Iowa Football

Former Hawkeyes Duke Slater, Alex Karras named to Pro Football Hall of Fame

Duke Slater was a three-time all-Big Ten honoree during his career at Iowa. (University of Iowa)
Duke Slater was a three-time all-Big Ten honoree during his career at Iowa. (University of Iowa)
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Former University of Iowa standouts Duke Slater, one of the NFL’s first black players, and Alex Karras were named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

Both are members of the 2020 Centennial Class.

Other announced Wednesday were former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, former New York Giants general manager George Young, NFL Films pioneer Steve Sabol and former players Cliff Harris, Mac Speedie, Donnie Shell, Bobby Dillon, Harold Carmichael, Winston Hill, Ed Sprinkle and Jim Covert.

Former coaches Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson were announced over the weekend.

Slater, born in Normal, Ill., but a former Clinton High School standout, played 10 seasons in the early NFL, from 1922-31, mostly for the Chicago Cardinals, making four all-NFL squads at tackle when players went two ways. He was the longest-tenured African-American player during that era and was the main blocker for Ernie Nevers when Nevers scored 40 points in one game.

Slater earned first-team All-Big Ten honors his final three seasons at Iowa and was a first-team All-American in 1921, becoming the first African-American at Iowa to earn the distinction.

In his four seasons, Slater helped Iowa post a 23-6-1 record. The 1921 team went 7-0 in the Big Ten and was crowned national champion by more than one media outlet.

During the NFL offseason, Slater took classes and earned a law degree from Iowa in 1928. He served as a Chicago assistant district attorney and, in 1960, became the first black member of the Chicago Superior Court. He moved to the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1964.

Slater, one of five members of the inaugural Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1951 and a member of the inaugural National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame that same year. died in 1966 at the age of 67. Slater Residence Hall on the Iowa campus is named in his honor.

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Karras, who became well known off the field as an actor and also was suspended for one year by Commissioner Pete Rozelle for gambling, was an unmovable defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions. A three-time All-Pro in 12 seasons, Karras unofficially had 97 1/2 sacks — it was not an NFL statistic in the 1950s and ’60s, and was considered by Vince Lombardi the one Detroit player who could single-handedly disrupt the Packers.

A native of Gary, Ind., Karras was a defensive tackle for the Hawkeyes in 1956 and ’57, earning All-American honors as a junior and consensus All-American laurels as a senior. He won the Outland Trophy in 1957 as the top lineman in the nation, and was second in voting for the 1957 Heisman Trophy.

The Hawkeyes posted a 16-2-1 record in Karras’ two seasons, including a 9-1 record in 1956 when Iowa beat Oregon State, 35-19, in the Rose Bowl. Big Ten champs, Iowa also was named national champions by at least one national media outlet.

Karras was inducted into the Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 1989 and was inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

Karras died in 2012 at the age of 77.

Slater and Karras join three other Hawkeyes as members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — safety Emlen Tunnell (inducted in 1967), safety Paul Krause (1998) and defensive end Andre Tippett (2008).

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