By John Turney
|Slater with Rock Island
Slater is truly someone who got overlooked by previous Hall of Fame committees. Slater, the most successful African-American in the NFL's early history would have been All-Pro more often and perhaps All-Decade except for the clear racial prejudice of the time, a prejudice the eventually led to a ban on all block players for over almost two decades and ugly stain on the NFL history.
As it was, Slater was First-team All-Pro five times (1923, 1925, 1926, 1927, and 1929) and a Second-team All-Pro twice (1924, and 1930). Two of those seasons he was consensus All-Pro.
He played collegiately for Iowa and then for the Milwaukee Badgers (where he blocked for Fritz Pollard, Jimmy Conzelman and Paul Roberson) in 1922 and for the Rock Island Independents (where he blocked for Jim Thorpe) from 1922–1925 and then the Chicago Cardinals (where he blocked for Ernie Nevers) from 1926–1931.
|Slater with the Chicago Cardinals
Elmer Layden, one of Notre Dame’s immortal Four Horsemen said Slater was “the greatest tackle I ever saw.” Wilfrid Smith of the Chicago Tribune, a former NFL player himself, stated,“Slater…is one of the best tackles who ever donned a suit. His phenomenal strength and quickness of charge make it almost impossible for his opponents to put him out of any play directed at his side of the line.”
It seems clear that Slater checks the boxes—honors and testimonial. Linemen don't have stats and the teams he played for were not very successful so he doesn't have the ring. Still, many Hall of Famers don't have a ring so there is no reason to penalize Slater.
Joe Horrigan the Hall of Fame's former executive director stated to Talk of Fame Network, “A guy . . .named Duke Slater. I’d like to see him get in the Hall of Fame. His plight was not so much his ability on the field, but when he became eligible (for the Hall) in 1963 the world was not so cosmopolitan as it is today. And he was one of the few black men to play in the 1920s and had the longest … and by far probably the most successful … career.”
Horrigan's opinion will certainly carry a lot of weight the upcoming Centennial Class of 2020. Slater seems a perfect fit for that and we, as we said, are 90% or more certain he will have one of the ten available senior slots.