By John Ingoldsby, Player Engagement Insider
This has been a special year for Matthew Slater, who missed games due to injury twice this season, but yet bounced back when he did play to receive record-breaking recognition.
Not only did Slater become the only special teams player in NFL history to earn seven consecutive Pro Bowls, he also was named the New England Patriots’ 2017 Ed Block Courage Award winner.
The Pro Bowl was an astounding achievement this year given a hamstring injury that occurred early in preseason, but ended with him matching former Buffalo Bills special teams standout Steve Tasker with the most overall special teams Pro Bowl honors in NFL history. As a result, he won the Ed Block award, which is given to the player that best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration.
“It’s very humbling to receive the Ed Block award, and reflects directly back on the training staff who helped me through this year of trial and tribulation,” explained Slater about the injury that kept him out of multiple games during two separate stints this season.
“The adversity from these two related injuries certainly helped me build character and I am thankful to the trainers for working me through this,” he said, adding that he was also “very appreciative of my teammates’ support and recognizing me with this award.”
This character was another example of why he was also the team’s 2017 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award nominee, and has been elected for seven straight years as the Patriots’ special teams captain, a show of respect that extends throughout the league as evidenced by him winning the prestigious 2016 Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award last January.
“Winning the Bart Starr award was very special since I can share it with my Dad,” said Slater, referring to his Pro Football Hall of Fame father Jackie, who won the award in 1996 as an offensive tackle with the Los Angeles Rams, making them the first father-son duo to win the award.
“This award was particularly meaningful since when I hear the history of Bart Starr, I believe we have a lot in common with our shared faith in the Lord and belief in community,” observed Slater, adding, “We also both know that we will be remembered not just for football but for how we dealt with others, so winning this wasn’t about me, but about a lot of other people who helped make this possible.”
The faith to which he refers is his bedrock, and may become his life’s work he said while talking in the locker room a few days before the playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, which was a prelude to him taking the podium before the AFC Championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and addressing the national media wearing a shirt that said, “New England vs. Everybody.”
“I am interested in going into the ministry after football since I have a passion for the Gospel and the Lord,” noted Slater, adding, “I want to invest in youth and have a positive influence on them.”
He already is well underway on his post-gridiron mission of working with young people in both his native California and also New England where, as the 2013 winner of the team’s esteemed Ron Burton Community Service Award, he still works with the Ron Burton Training Village.
And it doesn’t end there for the former UCLA star receiver, who showed his speed in 2016 by mobilizing in just two weeks a fundraiser at Patriot Place called “Matthew vs Matthew” in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
“After that hurricane devastated Haiti and then hit the Carolinas, where we have family, I just knew we had to help so we put together a successful event right here in Foxboro,” he recalled.
Just another example of Slater’s awareness of what’s important, and why he plans to attend the Ed Block Courage Awards Banquet on March 10 in Baltimore.
“I look forward to meeting the other team winners from across the NFL, and also my wife Shahrzad is from Maryland, so we can also see some family while we’re there,” said the former fifth-round pick who continues to show just how sincerely special he is to both his team and the league.
John Ingoldsby is the President and Founder of IIR Sports, Inc. (www.IIRSports.com), a sports media firm based in Boston. He has covered the NFL throughout his career that began as a newspaper reporter/editor, and his articles have appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine (NFL Player Engagement), London-based Financial Times newspaper (NFL's international strategy), the Philadelphia Daily News (Annual NFC Coaches Breakfast) and the Boston Globe (Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll).