the game and for the franchise.

Jim Otto of the Oakland Raiders showed up every year in my football card collection. He was distinctive because of his double zero. Plus, he was the only guy who wore a neck brace. I always wondered why he chose to use that particular piece of equipment.

Finally, by reading his book, I learned the history behind the neck brace. Jim had a chronic neck injury which meant he would get stingers. The brace was intended to at least provide cushion to blows that sent his head backwards. It's amazing that he played with that injury for his entire pro career.

Following his football career, Jim is a self-made man. His highest salary as a player was $70,00. When he retired, he claimed about twice that amount in deferred pay and he parlayed that into a fast food empire. He is now a millionaire and he did it after his career ended while simultaneously facing all kinds of medical maintenance and repair.

To me, this is partly what makes Jim Otto so great. He never lets any situation defeat him. Regardless of his circumstances, he excels.

As a retired, medically disabled warrior, he formed his own identity. You have to give credit where it is due. Jim played the game as intensely as humanly possible and he endured through the ups and downs of life as a pro athlete, as a great teammate, and as a diehard Oakland Raider.

Jim Otto is iconic in his accomplishments in the game of football. His book is as open to the reader as possible so by reading it you can really learn about the man and his life inside and outside of football.

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