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Steve Tasker - Deserving of the Hall of Fame?

By: Bill Choinski

Republished by permission of author

The 2004 NFL Hall of Fame committee will have selected their nominees for enshrinement into the hallowed halls of Canton. One player, probably the best ever at his position in the NFL, deserves to be honored. Steve Tasker may not have looked imposing in or out of his football uniform, he probably would fit in better pushing a lawn mower in the yard next door or selling you flood insurance. But this baby faced assassin, all 5’9” and 190 pounds (soaking wet) was the best player on one of the most dominating units in NFL history, the Buffalo Bills special teams during the Bill’s golden era of the late 1980’s through the Super Bowl years.

Mike Francesca, the national radio host of “NFL Now” and well known WFAN radio host, once paid Tasker the ultimate compliment - calling him “The Lawrence Taylor of special teams”. He elaborated-“Just as LT dominated offenses in the 1980’s - forcing teams to account for him - Tasker did the same-dictating blocking schemes and radically changing the game plans of their opponents”.

Not only did Tasker get into the minds of special teams coaches around the league, but he also raised the level of play of those around him. Unheralded names like Mark Pike and Butch Rolle had a sizeable impact on the Bills success in the area of special teams. It wasn’t all Jim Kelly’s K-Gun and Bruce Smith’s sacks that won football games. More often than not the Bills had won the battle of field position before the offense or defense stepped on to the field.

Where did this guy come from, anyway? The guy with unassuming all-American looks came straight from the heartland. Born and raised in Kansas, he played in relative obscurity at an obscure Div 1-A program at Northwestern from 1980-84, when Northwestern was the doormat of college football. His 4.5 speed was good enough to be selected in the 9th round, 255th overall, by the Houston Oilers. Selected ahead of him was a punter from BYU and a WR from Hawaii. At least he can claim one victory, the Oilers picked future pro-bowler Mike Golic one round after.

Getting drafted was one thing, keeping a job was another. The 1985 Oilers were coming off a dismal season in 1984, as the Earl Campbell era came to a close. Warren Moon was lured away from 5 consecutive CFL titles with the Edmonton Eskimos to pilot the Houston offense. The Oilers again limped to a last place finish- but Tasker made the club primarily as a special teams gunner and return man. In the 1985 saw the collapse of the USFL, and the Oilers took full advantage of the glut of talent. The run –and –shoot offense run by cross town rival Houston Gamblers (and future Bills QB Jim Kelly) became the blueprint of the future for the Oilers.

The Oilers added WR Earnest Givins and Tim Smith, crowding Tasker down on the depth chart. Sitting on injured reserve, the Oilers were forced to activate Tasker when injuries to Givens and Smith left them depleted 9 games into the 1986 season. Houston Coach Jerry Glanville tried to activate Tasker - but had to pass him through mandatory league waivers. He never cleared, as the watchful eyes of Bills GM Bill Polian , and brand new Head Coach Marv Levy were sure to scoop him up. Levy activated Tasker in his coaching debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers. 3 weeks later he blocked his first punt vs the Patriots.

The following year was a watershed for the Buffalo Bills special teams unit. Coach Levy brought in Bruce DeHaven, an assistant he admired and coached against in the USFL. Backup LB and special teams ace Mark Pike came on board. These two would combine for 7 incredible seasons terrorizing kick return men and kickers alike. Under the tutelage of DeHaven, Steve Tasker became a Pro-Bowl player for the first time. Tasker Made 20 tackles on special teams and led all players with three forced fumbles. He added a blocked punt and got a piece of 3 others. More importantly, the Bills began to dominate the league in kickoff and punt coverage.

In 1990, he returned to the Pro Bowl with a vengeance, and put together a string of six consecutive trips to Aloha Stadium. Only Bruce Smith and Ruben Brown have made more consecutive trips representing the Bills. Incredibly, his 6th and last trip back he was honored by the league as the AFC special teams representative in a year he did not participate on the Bills special teams unit! In 1993 he won the Pro Bowl MVP award, the only player ever to do so. In 1993 against the Cowboys, he became only the second player to block a punt in Super Bowl history.

Tasker’s dominance on special teams made him a lunch bucket hero in a hard hat town. Appearing in 195 regular season and playoff games during his career, he made 204 career special team tackles and blocked seven punts. He wasn’t just one dimensional either. He led the league in punt return average in 1995. On punt coverage his specialty was “gunner”, downing punts and being the first tackler on the scene while drawing double and in some cases triple team blocks.

Late in his career, he even broke into the starting WR spot on offense. In his most memorable game agains the NY Jets on November 26, 1996, he doubled his career receiving yardage in one afternoon, gaining 160 yards on 6 catches for 2 TDs.

In the age of salary cap restrictions and tight budgets, special teams players of Steve Tasker’s quality are rare. To do what he has done over an incredible 12 season career will be very tough to duplicate. He redefined the position of special team players dominating in all facets of the game. The NFL needs to put him in the hall of fame - for no other reason than this - he was simply the most dominating force at his specialty in his era - or in any era before or since.

He was an active member of the Bills for every game that Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy led the Bills. Unfortunately, in both his and Levy’s last game for the Bills, he was tossed for accidentally bumping an official while arguing a call. One of the smartest NFL players ever to take the field - he knew he had screwed up. And like the classy individual he was - he left the field without argument.

Steve Tasker left a legacy that Bills fans appreciate to this day, and that young players hanging on to roster spots via the special teams emulate. It will be a no-brainer that he will be honored one day on the Bills Wall of Fame - but if there will ever be a player picked to represent fully one third of the game (Special Teams) it should be Steve Tasker. There will never be another like him.