Slater provided a North Dakota Super Bowl connection for the 1980 Philadelphia Eagles
MINNEAPOLIS—A 1973 Minot (N.D.) Ryan High School graduate, Mark Slater said one of his top college football options was North Dakota State. That was until then Bison head coach Ron Erhardt took a coaching job with the New England Patriots.
"There was a pretty good chance I would have ended up there because (Erhardt) was going to let me be a running back," said the 63-year-old Slater, who now lives in Norwood Young America, Minn.
With Erhardt out of the picture at NDSU, Slater decided to play for Cal Stoll at the University of Minnesota, where Slater started his college career (1973-77) on the defensive line. He would end up getting moved to the offensive line where he played center. That led to a six-year NFL career, that was highlighted by an appearance in Super Bowl XV with the Philadelphia Eagles. That game was played in the Louisiana Superdome.
"It ended up pretty well," said Slater, who was born in Crosby, N.D.
Slater, who grew up following the Minnesota Vikings, has been a Philadelphia fan ever since he played for the Eagles from 1979-1983. He has tickets to Sunday's Super Bowl game between the Eagles and the Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. It will be the first time Slater has been in the new Vikings stadium and the first time he's been to the Super Bowl in person since he played in the game against the Oakland Raiders to cap the 1980 season. The Raiders earned a 27-10 victory.
"It wasn't as good as we would have hoped, but it wasn't that bad either," Slater said. "We got there I guess. There are only two teams playing there this weekend. Not a lot of guys get that opportunity."
Slater said he watches the Eagles as much has he can, and his interest in the team piqued after Philadelphia drafted former NDSU quarterback Carson Wentz, who was in the MVP discussion this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury late in the regular season.
"That brings back a North Dakota connection," said Slater, who was a three-time state wrestling champion in high school. "He's certainly proven himself to be not only an outstanding player, but an outstanding young man in the way he handles himself and the way he goes about his business."
Slater never started a game during his NFL career, but he was a long snapper and played on the offensive line in short-yardage packages.
"They'd send me in every once in awhile to try to block Lawrence Taylor back in the day," Slater said of the former New York Giants linebacking legend. "He was a great football player."
While the Eagles drafted Slater in 1978, he was cut and then played for Don Coryell and the San Diego Chargers during the 1978 season. For the 1979 season, he rejoined Philadelphia, where he completed his pro career.
"There is nothing like being a Philadelphia Eagle," Slater said. "Once they accept you as one of their players, they never forget you out in Philadelphia. Sometimes they get a little bad rap about their fans. ... If you're winning and you're playing for them, they're the best fans you can have."
Quarterback Ron Jaworski and head coach Dick Vermeil helped lead the Eagles to Super Bowl XV, which was played Jan. 25, 1981, in New Orleans. Philadelphia beat the Vikings in the Divisional Round that season before knocking off the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game. That set up the Super Bowl showdown with Oakland.
"Back in 1980, things were a little different. The league was certainly growing," Slater said. "They didn't have all that exposure that they had today. ... The size of the (Super Bowl) from a business standpoint, the growth of that has been the biggest thing."
Slater was a 6-foot-2, 250-pound lineman in his NFL playing days. He said the Eagles didn't have a player on the team that weighed 300 pounds, which is commonplace in today's NFL for offensive and defensive linemen.
"I think our biggest guy might have been 275," he said. "Those (300-pound) people didn't exist back then. They do now."
For Slater, the youngest of six kids, one of his Super Bowl highlights was having his entire family in attendance at the big game. Slater said the first time the Eagles punted in that Super Bowl is also a fond memory. He remembers he planned to bob his head or twitch before he snapped the ball to try to draw Raiders Pro Bowl linebacker Ted Hendricks offsides. It worked.
"I know he prided himself on special teams," Slater said. "He jumped offsides. I will never forget that, I got him tricked on that."
Slater is going to Sunday's game with his wife, Rachel, and their sons, Steve, 29, and Ben, 27.
"It's going to be a fun game," said Slater, who moved back to Minnesota in 1994.
Slater was 28 years old in his final season with the Eagles in 1983.
"I always looked at pro football as something to do between college and getting into my life's work," said Slater, the president of a company that sells outdoor sporting goods. "That's how I looked at it. Today it's a little different because the money is a whole different deal."