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Bucs rookie Cade Otton forges ahead after sudden loss of his mother

Though Sally Otton battled Parkinson’s disease for years, her death was unexpected.
Less than two weeks after the death of his mother, Bucs rookie tight end Cade Otton (88) had three catches in Sunday night's 41-31 loss to the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium.
Less than two weeks after the death of his mother, Bucs rookie tight end Cade Otton (88) had three catches in Sunday night's 41-31 loss to the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Oct. 5

TAMPA — The woman eschewed precise measurements, befitting someone who shoehorned two lifetimes into 50 years.

Sally Otton kept adding ingredients — motherhood, triathlons, teaching, coaching, puzzles, projects in the yard — until they spilled over the sides of her buoyant existence. Stands to reason then, she prided herself a culinary renegade, with no use for measuring cups.

“She eyeballed everything,” Bucs rookie tight end Cade Otton, the middle of Sally’s three kids, said with a smile. “And it always turned out great.”

The glimmer in Otton’s eyes Wednesday belied a numbness not likely to dissipate in short order. Though diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a dozen years ago, Sally Otton had seemed to be improving in recent weeks, her son said. Hence the reason Sept. 20 remains a blur.

Two days after her son made his first NFL reception, in a 20-10 win at New Orleans on Sept. 18, Sally passed away suddenly at her home in Tumwater, Washington.

“I had no idea (of her illness) until maybe a couple months ago,” said Bucs second-year edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, who arrived at the University of Washington in the same recruiting class as Cade (2017) and got to know the Otton family.

“That’s the craziest thing, I never knew. She seemed very strong.”

And quite remarkable, by any measure.

According to her obituary, Sally — a Utah native — competed in triathlons and half-marathons while pregnant with her kids. Her youngest child still was an infant when she finished second in her division (ages 30-34) in a Seattle triathlon. Her high school physical-education classes were transcendent, featuring light, barbell-based workouts staged to music.

And her chocolate-chip cookies had no peer. Sally made a batch of them each week when the Ottons observed “Survivor Sunday.”

“We’d record ‘Survivor’ the TV show, watch it as a family, and my mom would make cookies,” Cade recalled. “And they’re the best cookies. Of course, she eyeballed the flour and the chocolate chips, and it came out great every time.”

Cade, 23, flew home and remained away from the team for a week, missing the Sept. 25 home opener against the Packers. He returned in time for the first practice in Miami Gardens, where the team relocated last week to avoid the effects of Hurricane Ian, and had three catches for 29 yards in his team’s 41-31 loss to the Chiefs.

“Obviously, he’s never going to forget that, so that’s something tough when you have to deal with that type of thing,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “But he played well.”

On his wristband, Cade had etched the phrase, “Have Fun,” his mother’s regular marching order before any game dating to his days at Tumwater High. He was coached there by his paternal grandfather, Sid Otton, who owns the most victories (394) of any prep coach in state history. Cade’s dad, Tim, served as the Thunderbirds’ defensive coordinator.

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But complementing that collection of football chops was the consummate team mom, whom Cade said maintained “the best attitude” even as the progressive illness attempted to wreak havoc with her nervous system.

“She had so many friends, so many people that loved her and she loved back,” Cade said. “She was a mom to me, of course, but also a friend, someone I could talk to or go to with something I was going through. Just so thankful for that.”

A celebration of life will be held at Tumwater High on Oct. 29, two days after the Bucs host the Ravens in a Thursday night game. Meantime, Cade will forge ahead, potentially with more tight end responsibilities as veteran Cameron Brate remains in concussion protocol.

“Obviously, it’s got to be extremely hard, but I know he’s a strong young man,” Tryon-Shoyinka said.

“He has a beautiful wife (Sierra) that he can lean on, he has teammates he can lean on. Obviously being a rookie, he’s out in Tampa, away from his family, so that’s definitely hard. But I know him, and I know he’ll bounce back.”

Surviving the Sundays seems the ultimate tribute.

“I’m so thankful my mom got to see me play, first of all,” he said.

“It was hard, but it was great to be with my family for a week and just kind of digest what happened and be together like I know she’d want us to. But I know she’d also want me to come back and play and have fun.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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