ATLANTA — Matthew Slater has spent nearly his entire life around the NFL. But despite being the son of a Hall of Fame offensive tackle, Slater wasn’t groomed for football stardom from birth.
In fact, as the New England Patriots’ special teams captain recounted Tuesday, Jackie Slater would have preferred if his son never strapped on a helmet.
“He didn’t want me to play football,” Matthew Slater said during media availability the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII hotel. “I think there were two reasons for that: He didn’t want us to feel pressure to live up to his name and all the things that he accomplished in his career. He knew there would be expectations that came along with that that potentially aren’t fair.
“And I also think he wanted us to avoid injury. He knew the toll that this game takes on you physically, and I don’t think that he wanted us to go through that. But against his wishes, here I am. It’s been a fun journey.”
Jackie Slater ultimately came around to his son’s love for the game, and Matthew has used his elite athleticism and intellect to become one of the best special teams players in NFL history. He’s been selected to seven Pro Bowls, equaling the mark his father hit before wrapping up his 20-year pro career in 1996.
The younger Slater has the clear edge in Super Bowls, however, reaching five to Jackie’s one and winning two championships (with the potential for a third on Sunday) to Jackie’s zero.
“I think a part of him is a little bit jealous,” Slater said, “but a part of him is just so excited. I feel like we’re in this together. I know I wouldn’t be here without my father and his guiding influence on my life, so for us to have this experience as a family and for him to be a part of it, it really means the world, not only to him, but to me, as well.”
Jackie Slater played all 20 of his NFL seasons with the Los Angeles Rams — the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII opponent. The Rams’ throwback blue jerseys, which they’ll wear Sunday, are identical to the ones Slater sported during his interminable LA tenure.
“I’m sure I’ll feel some kind of way when I see the jersey,” Matthew Slater said. “But ultimately, at the end of the day, I’m here with my teammates and representing what I believe is the finest organization in this league, and we’re going to be doing everything we can to beat that team. So nostalgia will have to step aside.”
At 33 and in his 11th season, Matthew Slater is one of the elder statesmen on the Patriots’ roster. He’s shown no signs of slowing down — he remains a force in kick coverage and hasn’t missed a game all season — but said he can’t imagine having a career as long as his fathers’.
“Absolutely not,” Slater said. “That’s a long time to do anything. But he had such a love for the game. He jokes all the time that (he) would have liked to keep playing if (he) didn’t get hurt there at the end. But that’s a long time to be playing football.”
Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images