Steve Tasker – a Tribute from a long time fan
Traditionally when a fan thought about special teams and special team football players in the eighties, a variety of images came to mind. There was the kicker, the punter, a few very outstanding kick return specialists, and all the rest of those guys. Now, the “rest of those guys” were all the rookies, backups - guys not good enough to actually start on the first team.
Then along came a wide receiver. Nobody special there; no big news. A ninth round pick by the Houston Oilers out of Northwestern in the 1985 college draft. He got to play some as a rookie, but injured his knee in October that first year, and missed the rest of the season. In 1986, another knee injury in September put him on injured reserve, until the Oilers gave up on him and placed him on waivers on November 7th. Within 24 hours, the Buffalo Bills picked him up, and immediately activated him for the next game against the Steelers.
Now where do you assign an unproven wide receiver when you already have WRs Chris Burkett, Andre Reed, and Jerry Butler, TE Pete Metzelaars, as well as running backs Greg Bell, Carl Byrum and Robb Riddick taking passes from Kelly? If you chose special teams, give yourself a pat on the back!
It took a couple weeks for Tasker to make his mark, but on November 12, 1986, he blocked a Rich Camarillo punt to set up a Scott Norwood field goal. The Bills lost that day 22-19 to the Patriots, but that blocked punt marked the beginning of a spectacular career that helped establish special teams as an integral part of NFL game plans. It was a career in which Tasker was selected to play in the NFL Pro Bowl seven times on special teams, earning MVP honors in 1992.
One game epitomizes to me his tenacity as a player. The time was late December 1995. December at home, the AFC East title at stake. Coach Marv Levy decided to take a different twist in this game, in an attempt to thwart Don Shula and his defense.
Tasker started at wide receiver, but not as a pass receiver. He was there to run the reverse. It was a complete surprise to the Dolphins; the play was executed perfectly six times as Tasker scrambled for fifty yards! It was one of the most memorable games in Bills history in a remarkable 23-20 victory that clinched the Bills sixth AFC East title in seven years.
It is fitting that there is an article in the Buffalo Bills Official 1998 Team Yearbook that recognizes number 89 as a true legend of the game.
“Tasker defined the way special teams are played today. His relentless drive in kickoff and punt coverages proved that special teams could win games.”
I could not have summarized it better.
|Editors Note: Rockpile has been going to the Bills games
since the Rockpile days (hence his knickname).
He is a frequent contributor to the TBD's History section