At long last, two legends of the game, Duke Slater and Alex Karras, are getting their just reward: spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On the occasion of the NFL's 100th birthday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is inducting its largest-ever class, a 20-member Centennial Class that will five modern-era nominees, two coaches (Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson), three contributors, and 10 senior inductees. As announced by the NFL on Wednesday, two of those 10 senior inductees will be Slater and Karras. To which we can only say: about freaking time.
Slater was one of the most dominant linemen of college football's early days. At Iowa he became a three-time All-Big Ten selection, a second team All-American as a sophomore and Iowa’s first black First Team All-American as a senior in 1921. His college dominance (and trailblazing status) was appropriately recognized; Slater was the only African-American inducted into inaugural College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
But Slater was every bit as good -- if not better -- at the professional level as he was at Iowa. Slater played for 10 seasons, starting 96 of 99 games and never missing a game due to injury. He was named an All-Pro seven times during his career, the most among African-American players before 1945; every other player from that time period who earned that many All-Pro honors is already in the Hall of Fame. Slater also played at a time 20 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball and was the only African-American player in the NFL in 1927 and 1929 and dealt with racism on and off the field that we can scarcely imagine. He should have been in the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago, but at least that wrong is finally being righted now.
Karras, who later became famous as an actor in movies (Blazing Saddles!) and television (Webster!), was also a dominant lineman at the college and professional levels. Despite a, uh, strained relationship with Iowa head coach Forest Evashevski, Karras starred for Iowa's 1956 and 1957 teams, which went 16-2-1 and made the Rose Bowl after the 1956 season. Karras was named a first-team All-American both seasons and in 1957 he won the Outland Trophy and finished second for the Heisman Trophy. Yes, as a lineman.
Karras was drafted by Detroit and played his entire 12-year NFL career (1958-1970) for the Lions. He missed only one game due to injury and was a dominant defensive tackle for over a decade. He earned first- or second-team All-Pro honors nine times over his 12-year carer and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He was also named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1960s.
Slater and Karras become the fourth and fifth Iowa players to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, following Emlen Tunnell (inducted in 1967), Paul Krause (inducted in 1998), and Andre Tippett (inducted in 2008). Congratulations to Slater and Karras on this extraordinary -- and thoroughly well-deserved -- recognition.