ATLANTA — Matthew Slater wishes his father could have experienced the euphoria of winning a Super Bowl, as Slater eyes his third Sunday against the Rams, his father’s old team.
But the son is every bit as proud of his father as his father is of him, because as much as Matthew Slater has beaten the odds, Jackie Slater beat even greater odds … to make it to Canton from Jackson, Miss., during a wretched time in American history and become a Hall of Famer.
“He was in the 10th grade in Jackson, Mississippi, when they forced integration there,” Matthew Slater told The Post. “And it certainly was a challenging time. It was a challenging time to be living in this country as an African-American person in the South, where you didn’t have the same rights that other Americans had. You had to go around back to use a different bathroom, drink from a different water fountain … get your meals from different places.
“And that was a tough time for my mother and my father. There’s so many emotions that they had to process during that time. So many questions that they had. It was really a tough time for them.
“But I think the thing that saw them through that was their faith in God, and them always trying to see the best in people and the best in situations.
“I’ve always marveled at how my dad has no resentment or ill will from that time. Which is hard to imagine. Some of the things that he was called, some of the experiences that he had, and his family had. But I think it made him stronger. I think it made him a better man. I think it brought perspective to his life, and I think he’s lived his life from that time forward differently. And it’s rubbed off on everyone that he’s come in contact with.”
Jackie Slater delivered important life lessons to his son at an early age.
“The message that I tried to deliver to Matthew was that if you treat people the way you want to be treated … judge the tree by its fruit, so to speak,” he said.
I told Jackie that his son marveled at how he was not bitter over the way it was.
“I had to get over that,” he said, “and I did get over it, but the thing that helped me to get over it was my faith and God telling me that, ‘You’re gonna be all right.’ What I found was more often than not, people responded to them the way you treated them and responded to them. For me, it was not a difficult thing to do to be courteous and to be kind, and consequently I was met with the same thing from the people I interacted with.”
Of course it didn’t hurt that Jackie Slater was on his way to being a 6-foot-4, 277-pound right tackle.
Jackie Slater would go on to play 20 years with the Rams (1976-1995), block the likes of L.C. Greenwood, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Fred Dean, Charles Haley, Rickey Jackson, Derrick Thomas, Mark Gastineau, occasionally Lawrence Taylor.
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He had one chance to win a Super Bowl and lost to Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, even though he had done his job against Greenwood.
“I learned from that point that I can only impact the game so much, so my goal simply became one of winning the game at my spot,” Jackie said.
Which he did. He became a Hall of Famer in 2001.
“When we got the call,” Matthew Slater said, “I think it hit me for the first time that my dad was pretty good [chuckle]. It was a very humbling experience for my family and to go through that and see that. For him to come from that, to overcome all the obstacles that he had to overcome and reach the pinnacle of his profession, it was really amazing for us, and something we’ll never forget. And we’re so proud of what he’s been able to accomplish, how he’s represented our family, the Rams organization and this great game of football.”
Jackie thought Matthew, who idolized former Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce, was too small to play football, but finally relented in ninth grade. “I wanted to be like my dad,” Matthew said.
They watched the Patriots shock The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI back at their California home.
“It was very difficult, because [the Rams] had finally gotten there and it was very difficult to watch,” Jackie said.
Matthew: “Unfortunately I’ve had to watch that tape a time or two and hear him play out the scenarios of that game in his head. I think of all the things over the course of his career that he regrets the most, that would be atop the list, never being able to be called champion.”
When Matthew, a 6-foot, 210 pounder, made the Patriots roster in 2008, the first person he called was his father.
“We did it!” Matthew told him.
Matthew would develop into a seven-time Pro Bowler and inspirational special teams captain, the Perfect Patriot, and won the Super Bowl — Super Bowl XLIX over the Seahawks — his father never could.
“I was just very excited for him, and I remember my first thought was that he wouldn’t have to go through the rest of his life wondering what it felt like,” Jackie said. “And so I felt a little bit of it because I watched him enjoy it. But I knew at that moment in time that he would never look back and say he didn’t know what it felt like to win a Super Bowl.”
Matthew smiled and said: “I think for him, he felt like he won.”
Matthew won a second Super Bowl — Super Bowl LI over the Falcons — before losing last year to the Eagles.
“He knows the feeling,” Matthew said. “I remember saying to my dad, ‘I have two beautiful kids, a wife, you and mom are healthy, my brother’s here … still have a lot to be thankful for.’ ”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
“Every kid in his class, no matter who they were, what color they were or anything like that, he always would invite people,” Jackie recalled. “But I think more than anything else, he was a kid that grew up with a deep sense of responsibility for other people, and I think that’s very unique.”
Jackie will be flying in for the game. Super Sunday for a super father and super son.
Matthew: “I think he’s gonna be giddy. I know he wants me to do well and I know that he’ll always support me as his son. Either way it goes, you gotta feel like for him he can leave with a smile on his face.”
Jackie: “I’d love to see the Rams do well and win. I’ve been pulling for this team for over 40 years. I wore those colors, I know what it’s like, I know what it feels like to put ’em on, I know what it feels like to represent the people here in Los Angeles. If they win the game, I’m gonna be happy. If they lose the game and my son wins, I’m gonna be happy then because I know that he’s gonna be enjoying his third Super Bowl victory. I know he knows what it feels like, and last year after they lost to the Eagles? He gave me a deep appreciation for him and his attitude about winning and losing, which I think is very healthy. He said, ‘Dad, they were the better team. We didn’t play as well as we should have.’
“When I look at this situation, I can’t lose.”