Thursday, July 25, 2019

Is Duke Slater a Lock for the HOF?

By John Turney
Slater with Rock Island 
The answer is, of course, no. The reason for that is no one is a lock—things are fluid and can change. Where would we put his chances? Ninety percent. Or higher.

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
All-Decade guard Hunk Anderson said of Slater, “Duke repeatedly swept me out of the way by body-blocking me from the side. Frequently, I found myself sitting on the grass.” Walter Eckersall wrote, "so powerful that one man cannot handle him and opposing elevens have found it necessary to send two men against him every time a play was sent off his side of the line.”

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.”

Slater was on the Hall of Fame Final 15 twice, in 1970 and 1971 but was never again a finalist.  He was selected to the 1920s All-Decade Team in the book The Pro Football Chronicle.

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.


  1. well said's hoping that Mr. Slater gets his (belated) due!

  2. hey John, I know (and really like) that you colorize many of the black and white photos that are published here, but on second view, is there a story about the #16 on the Slater Rock Island picture? According to the Gridiron Uniform database, the 1924 (and 25)Independents had numerals on both the front and back of their is the #16 from the original black and white photo or has it been doctored/added? Presuming the accuracy of the Database, doesn't this make Rock Island the first team in pro football history to have numerals on the front?

    1. the 16 is from the original photo...but I honestly don't know if they were first to hae numeral on front or not

      here is the team photo

  3. I think he is a lock for the hall of fame he has a pretty good case