Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jim Otto, elder statesman of the Oakland Raiders

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

Every Raiders fan owes 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 who had a tough early life, who toughed out an extensive and storied pro football career. Though what we see today is gnarled, shopworn medical catastrophe sitting in the luxury box with Al Davis. Both of them, behind the glass appear as fossils.

Though make no mistake, Jim is no Al bootlicking Yes Man. Jim Otto is his own man, incredibly forthright and personal is his book 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. Jim 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 he stuck it out as a benchwarmer until getting ultimately getting his shot.

Though he was a strapping blonde 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, exceeding your own limitations wherever possible. 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 1960's and 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 where he would get stingers. The brace was intended to at least provide cushion to blows that sent his head backwards. Amazing that he played with that injury for his entire pro career.

After football, Jim became 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's a millionaire now and he did it after his career simultaneously while challenged with constantly requiring all kinds of medical maintenance and repair.

To me, this is partially what makes Jim Otto so great in that he never let any situation defeat him. Regardless of his circumstances he excelled.

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 all 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 you really learn about the man and his life inside and outside of football.

1 comment:

Coach Elkins said...

Great post Wingman...