Jim Otto was the kind of football player movies are made about. He was big and fearless, durable to the point he never missed a game and distinguishable by the double-zero he wore on his black-and-silver Oakland Raider uniform during the glory days of the old American Football League.

Years after he left pro football in 1974 as one of the most famous centers in the history of the game, Home Box Office did make a movie based on Otto's career and his life after football, among other players.

The movie was called "Disposable Heroes." In it, there is a grueling scene of Otto slowly trying to do something most people don't even think about: get out of bed. It's so hard for Otto because he has had 15 operations on his knees, 13 of them major, two major operations on his back and long ago received the first of several artificial knees.

Otto, now 52, loves the game of football. It has provided him with dozens of happy memories, made him a successful businessman in Auburn, Calif., and given a poor kid a chance to "make the name of Otto something special," he said.

Otto supported his son's participation in the game until Jim Jr. broke his shoulder during his senior year at Utah State last season. A member of the NFL Hall of Fame, Otto gladly makes appearances for the now-Los Angeles Raiders.

But football gave Otto more than this. It gave him the artificial knees that have had to be replaced every few years. Before that, it gave him fragile, scarred, gutted knees that could not be trusted to walk on. For 10 years beginning in 1979, Otto carried a cane in his car and used it every now and then. Last year, he spent six months on crutches.

"My knees were so loose and everything was so messed up, they'd dislocate," he said. "There were times my knees collapsed and I just about fell on the floor. But I'd hate to have anyone see me with a cane because they'd say, 'See, he played too long.' "

Football also gave Otto a back that hurt so badly when he played that he needed muscle relaxants so he could bend over to center the ball. It gave him a back that hurt so sharply in retirement he couldn't get out of bed without two Valium.

And, as he spoke to a reporter, the game had left him on his back in his bed at home, suffering from a bacterial infection after the second back surgery, "feeling pretty dumpy."

At times like that, Otto is vulnerable to the question of whether football was worth all this.

"I don't know," he started out. "Everyone has certain desires, needs and wants in life. If you have a desire to fulfill, you have to go after it. Right now, I'm lying in bed at home with a 104-degree fever and I can't figure out what's wrong. I'm not materialistic, but I couldn't do things I want to do if I had not played football. Call it a kind of insane desire."

Otto was a linebacker and center at the University of Miami in 1956 when he underwent his first knee surgery. In high school, his knees were fine. "I could run like crazy," Otto said.

But in college, he hurt his knees playing linebacker, "with all that twisting. Your knees take a beating playing football, whether you're in the line, playing linebacker, whatever."

Otto never wore a knee brace. "If I were playing now, they've got some great knee braces that are very unrestrictive," he said. "They also have arthroscopic surgery now, which would help. Major surgery traumatizes the knee. {Only two of Otto's 15 knee operations were arthroscopic}. I've played with more pain in my knees than the pain that arthroscopic surgery incurs."

Otto first hurt his back in January 1971, during the conference championship game against the then-Baltimore Colts. He was spun around by a blocker, then flew into the air and landed on his tailbone with a thud. Otto weighed 265 pounds then, 50 more than he does now over his 6-foot-2 frame. He got up, went back to the huddle and never even thought of leaving the game.

"I noticed my legs didn't move very well after that," he said. "The months of January and February were very difficult. But I really didn't pay any attention to it. I kept playing. I never came out. I never missed a game the Raiders played. No one ever told me I should get out, and I never asked to leave."

Ten years after he retired after starting a Raider-record 210 consecutive games, Otto finally had back surgery. Things were going pretty well until the day he got his body cast off. Otto sat down on a chair and it shattered under his weight. The fall caused Otto to break all the fusions in his back, requiring more surgery.

The second major operation was this past spring. Doctors placed steel rods in his spinal area and attached them with big screws driven into his vertebrae, Otto said.

"So that's what I've done to myself this time," Otto said.

Ironically, Otto was feeling pretty good before the latest back surgery. "I was walking five miles in 50 minutes," he said. "Ten-minute miles. That's pretty good for an old guy."

With the artificial knees, Otto can't run or jog or play tennis.

"Yet," he added quickly. "But I can walk. I'm doing fine. My goal is to lead a normal life, at least to a certain extent. With what I've gone through, that would be nice."