Jackie Slater Enshrinement speech
Jackie Slater Enshrinement Speech 2001
Presenter: John Robinson
Thank you. It’s great to be here among the greatest coaches and football players that ever lived. That’s really an honor for all of us. And it’s a particular privilege for me to have a chance to present Jackie Slater to all of you and the Hall of Fame.
Jackie was drafted in the third round in 1976. He played 20 years as you have heard for one organization. Played 259 games, most of any offensive lineman. But those are all the stats that he has. Never sacked a quarterback never threw a pass, never scored a touchdown. Hell, I doubt if he even touched a football in those 20 years. For Jackie played in the offensive line. The most team-oriented and underappreciated position in all of sport - the offensive line.
Jackie had a career and devoted himself to blocking in the dirt so others could reach the stars. And as you’ve heard on the video a lot of people, some great players, had that opportunity because of his effort. So, it’s great that Jackie takes his place along with the other offensive linemen here in the most elite position in sports, in my view, the offensive line.
Jackie was born in Jackson, Mississippi, went to Wingfield High School where he was an outstanding football player, basketball player, track man – didn’t have any stats in basketball or track either in high school. Went to Jackson State where he was an All-American, blocking for Walter Payton. He then moved west, drafted in the third round by the Rams. Spent his first three years in an apprenticeship role but then in 1979 he was the starter and helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl.
It was about then, after three or four years in the league, that Jackie decided to become a great football player. Becoming great for him was not going to be a sudden flash of brilliance or some unbelievable number of yards, it was down and dirty, play after play after play. His work habits were always good but suddenly they seemed to become almost fanatical. When all the rest of us were going home, you could see Jackie out there working on that backstep. We used to say, ‘guy’s going around the bend a little bit here.’
He sought help from his friends - his offensive line: Dennis Harrah, Doug Smith, Irv Pankey, Kent Hill and others. He sought help to the truth. He was very fortunate to have Jack Youngblood as a mentor and an opponent on the practice field every single day of his early career. Later on, in his career, Kevin Greene came and learned how to rush the passer from Jackie. And Jackie just did awful things to Kevin Greene in his early years. But, both of them got better. Jackie had the opportunity to play with the great Eric Dickerson. And Jackie made those blocks and boy Eric went zoom right by them for 2,000 yards it seemed like every year that he was there. He also had two offensive line coaches that made a big difference in his life - Dan Radakovich was his early offensive line coach and I know Jackie thinks highly of him. But, a most important man in Jackie’s career was Hudson Houck who was his offensive line coach for nine years. Hudson would be here except he’s the offensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys and I believe they’re playing tonight. Hudson and Jackie would often be there after everybody else was gone as I said. And, in the off-season the two of them were partners to become great. And they certainly did.
Jackie’s most dramatic performance came in a playoff game against Philadelphia and the great Reggie White. Reggie was at the very top of his career and no one, no one could block him. We were headed into that game and it was Jackie and Reggie. In that game, I don’t think he slept all week. Worked and worked and got Hudson out and got his teammates to help him. And when that game started, it was one of the most dramatic confrontations that any of us have ever seen. Pat Summerall and John Madden did a fabulous job of showing replays and showing this combat that most of us miss when we go to a football game. But here it was, two of the all-time greats at each other. Jackie did everything – he tripped him, he held him, he fooled him, he faked him, he did anything he could, and he blocked him. And, he had one of his great nights. That Sunday night, everybody in the country knew who Jackie Slater was.
On behalf of his family, on behalf of his teammates, the Ram organization, and offensive linemen everywhere, I proudly present Jackie Slater.
Oh. Oh. Thank you. Thank you very much. Aaah. This is beautiful. This is beautiful. I love it.
You know, before I start talking here, I have to talk to all of the Hall of Famers here, that have been here for a long time. They have these bets that, you know, they want to know which guy’s going to break down first and start crying and going on. And, I want you to know that if you notice some moisture in the corner of my eyes, it is only my allergies. And, I guarantee you, you can rest assure that it’s only allergies until you see my shoulders going like that. So, trust me on that.
Thank you so much John Robinson, you know I love you. Great coach. You know when I chose John Robinson to present me here today, it was kind of easy. Hudson Houck, I worked with, I love Hudson Houck. But, you know, John Robinson, I worked with for nine years. And on eight of those nine years, this guy handpicked his captains and every year, three of his captains for the year were offensive lineman, three of his starting offensive linemen. Now, that tells me that a guy knows which side his bread is buttered on. And John, I love you for it, appreciate it.
You know January 7, 1990, Michael Martinez wrote in the New York Times, ‘there is no glamour down there. It is dirt and grass stains, grunting and grabbing, a sea of arms, and feet, and numbers – a pile of bodies. It is everything about football and yet nothing. From autumn till winter, the game is played on the line, a place where the strong and the strong-willed survive. Or where careers are seemingly lost in a blink.’ You know, functioning in an environment of organized chaos was a way of life for me for twenty years and I wouldn’t of have had it any other way. I loved it. That’s right.
You know, I really should be very relaxed as I stand here before you today because a couple of years ago, Eric Dickerson, my good friend, had me to present him here in the Hall of Fame. But, you know, I did get somewhat familiar as I said, but now that it’s me, you know my allergies are flaring up.
As I stand here before you people, and in front of this absolutely awesome group of guys right here - absolutely awesome group of guys - this is one of the best experiences of my life. You see, these guys here represent the very best that the game of pro football has ever known, has ever known! And now, they’re counting me in their number. This is special, special day for me.
You know, this past year, the voters got together, and they looked at the body of my work which covers a twenty-year span of time. I can just hear them, they decided in January. But I can just hear them in the meeting when they said ‘you know, this guy Slater, well hell he never threw a football. He never caught a football, never ran with one, and he never even sacked a quarterback.’ But all they said, ‘Jackie Slater belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.’ And for that, that they were watching, with all the stars that I played with, I am truly grateful. I’m truly grateful.
You see, there’s not a lot of stats that an offensive lineman, as Coach Robinson said, can accumulate. We are the rank and files guys of pro football. We’re support players. And I like to think that we’re the ultimate team players. Our job is only that we only do the best job we can of helping out.
I thought about my induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and what it really means to me and I concluded that more than anything else, this is a time of confirmation. It’s a confirmation that Henry Cotton and Willie Anderson, and coach Dobson at Blackburn Junior High School were right when they went to a 6’, 245-pound thirteen-year-old and said, ‘hey Jackie, maybe you ought to try football instead of just hanging out with your buddies and talking about wanting to play the guitar.’ They were right to encourage me. It’s a confirmation that Tommy Williams at Jim Hill High School, an all-black school, and then Glen Slay, Glen Slay at Wingfield High School during a time when integration was being forced in state of Mississippi. Two different occasions, these two men were right to take me aside and say, ‘hey Jackie, you can’t get caught up in the racial tensions that’s ripping this area right now. You’ve got a lot of ability. You’ve got to look beyond that, and you’ve got to use that ability and push on towards what could be a great future.’ These men were right to do that, and I thank them during a time when I really needed to hear it.
It also is a confirmation that Bob Hill, the head coach at Jackson State University, and Melvin Pete, the offensive line coach at Jackson State were right when they took me, a pass rushing demon, a run-stopper extraordinaire, and they moved my big butt on the offensive side of the line to block for a guy named Walter Payton. They were right when they did that. And I really do thank them for doing it. I didn’t like it at the time, but I thank them for doing it.
You know, this is also; you know the theme of the Hall of Fame this year is about dreaming. Today is also a confirmation that if you have a dream, you should let no proper noun. And, let me say that again, you should let no person, place, or thing discourage you from trying to accomplish your dreams. You see, in 1976, I want to share with you that I left Jackson State University and I went to Skokie, Illinois to play in what, then, was the college all-star game, the last one they had. And, I was a small schoolboy and when I got there, I found out that I was third string left tackle, and third string left guard, and all the way across the line of scrimmage, I was third string. But I was number one, step and fetch it. ‘Slater, we need some papers, can you run down there and get those papers. We’re out of pencils, Slater can you go and get some pencils for the guys, we need them.’ Out on the football field, ‘Slater, we need the bags, could you drag them up here so we can do some drills and hit these bags.’ And, you know, I made up my mind at that time, that I would always do the things that would give me a chance to be a great football player and not a step and fetch it in the National Football League. Oh yeah!
You know, not only does my confirmation, not only does this induction rather, bring a time of confirmation to my mind, it is also a time to give thanks. And obviously, I want to thank my parents, and my in-laws, great in-laws, my coaches, John Robinson and his great staff with whom I worked with for nine years. I want to thank all those guys that I worked with for over 29 years, from the eighth grade to my twentieth year with the Rams. And also, as Jack Youngblood said earlier, a big thanks to Chuck Knox, and then the late Carroll Rosenbloom, our great owner, and his lovely wife Georgia Frontiere who had added a lady’s touch to owning a football team. And the entire Ram organization for drafting me and supporting me and giving me an opportunity to play the game that I love for over twenty years.
And then to two great line coaches, Dan Radakovich, and especially Hudson Houck, the best line coaches that a guy could have. Hudson Houck kept me on the cutting edge technically for nine years and enabled me to continue playing at a high level when many people my age were calling it quits.
And now to some special friends, Tony Wyllie, the (vice) president of the Houston Texans, good friend of mine. Then Rick Smith, Bob Oates, Bernie Miklasz, a big thank you to you guys. You know what you mean to me, you know how I appreciate you.
And, you know guys, I was also fortunate to have had an opportunity to play with seven men - seven men who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Walter Payton, I played with in college. Joe Namath, I played with at the Rams. Merlin Olsen, here. Eric Dickerson, Tom Mack. Ron Yary was a teammate of mine his last year. And then, my beloved Jack Youngblood, a man who whipped my rear end for three years and taught me what it was about being a pro football player. I love you Jack and I appreciate you.
And then also, three very special men that I sweated with at the Rams for over ten years. Dennis Harrah, who I played with for 13 years, a guy who was dodge city tough every day of the week. And then, of course, Doug Smith, a man that I played with the longest - 14 years at the Rams from Bowling Green. Doug Smith was a man who always encouraged us to do the best we could, and always pointed us in the direction of Jesus Christ and I really appreciate Doug Smith. And then, Irv Pankey, who I played with for ten years from Penn State, a guy who brought it every day, a guy who made me turn my game up, you see, because I wanted to be the best tackle on the team. If I hadn’t done it, he would have made a hell of a lot more money.
And then, I want to give a big thanks out to John Shaw over here, the president of the St. Louis Rams. He’s a friend and has been a boss for over the last 17 years. He’s a guy who almost always won at the negotiating table, but he was a guy who said to me, and said to everyone, he said the Rams are always a better team because of Jackie Slater. And John, I love you, and you know I appreciate all that you’ve done for me.
And then, a very special thanks to my two sons right here, Matthew Slater and David, oh those allergies, boy, whew. Matthew and David Slater, two kids, great kids, two kids that kept me young at heart at the end of my career when my body was telling me –- whew, these allergies are something in this part of the country. We don’t have this problem in southern California. And then, my wife – Annie – who I’ve been married to for 25 years. She has been my encourager – whew, these allergies are bad in this part of the country. She’s been my encourager and she know I love her and none of this would be possible without her.
When I think of all the people that’s been a big part of what I do and what I’ve done, there’s too many to call out all the names. But I hope all of you know how much I appreciate you and how much I love you for what you’ve done to encourage me along the way. And then a big thank you to all the fans around the country, all of you here who’ve been supportive, especially, especially in Los Angeles and St. Louis - some of the best football playing fans in the world. Always made Jackie Slater feel like he was their guy and we had a chance as long as Jackie was out there.
And, in closing, I must tell you that I’m often asked, ‘how is it Jackie that you were able to survive in the National Football League for twenty years, a vicious and violent game?’ And, you know what? It never ceases to amaze me when I give them my heartfelt answer. And, that is simply that I believe it was ordained by God himself for my life. You see, you see, people want to hear me say that I worked hard, they want to hear me say that I had great coaches, and had great teammates, and that covered me, and they took care of me. And that I had a great system like John Robinson’s excellent rushing attack that featured my talents with great backs like Eric Dickerson. And, you know the truth of the matter is all of that is true. It’s true. Well, you see, I know that God provided it all. The good health, the teammates, and even the driving desire to be the best, I’m thankful to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
And, in closing, I would like to simply say these are the words that I pretty much live by for twenty years. A wise man said, ‘there’s nothing better under the sun for man to do than to eat, to drink, and to tell himself that his work is good.’ I like to think my work was good and I would like to thank you for telling me that.