(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Joe Horrigan interview, just fast-forward to 12:50 of the above attachment)
When the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s board of selectors met prior to Super Bowl LIII, it performed two tasks: The first was to elect the Hall’s Class of 2019; the second was to say goodbye to Joe Horrigan.
The Hall’s executive director, Horrigan retires this June after 42 years. But Feb. 2 was his last meeting with the Hall’s 48 voters, who showed their gratitude for his work and patience by giving him two prolonged standing ovations before the meeting ended.
“In my professional career,” Horrigan said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “it was the highlight.”
But Horrigan’s loss is not just the Hall’s loss; it’s the NFL’s loss, too. Because Horrigan was no ordinary Joe. He was the Hall’s archivist, with nobody anywhere more able to lend historical perspective to the NFL.
So, before it’s too late, we decided to take advantage of that one last time, asking Horrigan – now that he’s retiring, of course -- if there were someone out there he’d like to see one day be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He said there was.
“A guy that comes to mind for me,” he said, “and this goes way back … is guy named Duke Slater. I’d like to see him get in the Hall of Fame. His plight was not so much his ability on the field, but when he became eligible (for the Hall) in 1963 the world was not so cosmopolitan as it is today. And he was one of the few black men to play in the 1920s and had the longest … and by far probably the most successful … career.”
Slater was an offensive tackle who played 10 years of pro football (1922-31) and was the first African-American lineman in NFL history. In fact, at one time during the 1920s he was the only African-American player in the NFL. And he wasn’t just good. He was really, really good. A six-time All-Pro, he never missed a game in his career, starting 96 of the 99 game he played between the AFL and NFL.
“A six-time All-Pro,” said Horrigan, “by the various All-Pro selection type committees back in that day, which was unheard of in a 10-year career, and he was a tackle. So, it wasn’t that he was this running back or high-profile player. He was an in-the-trench-kind-of- guy.
“And (he) did it better than anybody else during his era … but did not get elected. And I do think it had a lot to do with the color of his skin -- in terms of moving forward and in people’s memories and as a solid candidate. Hopefully, we can correct that injustice.”
Slater, who retired after the 1931 season and later became the second African-American elected as a judge in Chicago (1948) and the first black member of the Chicago Superior Court (1960), has been a Hall-of-Fame finalist. In fact, he was one twice – in 1970 and again in 1971.
But both times he failed to get elected.
“I don’t know why he wasn’t just a slam dunk in that charter class or just after,” said Horrigan.
With the Hall considering a potential centennial class of Hall-of-Famers – opening the doors to some deserving players who somehow have been left behind – it’s not hard to imagine Slater might be high on the list. Mostly because he should be.