Super Bowl Series: Many of you will undoubtedly attend Super Bowl parties this year, watching the big game with friends and family members. As February 3rd approaches, A Lamp unto My Cleats will feature players from the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots each day. My hope is that you will read these stories and prepare to share them with others as you watch the game together. Use this unique opportunity to share the story of the faith and the good news of Jesus Christ as you watch the game together.
Each year, as the calendar turns from January to February, Football fans all across America anticipate the Super Bowl. Fans across the country pick a side – a team to root for – and hope to cheer that team on toward victory. As we prepare for Super Bowl LIII, fans choose between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.
I wonder who Jackie Slater will root for.
On one hand, Slater is a Los Angeles Rams legend.
On the other hand, Jackie’s son, Matthew Slater, plays for the New England Patriots. (More on him next week).
Jackie Ray Slater was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He attended Jim Hill and Wingfield High Schools where he competed in football, track, and basketball. Jackie was the first in his family to attend a desegregated High School. He recalls; “It was a different time in the South. A lot of young people back there now take it for granted that they’ll go to school here, or go to school there, do this or do that. It makes me feel real good to see the positive change that has taken place.”
Slater received a scholarship to play football at nearby Jackson State. At that time, Jackson State’s running back was none other than Walter Payton! In a Paul Zimmerman article entitled Last Stand, featured in the July 10, 1995 edition of Sports Illustrated, Payton told the story;
“I was coming off my freshman year at Jackson State. All they were talking about was this big tackle here in town, in Jackson, at Wingfield High–6’4-1/2″, 285 pounds, agile, great basketball player. They sent me to his house to pay a visit. He only lived five minutes away from the college. Of course a lot of my interest was selfish. Nothing better than recruiting another good offensive lineman. He was not at all cocky, always seeking information, kind of amazed at everything that happened. And dedicated. You could tell that right away.”
After a successful collegiate career, Slater was selected in the 3rd Round of the 1976 draft by the Los Angeles Rams. Slater says that, as a rookie, his overall objective was to “to become the best offensive tackle in the history of the game.” But his more immediate goal, he confessed, “was just to make the team.”
He achieved far more, however, than simply making the team. He went on to play 20 seasons with the Rams, which, at the time of his retirement was NFL record for the most seasons with one team. He also played 259 regular-season games for the Rams which was also the most ever by an offensive lineman. He blocked for 24 different quarterbacks and 37 different running backs – 7 of which rushed achieved 1,000 yards seasons behind him (Lawrence McCutcheon, Wendell Tyler, Eric Dickerson, Charles White, Greg Bell, Cleveland Gary, and Jerome Bettis). He was elected to the Pro Bowl on 7 occasions and named the Lineman of the Year by USA today three times. He played in 18 Playoff games, 5 NFC Championship games, and 1 Super Bowl – Super Bowl XIV in 1980 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His success made him an easy choice as a 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Walter Payton summed up his evaluation of Jackie Slater by saying, “Of all the people I played with or against, he’d be one of the first three I’d pick if I were starting a team.”
Jackie Slater enjoyed a long and successful career. Playing until he was 41 years old made him the butt of many jokes. Quarterback Jim Everett once said; “Jackie Slater is proof that they were playing football in the prehistoric days. I’ve seen the calluses on his feet where he used to have to stop his car like Fred Flintstone.”
Playing for 20 years also put him in a leadership position in which many young players looked up to him. Slater says; “I’ve been blessed with a mind and an attitude that I feel you just have to have to compete with guys who are ten years or twelve years your junior. I’ve also been blessed with an excellent support group in my family, and good coaching, and good guys on either side of me.” Throughout his career, he was admired for being deeply religious, humble, and a hard-worker.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Slater didn’t sometimes struggle. As a man who played with great passion, one of his greatest challenges was his temper. In the Book “Men of Integrity,: A Daily Guide to the Bible and Prayer,” Slater provides a devotion based on Proverbs 14:29: A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly. He explains;
“Even though I had become a Christian while in college, I still had a terrible temper. I was ready to fight anytime, anywhere. Until the Lord let me seem myself as others saw me. I was out on the practice field going through one-on-one drive-block drills with the rest of the Los Angeles Rams, when I noticed a problem developing between two players. A young guard was blasting a long-time veteran so hard he was driving him right off the board. After this happened several times, the veteran got mad and started throwing punches. Before the young hard could fight back, however, it was broken up. I watched the young guard storm off the field and stand along the sidelines, seething with rage. ‘That’s you, Jackie,’ the Lord seemed to say to me. ‘That’s just the way you look when you lose your temper.’ I knew it was true. I decided I didn’t like what I was seeing. Right then and there, I resolved to seek the Lord’s help each and every time I felt myself beginning to lose control to my anger. As long as I have remembered to do that, He has never let me down.”
Many of us struggle with our tempers. While our list of accomplishments isn’t as impressive as Slater’s, we often think highly of ourselves and become frustrated when people don’t see things our way, do things our way, or simply aren’t as impressed us as we think they ought to be. We should all commit the words of James 1:19 to our hearts and minds; “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”