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Rams '93 / Season Preview : Slater Gets Edge on Field by Working Off It : Veteran: Offensive lineman stays in condition, studies game film and uses savvy to keep up with younger competition.

September 05, 1993|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jim Everett once said he had proof football existed in prehistoric times.

"I've seen the calluses on Jackie Slater's feet where he used to stop his car like Fred Flintstone," Everett said.

Jackie Slater, football dinosaur, is still eluding the tar pits of retirement. At 39, the only active player who remembers Chuck Knox's first stint with the Rams readies for an 18th campaign.

Like the tide, Old Man Ram just keeps coming back. He ranks 13th on the all-time NFL list in games played with 238, has started 194 games in a row, played in seven Pro Bowls and was named the league's offensive lineman of the year four times.

"There are certain athletes who have that staying power," said Jack Faulkner, Ram director of pro personnel, "but it doesn't happen by accident. This a man who is incredibly dedicated. He keeps himself in absolutely great condition during the off-season. He's got a book on everyone he plays against listing strengths and weaknesses. And he studies film.

"I guess he's pretty much running on smarts now."

How long can savvy compensate for lost youth? Slater's not sure. Looking ahead is not his style. Concentrating on the moment is.

"It's really hard to say," Slater said. "Ideally, you would like to be both smart and physical. You know, all the savvy in the world isn't going to help when you line up against some of these super-talented guys whose only read is to attack me when I move.

"Fortunately, I've been blessed to be able to remain pretty physical, even at this age."

Slater has kept up his end of the deal, too. Four or five times a week during the off-season, he drives from his home in Orange to Rams Park and sweats his way through a regimen of weightlifting and running.

"The biggest commitment I have to make is during the off-season," he said. "That's the toughest part about it, when nobody's around and you have to come over and work out by yourself. But I know that in order for me to have a chance, I have to do it.

"I still love the game. I still enjoy it. And that makes whatever discomfort occurs along the way that much more bearable."

Slater sat on a folding chair at Rams Park recently, scanning the evening shadows that spread across the field, and reflected on 17 years on a job that's akin to having a fight in a closet. He sometimes paused for a minute before answering, a faraway look in his eyes as he recalled old friends and foes.

Here's Jackie's list of all-timers:

* Strongest--"Mark Gastineau, in his prime, would be a very, very close second, but I think the strongest guy I've ever played against is Reggie White. But they were both very powerful players with the know-how to use their strength to succeed."

* Quickest--"For sheer quickness, I'd have to go with Fred Dean. He was a flash. But if you think about the most explosive player, I think I would say Howie Long. I think he's got the best first couple of steps of anyone I've ever played against."

* Dirtiest--"I remember we were playing the Atlanta Falcons, this was before I was playing regularly, and a couple of our starters came off the field and they had cleat marks all over their sides and stomach. They were trying to knock down Claude Humphrey with chop blocks, and he was jumping and coming down stomping. He was easily the dirtiest I've ever played against. Luckily, he didn't get any cleat marks on me when I was in there against him, but he tried."

* Meanest--"That's easy. Mean Joe Greene. I played against him in the college all-star game. He kept telling me to take it easy because it was only an exhibition game. I went at him hard again and, after the play, I thought he was leaning over to help me up. But he grabbed my face mask and gave me a knee to the throat. It was his little welcome to the NFL, I guess."

* Best Run-Stuffer--"There was this guy who played for the New York Giants in '83 and '84. His last name was McGriff. For the life of me, I can't remember his first name (Curtis), but he was their starting left end. He was a big, massive guy with an incredibly wide base and you just couldn't get any movement on him at all."

* Best Pass-Rusher--"Man, that takes in a lot of great players, and different types of players. But if I had to pick one guy I wouldn't have to deal with while trying to protect my passer, I guess that would have to be Reggie White."

* Best All-Around Player (active)--"I guess the best all-around player who's still active would have to be White. His strength sets him apart and allows him to play the run or get to the passer equally well."

* Best All-Around Player (retired)--"I'd have to say Ed Too Tall Jones. He played the run really well. He rushed the passer well. He was a tall, rangy guy who could deflect balls and get in the quarterback's line of vision. And he had an unorthodox style that made him very difficult to block."

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