You know how people say a player like Tom Brady or Michael Jordan or prime Tiger Woods has ice water in their veins when the stakes are the highest? When one shot or one play before the clock hits triple zeroes means the difference between going home a champion and going home a never-was?
Matt Slater’s performance in Super Bowl LIII was that, except for replace the ice water in his veins with weapons-grade Red Bull.
For as well-known and rightfully loved as Matt Slater’s been since he got to New England in 2008, he’s still kind of an enigma for a lot of Patriots fans. Everyone knows he’s really, really good at what he does, cause you don’t make 7 straight Pro Bowls, 4 First Team All-Pros, and one Second Team All-Pro just by showing up. But if you ask most people what it actually *is* that he does, usually the best you’ll get is “special teams ace” (which, truthfully, is what we do around here basically 100% of the time) or maayyyyyyyybe they’ll tell you he plays gunner on punt and kick coverage. That’s about it, aside from occasionally playing a wide receiver on TV.
Oh, and he’s got the annoying luck of your one friend who always comes up with a full house when you have a flush when it comes to coin tosses:
Slater’s cult status has even gotten to the point where The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman wrote almost 2,500 words last week that more or less attempted to answer the question “So what would you say......you do here?”, and came away with the answer that he’s an
“outstanding special teams performer”
“like Forrest Gump”.
That was before the game. Before Slater logged what Patriots fans can safely call the game of his life. Matt left so much of it on the field en route to the Patriots’ sixth Lombardi it’s a wonder his signature cross eye-black stayed on all game.
It was at some point in between the Uber ride home and cracking into the *good* bourbon in the decanter for the first time since, well, I put it there for this exact occasion (which is kind of an achievement in and of itself, TBH) that it hit me:
We just saw the definitive Slater game.
I’ll probably write about this at some point this week when I’m not busy white boy dancing and pouring Maker’s 46 down my throat:— Matt/Goose (@SomeCallMeGoose) February 4, 2019
Matt Slater fucking BALLED tonight.
All 3 phases of the game, kids. Ya need em
By my untrained eye’s count, Slate had four, count ‘em, FOUR plays on special teams that are a master class in what a BAMF he can be when all the chips are down, and in this Super Bowl where you may have heard the fewest points were scored in Super Bowl history, Matt just kept finding ways to pin the Rams waaaaaaaaaaaay back in “FML” field position.
While logging only 1 solo tackle and 1 combined tackle on the box score.
(sorry in advance for the video quality. The Pats Pulpit All-22 Film Cave was busy with someone playing Call of Duty on the big screen. Hopefully the NFL doesn’t fine me for conduct detrimental to the game by the time you’re watching this)
Slater Ballin’ #1
This is the appetizer before he really gets cooking in the later 3 clips. The “you guys wanna get mozzarella sticks?”, if you will.
Patriots have to punt early, BOOOOOO. Allen sends a rocket and Slate's right there to pin LA in No Man's Land like "You boys have fun with that" pic.twitter.com/aPQUBRH4Ou— Matt/Goose (@SomeCallMeGoose) February 9, 2019
Sure, there’s a decent chance it would’ve bounced out anyway, but the Patriots aren’t parading their 6th Lombardi on a duckboat because they treat stuff like this like you and me playing a game of minigolf with a beer bet on the line.
Slater Ballin’ #2
Yes, Matt actually misses his tackle after screaming down the field doing his best Sonic the Hedgehog impression on this one. What he does do, though, is 2 v. important things:
- Gets *just* enough of a grab on the returner to slow him down a tad, and
- Forces the returner outside so his boys behind him can finish the play
Another punt: I dunno much about special teams but I *do* know that screaming down the field and getting just enough of the returner to force him outside where your boys can finish the job is...that's how you do it pic.twitter.com/dQlyknk1Ns— Matt/Goose (@SomeCallMeGoose) February 9, 2019
(for what it’s worth, the flag turned out to be holding on Albert McClellan, so, not ideal)
Matt Slater is 33 years old. And doing that. I’m roughly the same age and a few years ago when I told my mother I wanted to get close to my high school time at a 5k, she said with zero hesitation “well, you’re a lot heavier now than you used to be”.
Slater Ballin’ #3
All right, skipping over whatever Pawnee County State Fair Saturday night musical performance that halftime show was, and on to what most people probably caught right away during the game: the smartest team almost always wins, cause they’re in the right place at the right time, and Slate knew right where to go before Ryan Allen even grabbed his helmet:
Is Ryan Allen to Matt Slater the new Stockton to Malone? MANY PEOPLE SAY YES pic.twitter.com/lctPi98yIR— Matt/Goose (@SomeCallMeGoose) February 9, 2019
Remember the seagulls in Finding Nemo going MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE?
As if pinning LA on their own 6 yard line earlier wasn’t bad enough, this time Slater downs it at the 2 and is appropriately dapped up by his teammates for basically telling Goff & friends “Just when you think you know the answers, WE CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!”
Also, if you had money on the prop bet that at some point Romo & Nantz would name-drop Matt Slater’s dad Jackie Slater as a Hall of Fame tackle for the Rams, advance to Go and collect your cash, cause you just hit straight CHA-CHING after that one. And as far as I remember, they didn’t even mention that Chris Hogan played lacrosse!
Slater Ballin’ #4
After finally getting his chance to shine a bit, as illustrated previously in Slater Ballin’ #3, as our good buddy Stephen White at the SB Nation mothership would say, he wasn’t done yet. Oh no, friends. There’s more where that came from. We are all gritnesses.
After doing the yeoman’s work on ‘teams all night (and, you know, his entire career, but who’s counting), Slater finally gets a chance to hit someone in the mouth deep in the 3rd quarter and drops him for a loss of 2!
Just like when I said Matt Slater even blocks politely, even when lowers the boom it's like "I simply can't allow you to go any further, thank you for understanding. How're the kids?" pic.twitter.com/KttEvnRhEx— Matt/Goose (@SomeCallMeGoose) February 9, 2019
You can almost see LA’s return man JoJo Natson look around like “This is not going to go well for me, is it?” and Slater smiling like “No, no it is not”.
I mean, this is 4 plays by midway through the third quarter where Matt and the special teams crew are straight up robbing the Rams of precious yardage in a 3-point game where any score by either team could be a complete game-wrecker. Like, be honest: would you have been at all surprised at that point if the final score turned out to be 7-3? 10-7? 10-3? 13-10? 10-10 going into overtime in the biggest game of the year for the second time in 3 years??
And Slater’s strapping on his helmet every damn time like “Not on my watch, cowboy”.
Or, if you’re a Pantera fan, “Walk on home, boy”.
Slater Ballin’ #5 - BONUS EDITION
Who did the fall to your knees in pure joy better:
LG Joe Thuney in Super Bowl 51, or Slater in the back of victory formation in 53?
And finally....watch Slate (#18) in the back drop to his knees in SWEET VICTORY pic.twitter.com/yvWepWBv2Q— Matt/Goose (@SomeCallMeGoose) February 9, 2019
Good for him. Sincerely. How classic Belichick is it to send the captain of special teams, one of the team’s most unsung, unselfish, and relentlessly positive players out there to ice the game for his third ring?
None of this stuff makes SportsCenter. None of Slater’s plays gets the OOOOOOOOH’s and AAAAAAAAAAH’s like Gronk’s spectacular catch to set up the game-winning score or Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy posterizing Jared Goff and handcuffing LA’s run game all night. Hell, if you polled everyone at the stadium that night in a Patriots jersey, what do you guys think the percentage of fans that could actually ID Matt Slater would be? Half, maybe? At best?
And at 33 freaking years old, when the Patriots couldn’t get as much as a touchdown drive going on offense until the game was almost over, when the GOAT and his trusty receivers that all had their moments of glory all season long were down and needed an assist, when any of the 3 phases of the Patriots’ game conceding an inch could’ve been a second straight agonizing Super Bowl loss, Slater did exactly what Julian Edelman told Tom Brady to do when the Pats were staring down the barrel of a 28-3 historic bodyslam 2 years earlier:
“Lead us, baby”
There’s only one way to close this out. It predates Slater’s time in New England, and, somewhat ironically, might be what he’s best-known for now, especially if this puts a big old stupid grin on your face when these videos come out every victory Monday:
Fellas how do we FEEL about being Super Bowl champions?