Duke Slater hasn’t played a down of NFL football in 87 years. But he has not been forgotten.
In our Talk of Fame Network poll last week, we asked our listeners and readers to vote a worthy senior candidate for the Class of 2019 from a slate of eight pre-1950 era players. Slater, the oldest candidate on the ballot, won going away with 81 percent of the vote. Former Eagles tackle Al Wistert, an all-decade selection in the 1940s, was a very distant second with five percent of the vote.
It was the fifth and final poll in our series on senior candidates for the Class of 2019. The winners from the four modern-era polls were Steelers linebacker Andy Russell, Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel, Eagles linebacker Maxie Baughan and Redskins offensive tackle Joe Jacoby. There were more than 5,500 votes cast in the five polls.
Slater was the Jackie Robinson of the NFL. He was the first African-American lineman in NFL history and played 10 seasons, earning all-pro honors six times.
Slater missed only one game in his career – a 1924 contest against the Kansas City Blues because blacks were prohibited from playing in the state of Missouri. In 1927, when NFL owners discussed banning black players, eight of the nine African-American players disappeared from pro football. Slater was the lone exception — and he remained the league’s only African-American player from 1927-29.
Slater became a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951 and was a two-time Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist in the early 1970s.
Wistert was one of the seven all-decade selections in this slate of eight candidates. The others were wide receiver Lavvie Dilweg (1920s), guard Ox Emerson (1930s), quarterback Cecil Isbell (1930s), tackle Bucko Kilroy (1940s), wide receiver Mac Speedie (1940s) and end Ed Sprinkle (1940s).
“All are worthy,” said Talk of Fame Network host Clark Judge, “but I’m torn between Al Wistert and Max Speedie. Both should have been in decades ago, so give me either.
“But because one wide receiver won’t be in Canton for his induction, I guess I’ll grab another and go for Speedie — a guy who, unlike Mr. Owens, was a first-team All-Pro six of his seven seasons, four times was a league leader in catches, twice led it in yards catching and won numerous championships. And who, also unlike Mr. Owens, was never tapped for the Hall of Fame. When you talk about injustices you might want to look at Mac Speedie.”