By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
On Wednesday, Patriots special teamers Matthew Slater and Jake Bailey spoke with the media for the first time since being named Pro Bowlers Monday night. Despite the two being opposite ends of the NFL story – with Slater making in his ninth Pro Bowl at 35 years old, and Bailey getting to his first as a sophomore in the league – their reactions were noticeably similar.
“It’s very humbling. When I got into this game I certainly didn’t get into it for recognition, I got into it because I enjoyed to play and I wanted to do the same thing that my dad did,” Slater said. “When I think about all the great players in this league, the great players on this team…it’s very humbling that people would select me to be an ambassador for the kicking game, so I am extremely humbled, very grateful. “
With Slater extending his own record to nine Pro Bowls by a special teams player, the conversation has once again come up surrounding him being a potential Hall of Famer. While fans and pundits will discuss that possibility, Slater said a trip to Canton isn’t on his mind.
“[The Hall of Fame is] not something I have given any thought to at all,” Slater explained. “What my career is and how people view me as a player that is not something I think about at all. How men view you has never really been something that has been part of my creed and although I am humbled by it, it’s important that I continue to try and represent myself and my family the best way I can on and off the football field.”
However, he did have a caveat for those who do with to discuss his potential enshrinement.
“I think that if you want to start having those conversations they need to be had with the name Steve Tasker because I think he paved the way for us to play the game. Do I think Steve deserves a place there? Yes, absolutely,” Slater said. Tasker, who played for the Buffalo Bills from 1986-1997, is considered by many to be the first star special teams-specific player to not be a kicker, punter, or returner.
In talking about his own nomination, Bailey mentioned playing with a player of Slater’s caliber has helped his growth through two NFL seasons.
“It just gives me the best framework possible to learn how to work as a special teamer,” the punter explained. “Like, when you talk about Matthew Slater, he’s the best special teamer to ever do it, and Justin Bethel is on track to be right there, too. I’ve got the two best gunners to really ever play this game almost, and they give me a really cool framework to watch and come to work every day and try and emulate what they do.”
Bailey didn’t just stop at the gunners when giving shoutouts either. ” It’s Joe throwing me strikes every time he snaps the ball, it’s Nick on the sideline being in my ear giving me good caddy advice, it’s a Coach Cam [Achord, special teams coordinator], Coach Joe [Houston, assistant special teams coach] doing the same thing, being great a caddy and just being overall great coaches. Everybody’s helped me out a tremendous amount.”
Unlike Slater, who at this point must be used to Pro Bowl selections, Bailey says his somewhat caught him off guard.
“I just got a call from Coach [Belichick],” Bailey recalled, of finding out the news. “I was playing video games (Call of Duty: Warzone) with my buddy from high school at the time, got a call from Coach. Coach Cam was on the line too, and they just said, ‘You made it. Good job.’ And I was so, so happy. I don’t really remember the rest of the phone call. I just remember the first ‘you made it.’ So I was pumped.”
Adding to the surprise was the fact that Bailey didn’t consider himself a near-immediate Pro Bowler when he was drafted in the fifth round two years ago. “”I didn’t know if I’d make it past high school football, to be honest,” he said. “Every day is just a blessing, and I’m very, very thankful to be here.”
Due to COVID-19, the NFL won’t be holding a Pro Bowl game this season. Instead, it will be a week-long virtual event, featuring players selected to the AFC and NFC rosters.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.