Walking on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame: Steve Tasker
The Walking the Wall of Fame series continues, this time covering one of the most beloved men to ever take the field for the Buffalo Bills. We are, of course, talking about Steve Tasker. The legendary Tasker is known as one of the greatest gunners in NFL history and the first true special team member to be recognized as a star player. He brought respect to special teams units like no player had before, and his incredible career put him on the verge of being inducted into the Hall of Fame time and time again.
Tasker’s love for football started at an early age, but it wasn’t his only love. For the Wichita County Indians, he excelled in track and field, basketball, and football. At this age he also discovered his love for radio, but he was not able to pursue this dream for some time. After all, he had a game to play.
He didn’t get much respect from the scouts. Despite his success in high school, Tasker was widely considered too small to contribute to nationally recognized college programs. After his senior year, Steve Tasker accepted a scholarship to Dodge City Community College. There he bulked up, becoming a major contributor as a wide receiver, kicker and returner. Then, finding he had an opportunity to qualify for the pros, Tasker transferred to Northwestern University for his final two years of college football.
Significantly more visible at Northwestern, he had a reasonable draft profile and the attention of a few NFL teams. So Steve Tasker declared for the 1985 NFL Draft. Still considered undersized, the future legend fell far on the boards. He was selected by the Houston Oilers in the 9th round with the 226th pick. After less than two seasons in a limited role, Tasker was cut and hit the waiver wire.
A new home at WNY
The move did not go unnoticed. Likewise, on November 8, 1986, Steve Tasker was claimed off waivers by the Buffalo Bills. It was thanks to the Bills’ new tight ends coach, Joe Faragalli, that Tasker got a fresh start. Faragalli was an Oilers coach before joining new Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy and knew Tasker from his year there the previous season.
Levy was looking for difference makers and taking all the suggestions he could get. Levy made the decision, telling legendary general manager and eventual Wall of Fame colleague Bill Polian to make the call. On Faragalli’s recommendation, Tasker was stolen. In fact, Marv Levy took a particular interest in his new toy, holding him back after practice to teach him how to block punts. Steve Tasker had never played this role before, but he had the build for it and the speed.
“A few weeks later we were getting ready to play the Patriots and Marv stopped me coming in after practice in a snowstorm and taught me how to block a punt”
The following week, Buffalo visited the New England Patriots. As the Patriots punt unit took the field after a missed possession, Tasker lined up. He landed a perfect jump on the snap and blocked the first punt of his career.
As he left the field, he met the eye of Marv Levy, who knew he had found a guy he could rely on. Although the Buffalo Bills lost that game, a new era of football had come to Western New York.
The Beginnings of the Buffalo Bills
To say that Steve Tasker’s impact is immediate would be an understatement. As a member of the special team, he practically invented the position of gunner, but he was not “just a member of the special team”. Instead, Tasker also provided reasonable depth as a receiver and scored touchdowns on his first two receptions as Buffalo Bill.
Although not on the court as much as other legends of the era (like Cornelius Bennett, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas or Jim Kelly), Steve Tasker splashed with remarkable consistency. At that time, the game was won and lost in the trenches. Tasker had a knack for pushing enemy trenches back as far as possible. Having consistently great field position was a key factor in the Buffalo Bills’ dominance in the late ’80s and ’90s.
He made the most of the chance Levy played him. As a result, the Buffalo Bills have been rewarded with a career jam-packed with memorable moments. In 1990, Steve Tasker’s blocked punt was returned for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Raiders, sparking a legendary comeback victory. Tasker was named Pro Bowl MVP in 1993, becoming the only Special Team member to ever earn that honor.
The Steve Tasker Effect
Tasker caught 51 passes for 779 yards and just over 1,200 return yards during his years in the league. His career numbers don’t match what you’d expect from a Hall of Famer, but Steve Tasker has earned a lot of respect in and outside of football. For this reason, he has received numerous accolades. He went to seven Pro Bowls and received seven first-team All-Pro accolades. He completely changed the league’s view of special teams during his 12-year career with the Bills. In fact, his impact on the game is still felt and recognized today.
The idea of a ‘gunner’ was far from reality until he came along and proved that specialists can be as important as any player on the pitch when Sunday rolls around. Unfortunately, he has missed out on the Hall of Fame so far. His consistent finalist status lends credence to his eventual acceptance.
Steve Tasker left the field after the 1997 season, but he didn’t go far. From the sidelines and the broadcast booth, he has been involved with the NFL in many capacities since his retirement. His post-play career includes stints in color commentary, work as a sideline reporter, and the radio job he so desperately wanted as a teenager. Tasker has put his college scholarships to good use and his work on the radio is almost as respected as his career on the pitch so far.
Most recently, Tasker appeared in the 2020 Buffalo Bills Division hype video, delivering a now-iconic line.
“We’ll see you in Buffalo in January. Be ready. It could be chilly.
Although his time on the court has put him on our wall of fame, he’s lined up for more honors in his future. For his work with the team today until his inevitable (and unreasonably delayed) induction into the Hall of Fame, prepare to celebrate this man for many years to come.
For more Buffalo Bills Wall of Famers and their stories, check out this handy chart below. But don’t worry, if your favorite player isn’t available yet, there will be more soon!