"How many times have you been chosen All-Pro, Mr.
"Thirteen." (Jury nods.)
"Do the players on the
Raiders have any favorite names for you, Mr. Otto?" (Jury leans
"What are they, Mr. Otto?" (Jury
on edge of seats.)
"They call me Pops, because of my age, and
Buckethead, because I wear probably the largest helmet in football."
(Jury roars, laughing. Judge grins. Even Terry Mendenhall, a former
Oakland Raider linebacker who was suing the Raiders for breach of
contract, cracks a smile.)
"What's a center, Mr. Otto?"
"Remember that diagram they had on the board here yesterday, the
chart with all the circles and the big X? Well, the center's the X
right there in the middle of the line."
Before he finally hung
up his aches and pains this month and announced his retirement from
pro football, Otto was one of the biggest Mr. Xs in the business.
"Everyone knew who Jim Otto was because he wore 00 and they always
called him Ol' Double Zero or Ol' Ironman on television," says
Pittsburgh's Ray Mansfield. "But what about the rest of us? We're not
the beautiful people, like quarterbacks. We don't have hair dryers or
get permanents. Take me. With a nice Anglo-Saxon name like Ray
Mansfield, I don't have a chance to get any recognition. Now if my
name was Brass Billski or Moose Mazurki, then the whole world would
recognize me and I'd probably get voted All-Pro."
deserve a better press, if for no other reason than that they handle
the football more than any other player in the game. "If we don't
snap the ball right," says Miami's All-Pro Center Jim Langer, "then
the play is busted." The backward, underhand, between-the-legs
handoff from the center to the quarterback is elementary, Langer
admits, but those long-distance spirals to the placement holders and
the punters are what he understandably calls "ugly." "Trouble is,"
says New York Jets Coach Charley Winner, "most pro centers never
learned how to snap the ball long because they played tackle or guard
in college." Otto, for instance, was a linebacker as well as a center
at the University of Miami, but when he came to the Raiders, he
played exclusively at center. Mansfield, 34, originally played
defensive tackle in the NFL, while Langer, 27, a free agent from
South Dakota State, signed with Cleveland as a guard after being
ignored in the 1970 college draft. Cincinnati's Bob Johnson, however,
has been a full-time center ever since his junior year at Bradley
Country High School in Tennessee. (Underscoring Winner's point, NFL
teams selected only five college centers in the first 10 rounds of
the 1975 draft.)