For NFL Rookies, The Real Father’s Day Comes This September

NFL logoThey will definitely treat him to something on Father’s Day on Sunday, June 15. Maybe some snazzy cufflinks or a new driver for the golf bag.

But the real Father’s Day present this year from six NFL rookies will be unwrapped from September 4-8 – on NFL Kickoff 2008 Weekend. At that time, if all goes well, they will give dad a gift 158 sons have presented before – following in his footsteps as NFL players.

For two rookies this year, those footsteps, like five NFL father-son duos before them, can be traced all the way to Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Defensive end CHRIS LONG, a first-round selection of the St. Louis Rams this year, and wide receiver MATTHEW SLATER, a fifth-round choice of the New England Patriots, each boast fathers who have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — defensive end HOWIE LONG (Class of 2000) and tackle JACKIE SLATER (Class of 2001).

When Chris Long and Matthew Slater take the field on Kickoff Sunday September 7, it will be a payoff for the dedication instilled in them by their fathers.

For the Longs, the father-son comparisons will be inevitable. Chris will line up for the Rams at the same defensive end position his father played with the Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders for 13-seasons (1981-93). He plans to play with the same non-stop motor for which his father was known.

“I don’t think of myself as doing anything extraordinary with my effort,” says Chris. “I think that’s just the way football is supposed to be played, at a high speed. I’m not a guy who does things half-speed. So it’s been pretty natural for me to go that fast.”

The elder Long already thinks his son is off to a great start after coaching Chris at St. Anne’s-Belfield High School in Charlottsville, Virginia and then watching him play at the University of Virginia.

“Chris does everything he possibly can to perform at a high level,” says Howie. “I’ve never seen anyone work as hard. He’s light years ahead of me in terms of maturity. He’s probably mentally tougher than I was at that age. He has a great sense of the moment.”

Unlike the Long family, at six-feet and 198 pounds, Matthew Slater never aspired to dominate the trenches like his father Jackie did for 20 years with the Los Angeles-St. Louis Rams (1976-95). Instead, he made a name for himself as a speedster at UCLA, running 4.4 in the 40 while playing wide receiver, cornerback, safety and returning kicks.

“If I’d been a lineman, I probably would have been a pretty good one, because I would have had a great teacher,” says Matthew. “But I prefer being able to run up and down the field and having speed as opposed to size.”

Even with the change of positions, Matthew tries to mimic the preparation his father exhibited throughout his career.

“Everybody sees the games on Sunday,” says Matthew. “But I saw the things about my dad people didn’t see — the blood, sweat and tears that he put into the game. I saw how he prepared and the respect he gave to the game and that’s something he passed on to me.”

Four other rookies can join the NFL fathers-sons list this year: Minnesota safety DOMINIQUE BARBER, son of former New York Jets running back MARION, JR. and brother of present Dallas running back MARION, III; San Diego cornerback ANTOINE CASON, son of former Atlanta defensive back WENDELL; Pittsburgh linebacker BRUCE DAVIS, son of former Oakland-Los Angeles and Houston offensive lineman BRUCE; and Arizona running back DIONTE JOHNSON, son of former New York Giants, Cleveland, Detroit and New York Jets linebacker PEPPER.

There have been 158 father-son pairs and threesomes that have played in the NFL. The list includes such names as DORSETT (Tony and Anthony); FARR (Mel, Sr.; Mel, Jr.; and Mike); HASSELBECK (Don, Matt and Tim); KRAMER (Jerry and Jordan); KLECKO (Joe and Dan); MANNING (Archie, Peyton and Eli); MATTHEWS (Clay, Sr.; Clay, Jr.; and Bruce); METCALF (Terry and Eric); SHULA (Don, Dave and Mike); and WINSLOW (Kellen, Sr. and Kellen, Jr.).