INDIANAPOLIS As the son of an NFL Hall of Famer, Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots had some advantages when it came to learning the game of football.
His father, Jackie Slater, was a longtime offensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, and he certainly passed along his knowledge of the game to Matthew. When Matthew steps onto the field in Indianapolis on Sunday for Super Bowl XLVI, he will share a special experience with his dad, who in 1980 played in Super Bowl XIV.
"He can relate to me in a lot of ways that some fathers wouldn't be able to," Matthew said of his dad. "The experiences he's been able to share, the advice that he's passed along both spiritually and from a football point of view has been unbelievable. It's a very special bond that he and I have."
Especially the faith in Jesus Christ that Jackie modeled and taught.
"When I was 7 years old, my father sat me down in my room," Matthew said. "He had his illustrated Bible for kids there, and he shared Christ with me. He told me about the relationship that he had with Christ, and some of the things Christ had done in his life. At that time, I accepted Christ."
Slater, a member of the Patriots' special teams who also plays wide receiver and safety, excelled in both track and football during his high school years. Though he dealt with injuries during his college career at UCLA, the Patriots drafted him in the fifth round in 2008.
This year, his teammates chose him as special teams captain, and he earned his first selection to the Pro Bowl (a game in which he was unable to play because of the Patriots' Super Bowl appearance). In addition to his leadership on the field, Slater also is the team's spiritual captain.
"Matthew is great because he does our Bible studies and everything, and I'm always there with him," said New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. "We have a good little group of guys, but Matthew oversees it. We're happy to have him on the team someone that we can go to and have a Christian brother that we can go and talk to."
"We have a lot of guys who love Jesus on this team," Slater said. "To be able to lead them in Bible studies, and fellowship with them and pray with them, it means a lot. It's very humbling to think that the Lord would use a simple man like me to do that."
For Slater, the opportunity to play in his first Super Bowl is certainly a blessing, and his desire is to use the spotlight to talk about the source of that blessing. When people look at him and his teammates "to give us a pat on the back," he said he wants to make sure that people know "that we're very blessed, and the Lord has shown His favor, and we're here because of the love of Christ."
"This is temporary," Slater said of the Super Bowl. "This is a time where man will give you honor or praise, but at the end of the day I'm playing for an audience of one. I'm trying to live for an audience of one. I don't live for anybody else but Him and I don't play for anybody else but Him."
That commitment began one day in his bedroom, when a 7-year-old boy came to the Lord thanks to the witness of a football-playing father and follower of Christ.
"I'm just so thankful to the Lord that my parents were already believers, and I was able to come to know the Lord at a young age," Slater said. "My dad is someone I look up to very much. He's really taught me how to be a man, and that starts by the faith that he has and the faith that he passed along to me.
"He tried to play and live life a certain way by Christ's standards, not by man's standards and he's passed that along to me."