Former Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater was a cut above the rest during his many years playing in the National Football League.
Slater played a demanding and bruising position on the offensive line for 20 seasons. Not many of his contemporaries can boast such longevity.
With Slater working hard on the offensive line, he helped the Rams win games in the trenches and reclaim lost glory in the 1980s.
Slater, Walter Payton’s college teammate with the Jackson State Tigers, blocked for sensational Rams running back Eric Dickerson from 1983 to 1987.
Slater also blocked for seven other 1,000-yard rushers during his memorable tenure with the Rams. He also helped protect aging quarterback Joe Namath and cleared the way for young running back Jerome Bettis.
Slater, a seven-time Pro Bowl and four-time Second-Team All-Pro selection, eventually earned his gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH in the summer of 2001.
This is Jackie Slater’s fascinating football journey.
Jackie Ray Slater was born to parents John and Bessie in Jackson, MS on May 27, 1954. He has four younger brothers.
According to Sports Illustrated‘s Paul Zimmerman, John Slater labored at a Hertz facility to help make ends meet. Bessie was a stay-at-home housewife.
In 1967, when Jackie was thirteen years old, he already stood six feet tall and weighed 245 pounds. He easily dwarfed other kids his age.
Jackie was a typical junior high school student who wanted to spend time with his friends. He also wanted to learn how to play the guitar.
However, Slater’s life changed forever when the coaches at Blackburn Junior High School approached him and asked him to try out for football, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s official website.
Jackie accepted, and his life was never the same again.
Slater attended Jim Hill High School before transferring to Wingfield High School in the early 1970s. He was a three-sport star who excelled in football, basketball, and track for the Wingfield Falcons.
Jackie’s high school days coincided with racial tensions in the deep south.
His football coaches at Jim Hill High and Wingfield High, Tommy Williams and Glen Slay, both told him not to let those racial tensions sidetrack his blossoming football career.
The great Jackie Slater NFL Hall of Fame OL being honored at his alma mater Wingfield High School. Story at 6 & 10pm pic.twitter.com/kwuxodU9C7
— Mike Alzamora (@MikeA_ArpISD) December 19, 2013
Williams and Slay encouraged Jackie to keep getting better because he had a bright future ahead of him on the gridiron.
Those were the words Slater needed to hear at the right time. He took them to heart, dug his heels in, and became one of the best high school defensive linemen in Mississippi.
Despite Slater’s ascension in the high school football ranks, neither the Mississippi State Bulldogs nor the Ole Miss Rebels recruited him.
Instead, the all-black Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) football programs wanted Slater to play for them.
Ultimately, the Jackson State Tigers’ proximity to home sealed the deal for young Jackie.
Jackie Slater remained in-state and became a stonewall on the Tigers’ offensive line in the early-to-mid 1970s.
College Days with the Jackson State Tigers
Jackie Slater attended Jackson State University in Jackson, MS from 1972 to 1975. He suited up for Jackson State Tigers head football coach Bob Hill.
Hill and Tigers offensive line coach Melvin Pete moved Jackie to the offensive line so he could block for otherworldly running back Walter Payton.
In 2001, Slater admitted in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech that he didn’t like the move at the time. Only later did he realize it was not only the best move for his career, but also for the success of the Tigers.
Little did Slater know he and Payton—an eventual nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl-winning running back with the Chicago Bears—would enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
Payton and Slater played together for three seasons at Jackson State. Payton’s stellar work ethic blew Jackie away during their college days in the deep south.
“I’ve never seen anybody work harder than Walter Payton did,” Slater told the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame at the time of his induction in December 2013.
Jackson State had two HOF players on one team in the early 1980s, Walter Payton & offensive tackle Jackie Slater. pic.twitter.com/dfG9mSCuss
— Detroit Griot (@JustCallmeBHunt) July 6, 2017
A Hard Worker in His Own Right
It wasn’t just Payton, though. Slater also worked hard. When Jackie played in the National Football League from 1976 to 1995, he also saw how his fellow Mississippi natives Brett Favre and Jerry Rice worked. Little wonder all four men are enshrined in Canton, OH.
Slater concluded hard work was the common denominator among football players from the state of Mississippi, per MSFame.com.
Slater also marveled at Payton’s threshold for pain. He remembered team physicians draining fluid from Walter’s elbow because of a calcium deposit once a week for two years at Jackson State.
Through it all, Walter never skipped practice or missed a game. He also took some nasty hits from some of the toughest linebackers in the conference.
Slater’s work ethic helped him become a three-time All-SWAC conference selection. The Pittsburgh Courier also named Jackie a First-Team All-American following his senior season in 1975.
Slater would eventually rise from relative obscurity to become one of the greatest and most durable offensive linemen in Los Angeles Rams franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Los Angeles Rams made Jackie Slater the 86th overall selection of the 1976 NFL Draft.
Slater never expected the Rams to take his name off the draft board. Jackie, a proud Mississippian, thought playing for the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, or Atlanta Falcons would be more to his liking.
Forty-four years later, Slater admitted to FOX News’s Daniel Canova that he was disappointed after the Rams drafted him.
After playing in the 1976 College All-Star Game in Illinois, Jackie flew to California and drove to Cal State Fullerton for the Rams mini-camp.
Slater’s first NFL camp coincided with a janitor killing seven people with a rifle in the Los Angeles, CA area.
Jackie just could not fathom why he wound up in that part of the country. Fortunately, he eventually settled in and spent his entire 20-year pro football career in Southern California.
During that 1976 College All-Star Game, Jackie Slater received his baptism of fire from the NFL.
The game, which pitted the best college football players against the NFL’s best, featured Slater going up against legendary Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene.
Jackie didn’t take it easy on Greene. Slater was so physical during the game, Joe told him to chill because it was an All-Star Game.
Jackie didn’t listen. He tried cutting Greene several plays later and fell face-first on the gridiron. When Greene tried to help Slater up, the former kneed Jackie in his chest twice. Slater never cut Greene again.
Super Bowl XIV, 43 years ago today pic.twitter.com/FTtHvsEY9U
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 21, 2023
Slater was a second-string offensive lineman and special teams player in the last two years of the Chuck Knox era from 1976 to 1977.
Los Angeles won ten games each season and clinched the division title both times. Unfortunately, the Rams never made it past the NFC Championship Game.
Playing for Malavasi
Slater continued playing on special teams and as a backup offensive lineman when Ray Malavasi took over the reins from Knox in the 1978 NFL season.
The Rams won twelve games in Malavasi’s first year at the helm but lost in the 1978 NFC Championship Game to Roger Staubach’s Dallas Cowboys in humiliating fashion, 28-0.
Malavasi made Slater his starting right tackle in 1979. Jackie’s blocking helped Los Angeles rack up 2,460 rushing yards that year and reach Super Bowl XIV against Terry Bradshaw’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Regrettably, Slater and company lost to the Steelers, 31-19.
After winning eleven games and making an appearance in the 1980 NFC Wild Card Game, the Rams regressed in the early 1980s.
Los Angeles won just six games in 1981 and two games in the lockout-shortened 1982 NFL season. The Rams ultimately parted ways with Malavasi at the season’s end.
When Slater entered his eighth NFL season in 1983, he and his Rams teammates welcomed highly-touted rookie running back Eric Dickerson into the fold.
Protecting the Best Against the Best
Dickerson, one-half of the vaunted “Pony Express” along with Craig James during his college days with the SMU Mustangs, racked up more than 7,000 rushing yards in his first four pro football seasons.
Dickerson also led the NFL in rushing in three of those four seasons. He never ran for fewer than 1,808 yards when he led the league in rushing.
Thanks in large part to Jackie Slater’s impressive blocking at right tackle, Eric Dickerson ran amok and shredded defenses from the moment he first stepped on the NFL gridiron.
“I blocked three years for Walter Payton at Jackson State and now I’m blocking for Eric Dickerson,” Slater told the Chicago Sun-Times on January 10, 1986. “When you think about it, I can say, ‘Hey, I’ve blocked for the best players, statistics-wise, of all time.'”
An incredulous Dickerson couldn’t believe Slater had not gone to the Pro Bowl at that point in his NFL career. Eric told Jackie sometime during the 1983 NFL campaign that he would earn his Pro Bowl nod that year.
True enough, Jackie Slater finally became a Pro Bowler in 1983.
Slater also held his own against New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau that year. When the Rams and Jets squared off, Gastineau somehow blew past Slater and sacked Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo.
Gastineau immediately did his notorious sack dance after the play. Slater took exception and shoved him with two hands.
September 25, 1983: At Shea Stadium, Jackie Slater pushes Mark Gastineau as he is doing his sack dance and a brawl breaks out b/w the Jets and Rams
The NFL later fined 37 players a total of $15,750. The heaviest fine among the Jets was the $1,000 assessed to Gastineau. pic.twitter.com/sl8pyxYiE3
— This Day In Sports Clips (@TDISportsClips) September 25, 2022
Gastineau resumed dancing and then realized it was Slater who shoved him. Before long, the two big men sparked a free-for-all.
Robinson Takes the Reins
Dickerson’s arrival coincided with former USC Trojans head football coach John Robinson’s first year at the helm in 1983.
Robinson helped fortify a Rams offensive line that allowed just 23 sacks that year. Consequently, Los Angeles quarterback Vince Ferragamo had a career-high 3,276 passing yards and 22 touchdowns in the 1983 NFL season.
With Slater, Dickerson, and Ferragamo at the top of their games, the Rams rekindled their past glory under Robinson’s leadership.
The Rams, who missed the postseason in 1981 and 1982, reached the playoffs six times in the next seven seasons. Los Angeles also averaged ten wins per season from 1983 to 1989.
Unfortunately, the Rams never reached the Super Bowl during those seven memorable seasons. They never advanced past the NFC Championship Game in the 1980s.
One of those NFC Championship Game appearances was against Walter Payton’s Chicago Bears in 1985.
The Bears pounded the Rams into submission, 24-0. Although Payton had just 32 yards on 18 carries in that game, Chicago eventually won its first Super Bowl title with a resounding 46-10 rout of the New England Patriots two weeks later.
For his part, Jackie Slater racked up most of his pro football accolades in the 1980s. He earned seven Pro Bowl nods and four Second-Team All-Pro selections from 1983 to 1990. Slater also won the NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year award in 1986, 1987, and 1989.
Slater earned those distinctions with John Robinson as his head coach. He asked Robinson to present him at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2001.
🥳 Happy Birthday 7x Pro Bowler, Hall of Famer & Rams great Jackie Slater! During his 20 yr career, Jackie blocked for 24 different QB's & 37 different RB's. In 1983, the #Rams O-line allowed an NFL low 23 sacks & paved the way for Dickerson to rush for a rookie record 1,808 yds! pic.twitter.com/LGgQl5SOil
— 80s Football Cards 🏈 🙌 (@80sFootballCard) May 27, 2021
Taking on Another Future Legend
When Robinson presented Slater to Canton, OH, the former lauded Jackie’s exemplary work habits. Slater’s willingness to go the extra mile helped him become a pillar of strength on the Rams’ offensive line for two decades.
“When all the rest of us were going home, you could see Jackie out there working on that backstep,” Robinson said.
Hudson Houck, the Rams’ offensive line coach during the John Robinson era from 1983 to 1991, played a crucial role in Slater’s evolution into one of the best offensive linemen of the 1980s.
Houck typically stayed behind with Slater after practices to do some extra work. According to Robinson, Houck and Slater continued working together during the offseason.
Their hard work bore fruit when Jackie Slater faced his toughest opponent in the 1989 NFC Wild Card Game: Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Reggie White.
A Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro selection that year, White was a handful for other offensive linemen.
Slater remained undaunted. Robinson remembered Slater hardly slept a wink before the much-anticipated matchup with White,
When White and Slater finally squared off, it was like a heavyweight championship bout from the opening kickoff.
Slater tried every trick imaginable to hold off White, an eventual thirteen-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer many consider one of the best defensive linemen in pro football history.
“I wasn’t always physically dominant, but I strived for perfection,” Jackie told The Associated Press (via ESPN) in 2001. “I think I put relentless pressure on my opponent. He clearly could have dominated the game, and that didn’t happen.”
Slater frustrated White all game long. The latter mustered just one sack and four tackles in the Rams’ resounding 21-7 victory
It was arguably Jackie Slater’s greatest performance in his memorable twenty-year NFL career.
Continuing to Shine on a Struggling Team
Slater was so impressive that White singled him out as one of the five toughest offensive linemen he played against almost nine years later.
“Dominant,” was how White described Slater to The Seattle Times in the fall of 1998. “Was extremely smart and resilient.”
White considered Slater and Cincinnati Bengals Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz the best of his era.
“He and Jackie Slater were the best,” White told The Seattle Times.
Slater promptly returned the compliment. In 2013, he told the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame that Reggie White was the most outstanding pass rusher and run defender he’d ever had to deal with.
Despite Slater’s heroics against White’s Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers humbled the Rams in the 1989 NFC Championship Game, 30-3.
Unfortunately, over the next six seasons, the Rams hardly resembled the championship-caliber team they had been in the ’80s.
Los Angeles averaged a paltry four wins per year in the last two years of the memorable John Robinson era from 1990 to 1991.
Chuck Knox’s second tour of duty as Rams head coach was hardly successful, either. Los Angeles averaged just five wins per season when Knox coached the team for a second time from 1992 to 1994.
Moving to St. Louis and Hanging Them Up
The Rams’ move to St. Louis, MO in 1995 hardly made a difference. They won just seven games in their first season as the St. Louis Rams that year.
It also turned out to be Jackie Slater’s final pro football season. He retired following the 1995 NFL campaign.
Slater ended his pro football career on a high note. He won the prestigious Bart Starr Award for his character and leadership on the gridiron and in the local community in 1996.
Slater’s 259 career games were the most among NFL offensive linemen at the time of his retirement, per The Associated Press (via ESPN).
He also was the longest-tenured Rams player after suiting up for 20 seasons. Slater’s 18 postseason games were also the most in team history at the time.
Jackie Slater was the epitome of longevity in the National Football League. While the average NFL player’s career lasts approximately just four years, Slater did that fivefold. He played with the Rams for 20 years from 1976 to 1995.
It was unheard of for an offensive tackle during that era. It’s a bruising position that constantly holds off edge rushers on just about every play.
A Long Career Comes to an End
Slater played pro football for so long, he witnessed Al Davis’s Oakland Raiders relocate to Los Angeles in 1982 and move back to Oakland in 1995—the same year the Rams left Los Angeles for St. Louis, MO.
“Jackie Slater is proof they were playing football in the prehistoric days,” Rams quarterback Jim Everett told the Tribune News Services in the summer of 2001. “I have seen calluses on his feet where he used them to stop his car like Fred Flintstone.”
Slater’s longevity allowed him to block for several eventual Rams Hall of Famers including Eric Dickerson, Joe Namath, and Jerome “The Bus” Bettis at various points in their pro football careers.
Happy 68th Birthday to Jackie Slater!#RamsHouse (1976–1995)
⭐ 7× Pro Bowl
💯 Member-Pro Football Hall of Fame
— JVAN (@VanderlansJim) May 27, 2022
Slater blocked for 24 quarterbacks and 37 running backs during his 20-year tenure in Rams blue and gold from 1976 to 1995.
His elite blocking helped running backs such as Dickerson, Bettis, Cleveland Gary, Greg Bell, Charles White, Wendell Tyler, and Lawrence McCutcheon rack up 1,000 yards on the ground.
Because of Slater’s immovable presence on the offensive line, Rams running backs had at least 100 rushing yards in 107 games.
Rams quarterbacks had at least 300 passing yards with Jackie Slater keeping the league’s most notorious edge rushers at bay.
“It’s hard not to forget ’em,” Slater told The Associated Press (via ESPN) in 2001. “They all had their different idiosyncrasies.”
When FOX News’s Daniel Canova asked Slater in the spring of 2020 whether Walter Payton or Eric Dickerson was the better running back, Jackie did not hesitate.
“The best back that I played with in college was Walter Payton, and the best running back that I played with in the pros was Eric Dickerson,” Slater quipped.
Jackie Slater and his wife Annie currently reside in the Orange County, CA area. They have two sons, Matthew and David.
Jackie’s older son, Matthew, is a Pro Bowl special teams player for the New England Patriots.
Matthew’s Patriots squared off against his dad’s Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, GA.
During the lead-up to the Super Bowl in 2019, Jackie admitted to USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell it was hard not to root for the Rams, the team he had played for from 1976 to 1995.
The Patriots beat the Rams 13-3 and won their sixth Super Bowl title. Matthew also earned his third Super Bowl ring, an accolade his father never earned during his legendary pro football career.
Nevertheless, Matthew gave his dad credit for molding him into the man he is today.
“(He) just taught me how to be a man,” Matthew Slater told USA TODAY in 2019. “How to lead my family, how to be a man of character and integrity and have an impact on people’s lives that you touch each and every day. That’s why I appreciate so much about my dad.”
Jackie tried his hand at sports broadcasting in the immediate aftermath of his retirement from the NFL. He served as a color analyst for FOX Sports, ESPN, and local Los Angeles station KABC-TV.
Jackie Slater entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH in the summer of 2001. John Robinson, his head coach with the Los Angeles Rams, was his presenter.
Jackie expressed his fondness for Robinson in his induction speech. The two worked together with the Rams from 1983 to 1991.
In eight of those nine years, Robinson personally picked out his captains. Three of them were his starting offensive linemen, including Slater.
Part of Slater’s enshrinement speech reads:
“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 a special, special day for me.”
Jackie Slater is also a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the California Sports Hall of Fame, the Black College Football Hall of Fame, and the St. Louis Football Ring of Fame. The Los Angeles Rams have also retired Slater’s No. 78 jersey.
Coaching and Broadcasting
Slater ventured into coaching one decade after he retired from pro football. He served as the Oakland Raiders’ co-offensive line coach in the 2006 NFL season.
Jackie then coached the Saddleback Bobcats’ offensive line from 2008 to 2009.
After a two-year hiatus from football, Slater coached the Azusa Pacific Cougars’ offensive linemen from 2011 to 2018. The Cougars won 67 of the 90 games during that period and made two NCAA Division II playoff appearances with Slater on the coaching staff.
Jackie also worked toward his master’s degree in leadership while coaching the Cougars. He eventually earned the degree in 2014, per the team’s official athletics website.
After completing his master’s degree, Jackie also worked as a football color analyst for KTTV-TV in Southern California, per USA TODAY.
In the spring of 2020, Slater told Canova that he stays in shape by going to the gym several times per week. He also attends regular Bible study once a week.