Unsung Patriots: Chris Slade
Photo Credit: Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Linebacker Chris Slade began what turned out to be 25 consecutive years of football as an eight-year-old back in 1979.
Pushed into it by his father, he was eating, sleeping, and breathing on the gridiron.
“I never turned back until I retired,” Slade said. “When you’re young they put you on the line because of the weight limit. Couldn’t run. Couldn’t play skill positions. So I was always a lineman, a lineman type.”
It was in junior high where Slade believed he had the potential to make it all the way in the sport.
“I was always kind of the bigger, faster, stronger kid,” Slade said. “I thought I had a gift that God had given me that I was a little more gifted than most of the other kids.”
Even though the linebacker was recruited by a multitude of schools around the country, his heart was always set on the University of Virginia.
“Virginia was always in my heart, going to UVA,” Slade said. “Playing in the ACC, playing close to home, getting an education, so UVA just checked all of the boxes for me.”
Slade studied sociology during his time there. His fondest memories at Virginia were his family members being able to be within a short travel distance to see him play. From a logistics standpoint in regards to family, it was a match made in heaven.
At the time also, the program seemingly turned the corner and he coming in his first year could make an immediate impact in 1989 under coach George Welsh.
“We won a lot of games and I wanted to be a part of a program where I could play right away as a true freshman,” Slade said. “Also get the opportunity to play for an ACC title, which we did my freshman year.”
Slade became the 31st overall pick by the Patriots in the 1993 NFL Draft. At first, he was clueless about where his new team was.
“Honestly I didn’t know anything about New England,” Slade said. “I was like, ‘Where are we going like Scotland or another country, I knew nothing about New England, I just knew that Bill Parcells was the coach at the time. And I knew the team wasn’t good before that and I knew Larry Bird was on the [Boston] Celtics, I knew all about the Celtics and the [Boston] Red Sox but I didn’t know much about the Patriots.”
Slade grew up idolizing players that Parcells had coached like linebacker Lawrence Taylor. After an unspectacular rookie season, Slade made a big sophomore leap recording a career-high 102 total tackles and 9.5 sacks.
“Having a year under your belt and just kind of understanding what it’s like to be a professional, what it’s like to transition,” Slade said. “I just kind of got back to the basics, nothing like experience, and that made a difference.”
It all came to a head in 1995 when the franchise made it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1986. The team finally came together with sound communication.
“I just think like all teams you just mesh and experience you’ve been playing together for a long time,” Slade said. “We had a really special group, we did go to the playoffs the year before so I remember Parcells standing in the locker room the last game of the 1994 season saying, ‘Boys it’s gonna be different next year,’ That was just a different year.”
Though losing the Super Bowl, Slade had a more than productive career making the Pro Bowl in 1997 and named an All-Pro the same season. His work led to him being named to the Patriots All-1990’s Team. The Virginia alum has no regrets.
“I definitely left it all out there,” Slade said. “I worked hard, I was in shape, I was always trying to play the best that I could, as you get older in your career for most guys your buddy doesn’t hold up as well, you’re not playing the top level.”
Slade is happy to have been a part of the teams to introduce success and setting up a Dynasty.
“It has to start somewhere,” Slade said. “I had guys before me like Andre Tippett who kind of set the tone for me to learn from, and playing with Lawyer [Milloy] and Ty [Law], and [Willie] McGinest, and [Tedy] Bruschi, [Ted] Johnson, [Drew] Bledsoe, and Terry Glenn rest his soul, Ben Coates, it just carries over and that’s what it’s all about, these guys that are playing now, they’ll set the tone and generation for the next guys.”
Today Slade uses the knowledge passed down to him by Parcells to as the football coach at Pace High School. He mentioned the name of a player he coached as someone who could be the next big thing.
“The biggest thing for me is educating the kids and seeing them mature,” Slade said. “Remember this name, a left tackle that plays at Georgia Andrew Thomas, he’ll be one of the top five or six draft picks in the 2020 draft and he was a true sophomore and I have over 30 kids playing college football and I have been coaching for six years, but our first pro will be Andrew Thomas.”