FOXBORO, Mass. — Last month, Matthew Slater found out he’d been selected to the Pro Bowl for the sixth consecutive season. This week, he took home an even more prestigious honor.
The New England Patriots announced Wednesday that Slater had been chosen as the latest recipient of the Bart Starr Award, named after the Hall of Fame quarterback and given annually to the player who “best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.”
Slater is the first Patriots player to win the award — which his father, former Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater, received in 1996 — and he shared a fantastic story about how the team broke the news to him.
“They set me up pretty good,” Slater said Wednesday morning. “We have our Bible study on Mondays after the games, and they changed the time of the Bible study, made it a little bit later. The schedule adjusts here, and (team chaplain) Jack Easterby tells me, ‘Hey, see you at Bible study tomorrow.’ (I think), yeah, everything’s status quo. And I go into the Bible study, and there’s, like, 60 guys in there and coaches. I’m like, ‘Man, we’re about to have a good Bible study. This is going to be good.’
“And then (Patriots VP of media relations) Stacey James is in there and the camera crew, and I’m like, I don’t know if we’re doing a playoff-edition Bible study for the fans, but this is great. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, Jack, you’d better have a good one today, man. You’ve got to step it up.’
“Jack’s got the sheet that he usually has, and he goes through some things, and then his phone starts ringing. And I’m like, ‘Man, Jack, you’ve got to tighten up. You can’t have your phone ringing in here. We’ve got all these people.’ And he answers the phone, and it’s an older woman on the phone. She’s looking for Jack Easterby. They exchange a little bit, and then she’s like, ‘Is Matt there? I’m looking for Matt.’
“And I’m like, ‘Where’s (Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia)? Is he in here?’ I’m not thinking me. They call me down, and the woman on the phone is Mrs. Starr. She tells me I won the award. And they have the cameras in there, and my allergies start acting up a little bit. Seasonal allergies there.
“Then she told me my dad and I are the first father-son to win this award, and I don’t know. I’m just blown away by it. I really am.”
The award clearly meant a great deal to Slater, who has been the Patriots’ special teams captain since 2011.
“It was really emotional for me,” he said. “I think you (reporters) know well enough by covering me for a while that I really value the human element of football and I really value the relationships that I’ve made with people over the years. All that stems from the faith that I have in God and the way that I was raised by my parents. I’m a man who’s far from perfect, but I really feel like the Lord has done a lot of great things in my life. He’s working on me as a man, as a husband, as a father.
“But I’ve always tried to keep in perspective that I’m no different from anyone else (just) because I play football. It’s just a job. At the end of the day, the connection you make with people, the way you treat people, the things that you try to stand for and you believe in, though it may be not perfect at times, it’s something that’s very important to me.
“So to win this award, an award my dad won in 1996, it’s hard to put into words. It really is.”
Thumbnail photo via Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports Images