Iowa football’s place in pro football history grew Wednesday when it was announced two former players would posthumously be entered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Alex Karras, Iowa class of 1958, and Duke Slater, class of 1921, join former Hawkeyes Andre Tippett, Paul Krause and Emlen Tunnell in Canton. Each were already members of the College Football Hall of Fame—Slater was a charter member of 1951’s inaugural class, while Karras joined such ranks in 1991.
With Slater, there likely isn’t a Hawkeye who’s had a more profound impact on the Iowa program, and perhaps the college game itself outside Nile Kinnick. A three-time all-conference offensive tackle and an all-American in 1921, Slater was a member of Iowa’s 7-0 National Championship team that took down an undefeated Knute Rockne-coached Notre Dame squad in ‘21.
He’d go on to become the first black lineman in the NFL, and was the only African American to play professionally for six of the nine years he was in the league. Slater played for the Milwaukee Badgers, Rock Island Independents and the Chicago Cardinals, earning all-pro honors seven times.
Slater would go on to become an attorney—and later a judge—in Chicago, going to law school at Iowa during football offseasons. He was the first African-American elevated to the Superior Court of Cook County, and the second-ever black man elected judge in Chicago.
Just two years after being elevated to the Superior Court, Slater died of stomach cancer in 1966. Today, his namesake can be found everywhere; at Slater Hall in Iowa City, the Judge Slater apartments in Chicago, and throughout the Iowa football complex and at Kinnick Stadium, where a Bronze relief of Slater can be found outside the North End Zone.
Karras also enjoyed an illustrious—albeit polar opposite—career outside football.
Despite quitting and re-joining the Iowa football team multiple times throughout the 1954-57 seasons, Alex Karras was runner-up in the Heisman voting as a defensive tackle his senior year, losing the honor to John David Crow. Karras is one of just three linemen to finish so high in the Heisman voting.
He spent his 12-year NFL career with the Detroit Lions, earning all-pro honors nine times. Perhaps even more memorably, he burst onto the scene in Hollywood after retiring, earning 38 acting credits in TV and movies. He played roles in famous flicks like Blazing Saddles and Porky’s and was on shows like Webster, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and M*A*S*H.
As he grew older, Karras suffered from cancer, dementia and heart disease. He was among the first group of former players to sue the NFL for negligence in regards to head trauma in 2012, and eventually died of kidney failure later that year.
Both players likely should’ve been bestowed with such honors years ago, and I wish they were alive to accept the awards in person.
Congratulations to Slater and Karras, and as always, Go Hawks.