Buffalo Bills special teams ace Steve Tasker was the best to ever play the position. He won awards, went to a lot of Pro Bowls, and is always a heavily-discussed player around Hall of Fame time. He is dismissed as merely a special teams player, but his impact was great in the biggest games. They even changed a rule because Tasker was too good at what he did.
“What Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett mean to us on defense and what Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas mean to us on offense, Steve Tasker means to us on special teams,” said Bruce DeHaven, the Bills’ special-teams coach, in 1992 referring to three Hall of Famers and a should-be Hall of Famer. ”He can make big plays and it forces the opposition to account for him. We’ll see people that will be operating in a certain manner for four or five games and they come in and play against us and change some things because of Steve.”
In Super Bowl XXVI against the Washington Redskins, Tasker downed a Chris Mohr punt at the 1-yard line with 1:46 left in the second quarter. The man lined up against him on the play? Pro football Hall of Famer Darryl Green, one of the fastest men on the field, who was beaten after eight yards.
The defense held and Buffalo got the ball back on Washington’s 41, but there wouldn’t have been a scoring chance without Tasker’s tracking ability while running and fighting off a block. Buffalo’s explosive offense had more than 75 seconds left on the clock and 41 yards to paydirt.
“Actually, I do a lot of thinking,” Tasker said before that game. “It’s very technical and specific out there. Although it does cover a lot of field position, everybody has a specific assignment. I’m just trying to read my keys and carry out my assignments as well as I can, as fast as I can.”
The biggest highlight of Tasker’s career came in the following year’s championship game. The Bills forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game. Tasker lined up on the ensuing punt and this happened.
“Our special teams coach felt that we had a chance to block a punt before the game and it worked,” head coach Marv Levy said. “Tasker just did what he does best.”
It was Levy, a former kicking games coach as he liked to be called, who showed Tasker how to block a punt when he first came to Buffalo. Tasker had a block in his very first game with the Bills.
He didn’t come off the edge, the 5’9”, 185-pound Tasker went through the middle against linebacker Robert Jones to get the perfectly-timed block. (Tasker discusses the play call here.) The ball actually made it past the line of scrimmage, a one-yard punt that set the Bills up at the 16-yard line. In their third Super Bowl, starting out on a positive note made a big impact.
Four plays later, Thurman Thomas scored a touchdown to give Buffalo a 7-0 lead. The Bills would turn the ball over a record nine times to get blown out.
On the series before the block, Buffalo had punted and there is another great Tasker play to highlight his maneuverability and hustle. He fought through the initial block, then stepped around another blocker protecting the returner, before bringing down punt returner Kelvin Martin.
Tasker also added two receptions for 30 yards in the game, drew a penalty, and had another catch nullified by a holding call.
In Super Bowl XXVIII the next year, Tasker downed another punt at the 1 in the second quarter with the Bills down, 6-10.
Levy and DeHaven weren’t the only ones who knew the impact Tasker could have on a game.
“As a special teams coach, I had an eye for special teams players,” said Levy in 2016. “I knew he was a good one. He had leadership and heart. I’m not the only one who could see it. Opposing coaches used to tell me that the player they had to prepare for most was Steve. Not Jim Kelly. Not Bruce Smith. Not Andre Reed. But Steve.”
Three Hall of Famers and one on the outside looking in. He shouldn’t be anymore.
In twelve years, he went to the Pro Bowl seven times, winning MVP honors in 1993. That year, with the game tied at 13 with eight minutes remaining, Tasker swooped in and blocked a field goal. Terry McDaniel grabbed the ball and returned it for the go-ahead score. He also forced a fumble in a game where the AFC won, despite being outgained 471 yards to 114.
So he did it in Super Bowls against Hall of Fame competition. He did it in Pro Bowls against the best of the best. Why can’t he get in? Politics.
“Tasker is thought of very highly among the voting members,” former voter Mark Gaughan said in 2016. “He is widely recognized as the best special teams player, coverage man, ever. And there are a lot of people on the committee who would like to see him make the final 15 so there could be a real discussion about his merits. But from 2000 to 2013, the Bills have had a string of candidates that you couldn’t put Tasker in ahead of.”
“I do believe voters should hear his case, and so far that hasn’t happened,” said voter Clark Judge a few months ago. “OK, so he’s been a semifinalist six times, but he hasn’t been there since 2013. And with selectors more willing to consider special-teams standouts lately, frankly, I don’t get it.”
“[Tasker] created a lot of advantages for the Bills just by field position by what he did,” Houston special teams coach Brad Seely once said. “So there’s a guy who, to me, is extremely worthy of consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he was a difference maker in that area. And that’s what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about.”
Special teamers have been largely ignored by the Hall of Fame voters. Two kickers and one punter are the only members of the Hall who played only special teams, and two of them were added in the last five years.
It’s time to end that. It’s time Steve Tasker is in the Hall of Fame.