Sacks of gold
Nov. 21, 2002
Two weeks into the 1990 football season, the University of Virginia was abuzz with excitement as the 14th-ranked Cavaliers hosted ninth-ranked Clemson in hopes of snapping a 29-game losing streak to the Tigers. Virginia ultimately prevailed, 20-7, notching the Cavaliers’ first-ever victory over a team ranked in the top 10.
For former Cavalier defensive end Chris Slade, that game was one of many special moments that comprised his outstanding collegiate career. “That game against Clemson still ranks as one of my favorite memories,” recalls Slade, who forced a fumble with a quarterback sack in the first half of that game. “It was a great feeling to be the start of a new time at Virginia.”
Six weeks later, the Cavalier faithful rejoiced as the ‘Hoos reached the top of the national football polls. Virginia eventually bolted out to a 7-0 start, thanks in large part to the defensive presence of Slade, who earned his first All-ACC designation as a defensive end at the conclusion of the season.
In 1991, Slade earned first-team All-America honors as a junior. He was the leading tackler on a team that ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense (10.8 papg) and sixth in pass efficiency defense (91.1). He was in on a team-high 99 tackles in 1991, including 14 sacks for 100 yards in losses.
As a senior tri-captain in 1992, Slade was in on 74 total tackles, including a UVa single-season record 15 sacks for 128 yards in losses. His 15 sacks broke his own mark from the previous year. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 by Football News and was a first-team All-America selection by the Associated Press, United Press International, Football News, Champion/The Sporting News, Football Writers’ Association of America, and Walter Camp. He also earned his second first-team All-ACC honor that year after setting UVa and ACC career records for quarterback sacks with 40, including 31 unassisted. Slade was the first player in UVa history to earn first-team All-America honors for two seasons.
After the 1992 season, Slade went on the “All-America tour,” as he calls it, playing in the Senior Bowl in Mobile. “That time was a great one for me as I could enjoy what I had been able to do through football up to that point and prepare for the next step,” recalls Slade. The next step was that he was selected in the second round of the 1993 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. “It had been a dream of mine, since I was a little boy, to make it to the NFL,” says Slade. “I had been in awe of so many great players and all of a sudden I had the chance to play along side them and against them.”
One person who was a huge support to Slade in his rookie year in New England was Andre Tippett. “He was my mentor that rookie year,” recalls Slade. While in New England, Slade had the opportunity to play alongside a number of celebrated players. He is quick to credit his teammates for taking him in and helping him make the move to the pros and develop his game. “I played against some future Hall-of-Famers every day,” remembers Slade. “Men like Bruce Armstrong and Ben Coates made me tougher, and I grew because of it.”
Slade’s first game in the NFL was also memorable, as the Patriots faced the Detroit Lions and their star Barry Sanders. “Just seeing him across the field was awe-inspiring,” remembers Slade. “I had followed him in high school and college and now I was playing against him.” Slade had three sacks in that game and he was suddenly no longer a raw rookie with dreams but a veteran with playing experience.
The next year saw the departure of Tippett from the field to an advisory role in the organization, leaving Slade as the veteran on the gridiron. That shift in experience meant that Slade would have to become a mentor to the new draftees. Although Tippett was a constant source of advice to the second-year player, it was up to Slade to lead by example. “I was there to help guys like [Willie] McGinnis and [Ted] Johnson,” recalls Slade. “There was one point at which I was the oldest guy in that group, so it was important that I continue the tradition of teaching the rookies much like I had been taught by Tippett and others.”
Another person Slade credits with his development in the NFL was head coach Bill Parcells. “I learned a lot under him,” says Slade. “I learned lots of football, but I learned lots of stuff off the field as well. I learned how to fight through adversity and that I am tougher than I think. I learned how to be a man.”
Parcells coached the Patriots to the brink of football glory with a berth in Super Bowl XXXI. The AFC Championship game in Foxboro Stadium against Jacksonville was a highlight of Slade’s pro career. “The fans in Boston were totally psyched for us to be there,” he recalls. “The energy was awesome and we delivered the win for them.”
Slade is now living in Atlanta, a town he loves because of its breadth of activities and attractions. He is working towards a return to the NFL in the near future. “I’m following the same advice I’d give to guys coming out after this year: stay focused and stay humble. Nothing is promised in the NFL, and you have to earn your money every day.”