There have been many great wide receivers who have played for the Cleveland Browns.
One player who also deserves consideration to be on any list of top Cleveland Browns receivers is Webster Slaughter.
While Slaughter played with the Browns for only six seasons, he had a major impact on the team, catching 328 passes and 32 touchdowns (regular season and playoffs).
Known for his speed and sure hands, Slaughter helped the Browns play in three of four AFC championship games.
We take a look at the life of Webster Slaughter – before, during, and after his Cleveland Browns career.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) December 27, 2018
The Early Years Through High School
Webster Melvin Slaughter was born on October 19, 1964 in Stockton, California.
Slaughter did not have an easy childhood.
His mother, a nurse, was left with the responsibility of raising Slaughter, his brother, and his three sisters.
In addition, because he was small, Slaughter was often picked on by other children and would get into fights.
While growing up, Slaughter was not interested in watching the NFL.
His only contact with football was playing flag football at Stribley Park in Stockton.
Slaughter grew up playing baseball and believed he could have had a professional career in it.
A little-known fact about Slaughter is that after not playing any baseball for 10 years, he played five games in a semi-pro baseball league and batted .500 before he had to go back for his NFL season.
Slaughter attended Franklin High School, a public high school in Stockton.
Slaughter’s two principal sports in high school were basketball and baseball.
He also ran on the track team.
Slaughter was not just an athlete in high school.
He also played saxophone in the band (both alto sax and tenor sax) and was a member of the speech and debate team.
Slaughter did not start playing football in high school until his senior year.
Football coach Duke Pasquini saw him at a pickup basketball game and asked him to try out for the team.
Slaughter was reluctant at first, as he then weighed only 140 to 145 pounds.
However, Slaughter ultimately decided to play football, and it proved to be a great decision.
In his only high school football season, Slaughter was named to the all-conference team, the only player on his team to do so.
It is perhaps not surprising that Slaughter was the only Franklin High School football player named to the all-conference team since the team had an 0-11 record that year (part of several years of losing that had Franklin High School go 0-41-3 in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s).
Slaughter graduated from Franklin High School in 1982.
Franklin High School also produced another future Cleveland Browns player, Al Gross, a safety who played for the Browns from 1983 to 1986.
The College Years
Slaughter intended to go to college to play baseball at Cal State Stanislaus (an NCAA Division III power at the time), but he changed his mind and first attended college at San Joaquin Delta Junior College in Stockton to play football.
His coach at San Joaquin Delta Junior College, Jack Jordan, convinced Slaughter that after two years of junior college playing football, he could get a scholarship from a major university.
Slaughter played football (as well as some baseball) at San Joaquin Delta Junior College and graduated with an associate degree a semester early.
His “junior college” strategy proved successful, as Slaughter received scholarship offers from many major schools, including Illinois and Tennessee.
Slaughter ultimately decided to go to San Diego State because it was closer to home, had warmer weather, and had coaches Slaughter liked.
Slaughter played two years as a San Diego State Aztec.
In 1984, he caught 40 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns.
In a 41-24 victory over Colorado State on October 20, 1984, Slaughter had a great game, catching nine passes for 96 yards and one touchdown.
The Aztecs had a 4-7-1 record in 1984.
In 1985, Slaughter’s numbers dramatically increased.
He led the Western Athletic Conference in 1985, both with 82 receptions and 1,071 receiving yards.
Slaughter also scored 11 touchdowns in 1985, 10 as a receiver and one as a punt returner.
One of Slaughter’s great games in 1985 was a 13 reception (for 116 yards and two touchdowns) performance in a 34-16 loss at nationally-ranked UCLA on September 21, 1985.
Another outstanding game performance by Slaughter was in a 55-20 victory over New Mexico on November 23, 1985; he caught 13 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown, and also returned a punt for 76 yards for a touchdown.
Slaughter won the John Simcox Memorial Trophy as Most Valuable Player at San Diego State in 1985.
The Aztecs had a 5-6-1 record in 1985.
In describing his success at San Diego State, Slaughter said, “It was strange, but it was God-given. The one thing I did because I started so late was I listened to the coaches and did what they told me. I worked very hard. I trained very hard and did the things I needed to do, but I had a natural ability to catch the football”.
The NFL Years
Slaughter was drafted by the Browns in the second round of the 1986 NFL draft (the 43rd pick overall).
It was Browns Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield, then a scout, who recommended that Cleveland draft Slaughter.
Slaughter was actually sleeping when Cleveland called to tell him he was becoming a Brown.
Having spent his whole life in California before coming to Cleveland, Slaughter’s first thought when he found out that the Browns had drafted him was about cold weather in Cleveland.
However, Slaughter quickly embraced Cleveland, particularly being appreciative of how the team and fans welcomed him and recognizing the work ethic in the city of Cleveland.
Slaughter was very naïve about the ways of the NFL upon joining the Browns.
He did not even know who Browns great Ozzie Newsome was when he joined the team.
One story is that Slaughter, not knowing any better, sat in Newsome’s seat during a meeting and would not move when Newsome asked him to do so.
As “punishment”, Slaughter was required to help Newsome put on his jersey throughout Slaughter’s entire rookie season.
Slaughter’s first NFL regular-season game was on September 7, 1986 against the defending Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears and their well-regarded defense.
Slaughter started in his first game (and was to start in each of the 91 regular season and playoff games that he played with the Browns).
Slaughter was not intimidated by the Bears and had a solid NFL debut, with four receptions for 45 yards (although the Browns lost to the Bears 41-31).
In his fifth game, on October 5, 1986, Slaughter scored his first NFL touchdown on a 15-yard pass from Bernie Kosar in a 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers (one of his two receptions for 20 yards in the game).
In the second game against the Steelers that season, on November 23, 1986, Slaughter had his breakout game, catching six passes for 134 yards, in a 37-31 overtime victory for the Browns.
Slaughter had one touchdown in the game, and it was memorable; he caught a Kosar sidearm pass and raced down the left sideline for a 36-yard touchdown, which was the game-winning play for the Browns.
November 23, 1986. Steelers at Browns in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The game went into overtime. Bernie Kosar to Webster Slaughter For the game-winning touchdown. The Cleveland Browns win 37-31! pic.twitter.com/9LkTCqIfdu
— Tom Brunswick (@tom_brunswick) November 13, 2019
In a critical 34-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on December 14, 1986 (helping the Browns to win the division title), Slaughter caught three receptions for 75 yards and scored two touchdowns (one on a touchdown pass from Kosar and one on an offensive fumble recovery in the end zone).
The 12-4 Browns advanced to the playoffs, and won their divisional-round game (the Browns’ first playoff win in 18 years) against the New York Jets in a memorable, double-overtime 23-20 victory on January 3, 1987.
— Dawgs Of Glory (@dawgs_of_glory) August 11, 2018
Slaughter caught six passes for 86 yards in his first playoff game, most notably a 37-yard reception along the left sideline just before the end of regulation time that helped set up Mark Moseley’s tying field goal to force overtime play.
For Slaughter and the Browns, their 1986 season ended the following week in the AFC championship game, with a 23-20 overtime loss to John Elway and the Denver Broncos in the famous “The Drive” game.
Slaughter was hurt in the first quarter of the game with a dislocated shoulder and made only one catch for 20 yards.
Nevertheless, 1986 was a solid rookie season for Slaughter, with 47 catches for 683 yards and four touchdowns.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) January 6, 2019
In 1987, Slaughter improved on his rookie season, as he caught 47 passes for 806 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season.
He reached these numbers despite playing in only 12 games in 1987 because of the NFL strike (the Browns played only 15 regular-season games in 1987).
Among Slaughter’s best games in 1987 were on November 22, 1987, when Slaughter caught four passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in a 40-7 rout of the Houston Oilers (also marking Slaughter’s fourth consecutive game with a touchdown)
On December 13, 1987, Slaughter caught five passes for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 38-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
— Scott F (@TheFrizz87) December 13, 2017
On December 20, 1987, Slaughter caught seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 win over the Oakland Raiders.
On January 17, 1988, the Browns advanced to the AFC championship game for the second consecutive year, following a 10-5 record and divisional-round win over the Indianapolis Colts (in this game against the Colts, Slaughter caught only one pass for 14 yards).
Once again, the opponent was the Denver Broncos, and the result was the same, in the famous “The Fumble” game, with Denver winning 38-33.
Slaughter did have a solid game against the Broncos, with four receptions for 53 yards and his first playoff touchdown (on a pass from Bernie Kosar).
Slaughter’s third NFL season in 1988 proved to be disappointing.
He had various injuries, including a broken arm, and played in only eight games in the regular season; as a result, Slaughter caught only 30 passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns.
However, in two critical games, Slaughter played at his best.
In a “must-win” final regular-season game against the Houston Oilers, on December 18, 1988, the Browns defeated the Houston Oilers 28-23, with Slaughter catching six passes for 136 yards and a touchdown, which was the winning score, on a pass from Don Strock.
This win qualified the 10-6 Browns for a wild-card playoff rematch against the Oilers on December 24, 1988.
While the Browns were eliminated by the Oilers 24-23, Slaughter caught five passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns, on passes from Mike Pagel.
While Slaughter’s success with the Browns generally is associated with Bernie Kosar, these two games show that Slaughter could excel even when playing with back-up quarterbacks.
1989 was a huge bounce-back year for Slaughter, as he had his best year with the Browns.
Two games especially stand out for Slaughter in 1989.
First, on October 23, 1989, in a 27-7 “Monday Night Football” win over the Chicago Bears, Slaughter caught eight passes for 186 yards and one memorable touchdown – a 97-yard pass reception from Bernie Kosar (the longest play of Slaughter’s NFL career).
— Felix Wright (@FelixWright22) September 27, 2015
This game is also remembered for Slaughter spray-painting his shoes orange.
As a result, the NFL instituted the “Webster Slaughter Shoe” rule, which requires all players on the same team to wear the same color shoes.
Second, the following week, on October 29, 1989, Slaughter had four receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns, as the Browns defeated the Houston Oilers 28-17.
The two touchdowns were on 80-yard and 77-yard passes from Bernie Kosar.
Slaughter was AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Oilers, and AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, 1989.
Scoring in consecutive weeks on 97-yard, 80-yard, and 77-yard plays shows Slaughter’s skill as a “long-ball, big-play” receiver.
His receptions often were on long pass plays that materially changed the game.
For Slaughter’s fourth consecutive year, the Browns made the playoffs in 1989 with a 9-6-1 record.
In the divisional round, on January 6, 1990, the Browns beat the Buffalo Bills 34-30, helped by Slaughter’s performance of three receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns (on passes from Bernie Kosar).
Kosar to Slaughter in this @Browns ‘89 playofff battle.
52 yards to the HOUSE! 😎pic.twitter.com/62KLXCDnn4
— BROWNS OR DIE 💀 (@BrownsorDie) April 12, 2020
For the third time in four years, on January 14, 1990, the Browns played the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game, and again the Browns came up short, with the Broncos winning the game 37-21; Slaughter had three catches for 36 yards.
While Slaughter was disappointed with the result, once again failing to reach the Super Bowl, he could not be disappointed with his 1989 numbers – 71 receptions for 1,386 yards and eight touchdowns.
Slaughter was invited to his first Pro Bowl and was also voted “1st Team All-Conference” by UPI and “2nd Team Wide Receiver” by AP.
In Slaughter’s remaining two years with the Browns, the team struggled, failing to make the playoffs in 1990 (3-13 record) and in 1991 (6-10 record).
However, Slaughter continued to post solid numbers.
In 1990, Slaughter caught 59 passes for 847 yards and four touchdowns.
His best game in 1990 was an October 8, 1990 30-29 “revenge” win by the Browns over the Denver Broncos; Slaughter had seven receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown (on a pass from Bernie Kosar), and a 17 yard run.
— The Dawgland (@thedawgland) October 31, 2019
In 1991, Slaughter had 64 receptions for 906 yards and three touchdowns.
He also returned 17 punts for 112 yards. Slaughter’s best game in 1991 turned out to be his last game in a Browns uniform.
On December 22, 1991, Slaughter caught 11 passes for 138 years in a 17-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Notwithstanding this loss, while Slaughter was on the Browns, Cleveland had a 9-3 record against the rival Steelers.
Slaughter plays his last game in Cleveland
Following the 1991 season, Slaughter became involved in a contract dispute with the Browns.
Unhappy with the offensive system of Browns head coach Bill Belichick as well as the compensation being offered by Browns owner Art Modell, Slaughter became a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the NFL’s free agent system.
A little-known fact about Slaughter is that during his contract dispute with the Browns, the Cleveland Indians considered signing him to play baseball.
Slaughter talks about contact with the Indians in the video below:
However, when the Browns found out about the interest of the Indians, Modell contacted the Indians and stopped the idea.
Slaughter’s lawsuit resulted in him being declared a free agent.
Slaughter signed with the Houston Oilers, attracted to their “run-and-shoot” offense.
Slaughter played for the Oilers for three years from 1992 to 1994, being invited to his second Pro Bowl in 1993.
The Houston Oilers Run N’ Shoot Wide Receivers 1990-1993: #85 – Drew Hill, #80 – Curtis Duncan, #82 Tony Jones, # 81 Earnest Givens, # 84 – Haywood Jeffires. (Not pictured: #89 – Webster Slaughter, #83 – Leonard Harris. pic.twitter.com/1XPfHNuoY1
— Robert Singleton (@RobertS06041542) August 28, 2019
Slaughter also played for the Kansas City Chiefs (in 1995), the New York Jets (in 1996), and, after a year away from football, the San Diego Chargers (in 1998).
Slaughter finished his NFL career, with 596 receptions for 8,575 yards and 50 touchdowns (regular season and playoffs).
Besides his receiving abilities, Slaughter is also remembered for his style on and off the field.
Besides his own orange spray-painted shoes, Slaughter would also orange spray-paint the shoes of other Brown players, including Eric Metcalf.
Webster Slaughter spray paints his shoes orange before a 1990 Browns-Broncos game: pic.twitter.com/RK00XoPT
— SI Vault (@si_vault) December 16, 2011
Slaughter also wore specialized orange wristbands.
He would celebrate touchdowns by spiking the ball between his legs while jumping in the air.
Off the field, Slaughter’s car had a custom license plate, “WEB-STAR”.
His trademark outfit was dark glasses and a porkpie hat.
The Years After the NFL
Slaughter’s retirement from the NFL was emotional for him; he cried after his last game.
Slaughter has said that he retired not because of any physical deficiency or loss of skills, but rather because mentally, he just lost the hunger and passion to play.
When he first retired from football, Slaughter simply focused on being a good father to his four children – Shanelle (now 33), Saschelle (now 28), Shantelle (now 22), and Webster III (now 20).
He wanted to be at home when his children left for school and when they came back.
It was not until his children reached a certain age that Slaughter focused on another activity – religion.
While passing out blankets to the homeless in Houston one day, Slaughter realized the extent of the homeless problem.
Slaughter said, “It’s amazing the need that was out there. If we had 400, that wouldn’t have been enough. . . . We thought we needed to do more than give away a couple blankets and serve dinner at Christmas”.
Slaughter became the director of Second Chance Ministries through the Word of Restoration Christian Fellowship in Fresno, Texas and focused on the homeless population.
Slaughter and his wife, Stacey (who he met at San Diego State and has now been married to for 25 years) would drive to Houston every Sunday morning to bring the homeless to their church.
After church services, the homeless were fed and provided with necessities such as toiletry items as well as blankets.
Slaughter said, “It’s my way of life and my family’s way of life”.
Slaughter believes that his generosity derives from his mother.
“My mom used to do stuff like this when I lived in Stockton. My mom had us in church all the time, so it was in me”, said Slaughter. While Slaughter broke away from the church during much of his football career, “I started going to church more and more toward the end of my career. My spirit just testified with the holy spirit and that’s where I am today”.
Slaughter is ordained as a minister.
He goes to senior living facilities and reads the Bible to residents.
He is particularly involved in going to memory care units where he tries to help people who cannot remember so many other important elements of their life recall their connections to God.
While Slaughter lives in Texas, he frequently goes back to his hometown of Stockton, California to visit family and friends.
In 2014, Slaughter was inducted into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame (adding to his prior inductions into the Stockton African American Sports Hall of Fame, the Junior College Sports Hall of Fame, and the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame).
Slaughter also comes back to Cleveland from time to time for autograph signings.
Slaughter suffered a stroke in 2018.
Fortunately, there was no paralysis, and, while Slaughter had some difficulty speaking, his rehabilitation and recovery have gone well.
As was the case when he was growing up, Slaughter does not follow the NFL closely now (although he does play fantasy football).
However, in May, 2019, Slaughter and other former Browns had dinner with and spoke to Browns rookies on the eve of rookie camp.
Slaughter clearly wants his legacy to be based on his work outside of the NFL.
Slaughter said, “I would rather be remembered for being a person who loved people and who wanted to take people to another level in their lives. I encourage them to do better”. Slaughter today hopes to be as successful in helping people connect with God in their lives, as Browns quarterbacks were in connecting with Slaughter on the football field.