ATLANTA – Have to admit, I was taken aback during a 34-minute phone chat this week when Jackie Slater laid out reasons he’ll be rooting for the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
If there’s one person who could split their vote, Slater’s that guy. He played 20 seasons with the Rams and still lives in Southern California. Matthew, the oldest of his two sons, is in his 11th season with the New England Patriots.
We all can understand if there’s a bit of internal tug-of-war.
Yet the Hall of Fame tackle is no Roger Goodell, nobody’s Dancing Bear. Slater is pretty much a straight-shooter on this topic.
“When you play your entire career with one organization as I did with the Rams,” Slater told USA TODAY Sports, “it’s hard for me not to pull for them and wish for the very best.”
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Even at the expense of his son’s quest for a third Super Bowl championship ring.
Blood may be thicker than water, but it is not the swing factor for what we can call “The Slater Situation.” Blame it on the Patriots’ dynasty.
Papa Slater, 64, played on several very good, championship-caliber Rams teams, but wound up in just one Super Bowl – when his crew went all the way to Pasadena to get shook up by the Steelers in XIV. When Matthew, who has earned his mark on Bill Belichick’s teams as the ace special teams captain, made it to Super Bowl in his third pro season, his father was plenty proud.
Then the Patriots won on their next two trips. Now, following up on last year’s loss, Matthew, 33, is poised to play in his fifth Super Bowl – against his dad’s former team.
“It’s a unique situation,” Matthew told USA TODAY Sports. “I think it’s a dream scenario for my father. He feels like he can’t lose, either way the game turns out.”
Papa Slater is still close to the Rams. In addition to coaching offensive linemen at Azusa Pacific, he is an analyst for KTTV-TV in Los Angeles, appearing on several shows – in studio or on-location – that are built around the Rams and Chargers. He can appreciate the manner in which the Rams have rebuilt the team under Sean McVay, including so many new pieces, after floundering under Jeff Fisher.
“There’s a lot of energy in Southern California,” Jackie said. “The fans are ignited like they haven’t been in a long time. If the Rams had moved here and came out like gangbusters and went to a Super Bowl in their first year, it would have been like they inherited that. But the fans here saw the dismantling and watched the construction of a Super Bowl team. I think they identify with them more because of that.”
Slater marveled that the Rams have been in L.A. for just three seasons, “And I was the one saying, ‘Be patient.’ “
Meantime, New England’s setback last year against the Eagles has some relevance about now. Papa Slater knows the pain of losing in a big game, and after the result in Minneapolis in LII was all set to console his son.
Turns out, it was the other way around. It felt like Papa Slater took the loss harder than his son.
“He really helped me deal with the anguish of losing that game,” Jackie said. “It was his attitude. Here, I was concerned for him. But the way he graciously dealt with defeat helped me.”
Jackie remembers the gist of his son’s post-game chat as such:
“You know, Dad, the best team won today. We just didn’t get it done.”
Which brings us back around to Sunday.
"Now, knowing how he can deal with it if they don’t win, it makes it easier to root against them,” Jackie said.
Of course, this all says much about who these men are. Life is so much bigger than football, with the Slaters' Christian faith as the bedrock foundation. Someone asked Matthew this week to reflect on the best advice he’s ever received from his father, and he began his reply by pointing out that it had nothing to do with playing.
“The best advice he ever gave me was to investigate who the person that Jesus Christ was, and figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” Matthew said. “Then, from there, just taught me how to be a man. 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.”
Then there was that advice when 5-year-old Matthew was a rambunctious fellow in pre-school. Turns out that during recess, Matthew would tackle anyone who picked up a football —even the girls in their dresses — and begin running. That was the topic of Jackie’s first parent-teacher conference. Of course, that led to a discussion at home to correct the issue.
Jackie recalled the puzzled look on Matthew’s face, with his palms raised to the sky, in explaining his tackling-machine tendencies. “He was dead serious,” Jackie reflected.
Matthew: “But dad, that’s my job!”
Dad: “No, it’s not your job. It’s my job!”
By design, Annie Slater typically told her boys that Jackie was “going to work” or “going to do his job” rather than playing football whenever he went to practice, road games and the like.
Now, of course, Jackie said, “It is his job. And he can tackle all he wants.”
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