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’re speaking, of course, about Steve Tasker. The legendary Tasker is known as one of the greatest gunners in NFL history, and the first true special teamer to be recognized as a star player. He brought respect to the special teams units in a way no player had before, and his incredible career has put him on the cusp of Hall of Fame induction time and time again.
Tasker’s love of the game of football started at an early age, but it wasn’t his only love. For the Wichita County Indians, he excelled in track, basketball, and football. At this age, he discovered his love of radio broadcasting too, but he wouldn’t get to chase that dream for quite some time. After all, he had a game to play.
He didn’t get much respect from scouts. Despite his success in high school, Tasker was widely considered too small to contribute to nationally-recognized collegiate 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, discovering he had an opportunity to make it to the pros, Tasker transferred to Northwestern University for his final two years of collegiate 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 down 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 In WNY
The move didn’t go unnoticed. Correspondingly, on November 8th, 1986, Steve Tasker was claimed off waivers by the Buffalo Bills. It was thanks to the Bills’ new tight end coach Joe Faragalli that Tasker got his 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 took every suggestion he could get. Levy made the decision, telling legendary GM and eventual fellow Wall of Famer Bill Polian to make the call. On Faragalli’s recommendation, Tasker was swiped. In fact, Marv Levy took a special interest in his new toy, holding him back after practice to teach him how to block punts. Steve Tasker hadn’t played that role before, but he had the build for it, and the speed.
“A couple weeks later we were getting ready to head out to play the Patriots and Marv kept me out after practice in a snowstorm and taught me how to block a punt”– Steve Tasker
The very next week, Buffalo visited the New England Patriots. As the Patriots punt unit took the field after a failed possession, Tasker lined up. He got a perfect jump on the snap, and blocked the first punt of his career.
When leaving the field, he met the eye of Marv Levy, who knew he’d found a guy he could depend on. Though the Buffalo Bills lost that game, a new era of football had come to Western New York.
Buffalo Bills Beginnings
To call the impact of Steve Tasker immediate would be an understatement. As a special teamer, he practically invented the gunner position, but he wasn’t ‘just a special teamer’. Instead, Tasker also provided reasonable depth as a receiver, and scored touchdowns on both of his first two receptions as a Buffalo Bill.
Though not on the field as much as other legends of the era (such as Cornelius Bennett, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, or Jim Kelly), Steve Tasker made splash plays with remarkable consistency. In that era, the game was won and lost in the trenches. Tasker had a knack for setting the opponents’ trenches back as far as they could go. Having great field position consistently was a key factor in the Buffalo Bills’ dominance during the late ‘80s and the ‘90s.
He made the most out of the chance that Levy game him. As a result, the Buffalo Bills were rewarded with a career full to the brim 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 teamer to ever win the honour.
The Steve Tasker Effect
Tasker caught 51 passes for 779 yards, and slightly over 1,200 return yards over his years in the league. His career numbers aren’t in line with those you’d expect of a Hall of Famer, but Steve Tasker earned a wealth of respect in and outside the game of football. Because of this, he earned many accolades. He went to seven Pro Bowls and received seven First-Team All-Pro honours. He completely changed the way the league views special teamers over the course of his 12-year career with the Bills. In fact, his impact on the game is still felt and acknowledged 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 field when Sunday rolls around. Sadly, he’s missed out on the Hall of Fame so far. His status as a consistent finalist lends credit to his eventual acceptance.
Steve Tasker walked away from the field after the 1997 season, but he didn’t go far. From the sidelines and the broadcast booth, he’s been involved with the NFL in many capacities since his retirement. His post-playing career includes stints in colour commentary, some work as a sideline reporter, and the radio job that he so desperately wanted as a teenager. Tasker put his college scholarships to good use, and his work in radio is nearly as respected as his career on the field thus far.
Most recently, Tasker famously appeared in the Buffalo Bills division-clinching hype video in 2020, delivering a now-iconic line.
“We’ll see you in Buffalo in January. Be ready. It might be chilly.”Steve Tasker
Though his time on the field put him on our Wall of Fame, he’s lined up for further honours in his future. For his work with the team today to his inevitable (and unreasonably delayed) Hall of Fame induction, get ready 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 favourite player isn’t up yet, there’s more coming soon!
|O.J. Simpson (1980)||Jack Kemp (1984)||Patrick J. McGroder (1985)||Tom Sestak (1987)||Billy Shaw (1988)|
|Ralph C. Wilson Jr. (1989)||The 12th Man (1992)||Elbert Dubenion (1993)||Mike Stratton (1994)||Joe Ferguson (1995)|
|Marv Levy (1996)||Joe DeLamielleure (1997)||Robert James (1998)||Edward Abramoski (1999)||Bob Kalsu (2000)|
|George Saimes (2000)||Jim Kelly (2001)||Fred Smerlas (2001)||Kent Hull (2002)||Darryl Talley (2003)|
|Jim Ritcher (2004)||Thurman Thomas (2005)||Andre Reed (2006)||Steve Tasker (2007)||Bruce Smith (2008)|
|Booker Edgerson (2010)||Phil Hansen (2011)||Bill Polian (2012)||Van Miller (2014)||Lou Saban (2015)|
|Cookie Gilchrist (2017)||Reserved For|
The Golden Era