Gold Jacket Spotlight: Jackie Slater defied aging process in sports

Prior to heading to the bright lights of Los Angeles after being selected in the 1976 NFL Draft by the Rams, JACKIE SLATER'S life had been centered in Jackson, Miss. The offensive lineman graduated from Wingfield High School and Jackson State University, both located in the state’s capital city.

While at Wingfield, Jackie’s recruitment to Jackson State featured a visit from a future collegiate teammate and eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer.

WALTER PAYTON (Class of 1993) told Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman, “He (Jackie) was not at all cocky, always seeking information, kind of amazed at everything that happened. And dedicated; you could tell that right away.”

Jackie’s college efforts gained the attention of NFL scouts, and after his senior season at Jackson State he was named first-team All-America by The Pittsburgh Courier and selected to play in the College All-Star Game. His professional efforts and Hall of Fame career this week place him in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

In 1989, during an interview for “Game Day,” Jackie reflected on his rookie camp with the Rams offering, “My overall goal was to become the best offensive tackle in the history of the game. But my immediate goal was just to make the team — and that’s what I focused on, nothing else.”

Jackie added, “I isolated myself completely. I was out here on a mission, and I chose to keep my world as small as I could. I was consumed by work, and I limited my social activities to being with Christian athletes.”

Rich Saul, a six-time Pro Bowl center when Jackie arrived, took note of the rookie’s work habits while discussing Jackie’s first season in an article written by Mike Jocks of the Press-Enterprise in 1991.

“He was always a quiet guy. He was pretty mature as ballplayers go,” Saul said. “You had to hustle to get him to talk at all, and I was always sort of wondering what he was thinking. But he was just focused, honing in on his job.”

After Jackie’s initial NFL season, then-Rams’ offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Ray Prochaska acknowledged, “Slater is very coachable. He listens and picks things up quickly. He has all the equipment right now. He’s very quick, has the desire and the intelligence to be a very fine football player.”

The only observation that might have been added to Prochaska’s assessment was that Jackie would be a “very fine football player” for an exceptionally long time.

In fact, Jackie would become the first player in NFL history to play 20 seasons with one team.

“I think he’s a person who defies some of the normal things about the aging process in sports,” Rams coach John Robinson said in 1990, five years prior to Jackie’s final season.

“I had the pleasure of being there when Jackie arrived,” the late MERLIN OLSEN (Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1982) recalled in an interview. “Even then I remember he was very serious about the quality of his football, trying to be as good as he could be. Plus he was blessed with a strong body, which you definitely need to survive that long.”

Jackie’s two-decade career with the Rams resulted in his blocking for 24 quarterbacks and 37 running backs. Among those running backs were seven who achieved 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

NFL peers recognized Jackie’s efforts on and off the field, selecting him to seven Pro Bowls and honoring him with the Bart Starr Award in 1996. The award is given to a “NFL player who best exemplifies character on the field, in the home and in the community.”

While presenting Jackie for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, Robinson noted Jackie’s effort and commitment to his teammates: “Jackie had a career and devoted himself to blocking in the dirt so others could reach the stars.”