These days, NFL Hall-of-Famer Jim Otto doesn't lay blocks so quarterbacks can complete passes in front of 60,000 fans. He’s at the center of a drive of a different kind, working for the more than 9,000 people who come to UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center each year.
Following his own treatment for prostate cancer several years ago at the National Cancer Institute-designated center, the Auburn, Calif., resident agreed to lead a major initiative to expand the facility and boost its research support.
“I would just love to see more people being saved and being cured from cancer,” said Otto, the Oakland Raiders' center during the team's 1960-1974 glory years who is legendary for, among other things, his ability to play through injury and pain. “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,” he said. “Something has to be done.”
Otto and his wife Sally pledged direct financial support to the center and used his star power to help inspire others to give. Philanthropy has helped complete a 46,000-square-foot expansion project designed to meet increased demand and promote integration of treatment and research programs. Donors also help to support several researchers at the center, whose prestigious federal “comprehensive” designation is awarded to only one percent of peer institutions nationwide.
Otto, who has endured dozens of surgeries for football-related orthopedic injuries, still maintains a fierce personal vendetta against cancer.
"We can beat this disease," he said.