Duke Slater Chicago Cardinals & Milwaukee Badgers (NFL) & Rock Island Independents (NFL)
“Duke Slater was the best tackle I ever played against. I tried to block him throughout my college career. Never once did I impede his progress to the ball carrier.” (Fritz Crisler on Duke Slater)
Duke Slater, a three-time All-Big Ten selection and an All-American tackle from the University of Iowa, was a pro football pioneer. The 6-1, 215-pound tackle, who helped lead the Hawkeyes to an undefeated 7-0 record including a 10-7 victory over Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame team, which was riding a 20-game winning streak in 1921, turned pro in 1922, when he joined the Milwaukee Badgers. Following just two games with the Badgers, Slater signed to play with the Rock Island Independents from 1922 to 1925. He would finish his career play for the Chicago Cardinals from 1926 to 1931.
Slater starred as a two-way lineman for 10 seasons and was the longest-tenured African American player during that era. He blocked for numerous Hall of Famers and some of the greatest runners of all-time including Fritz Pollard, Jimmy Conzelman, Jim Thorpe and Ernie Nevers. The talented tackle played a full 60 minutes during the historic Thanksgiving Day game in 1929 when Nevers scored a single-game record 40 points. That NFL record still stand today. A few weeks later Slater scored a touchdown of his own on an interception return vs. the Orange Tornadoes on Dec. 8, 1929.
Racial bias presumedly kept Slater from being named to official NFL All-Decade Team of 1920s. However, he was recognized as an All-Decade player of the 1920s in the book “The Pro Football Chronicle.” In total, Slater was named All-NFL four times (1923, 1925, 1926 and 1929) and Second Team All-NFL by various outlets in seven of his 10 pro seasons (1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929 and 1930).
He graduated from law school and passed the bar in 1928 while still playing in the NFL. He started a practice in Chicago and became an assistant district attorney and assistant Illinois commerce commissioner. Slater was elected Chicago’s second black judge in 1948 and in 1960 became the first black judge to serve on the Superior Court of Chicago.