Signing free agents – especially those with unfamiliar backgrounds – is a hit-or-miss proposition for NFL teams.
If a team lands the wrong guy, it could set them back for years on end.
Case in point: the-then San Diego Chargers signed David Boston to a seven-year, $47 million deal in 2003 and won just four games that year.
Fortunately, the Buffalo Bills rolled the dice with Steve Tasker in 1986.
All the 5’9″, 185-lb. Tasker did was become a seven-time First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler with the Bills during his memorable 13-year NFL career from 1985 to 1997.
Tasker dominated special teams during the Bills’ glory years in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they made four straight Super Bowl appearances.
No wonder many consider this small, baby-faced assassin the greatest free-agent signing in Bills franchise history.
When Steve Tasker gets his elusive bust and gold jacket in Canton someday, that’s the proverbial icing on the cake.
Steven Jay Tasker was born to parents Gordon and JoAnn in Smith Center, KS on April 10, 1962.
He grew up in Leoti, a town with a population of 1,800 people and within thirty-five miles of the Colorado border.
Gordon Tasker was a Methodist minister. His son Steve eventually became a devout Christian as his football career evolved.
Tasker attended Wichita County High School.
He was a three-sport star who excelled in football, basketball, and track for the Wichita County Indians.
Tasker was the state’s AAA champion in the 100- and 200-meter dash in his senior year. His blazing speed served him well in his college and pro football careers.
It was also during Tasker’s senior year in high school when he decided to pursue a career in radio.
Not only was Steve Tasker able to accomplish that, but he also did it for a Buffalo Bills team he helped turn the corner during its glory days in the NFL.
College Days With The Northwestern Wildcats
Steve Tasker took the unconventional route when he began his stint on the college gridiron.
Since many recruiters considered Tasker too small to play at bigger football programs, he accepted a scholarship to Dodge City Community College in his home state of Kansas.
“My freshman year I weighed in at 147 pounds,” Tasker told Sports Illustrated in 1991. “That was fully clothed with my wallet and comb in my pocket.”
The coaching staff put Tasker on a strength training program so he could bulk up and gain strength. As time went by, he evolved into a wideout, kick returner, and placekicker.
Moving along, in the #B1GPlayersCountdown, to Northwestern.
Steve Tasker was one of the greatest special teams players ever. He was also the B1G MVP for rugby when he tried it out for the first time his senior year.
Feel free to comment with your favorite Wildcats! pic.twitter.com/mVrCGEd3Ni
— Sidelines – Minnesota 〽️ (2-0) (@SSN_Gophers) August 22, 2019
Tasker eventually transferred and accepted a scholarship from Northwestern University after two years at Dodge City.
He majored in communications and roomed with Northwestern Wildcats punter John Kidd.
Ironically, Tasker and Kidd would cross paths during their NFL careers in snowy Buffalo, NY a few years later.
Tasker tried his hand at rugby after he had played his final down in college football.
Despite never playing rugby before, Tasker won MVP honors at the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Steve Tasker would go on and earn several more accolades at the NFL level during his 13-year pro football career.
Pro Football Career
The Houston Oilers (now known as the Tennessee Titans) made Steve Tasker the 226th overall selection of the 1985 NFL Draft.
The Oilers drafted the unheralded Northwestern Wildcats wideout in the ninth round.
Nobody was more shocked than Steve Tasker.
“I never dreamed of playing in the NFL,” Tasker told SI.com in 1991. “I knew I had the ability, but I didn’t know if I had the size and strength.”
Little did Tasker know he would thrive as an undersized special teams player in the National Football League for the next thirteen years.
Unfortunately, Tasker’s pro football career didn’t get off to a smooth start.
He missed sixteen games in his first two seasons with the Oilers due to injuries.
With Tasker sidelined, the Oilers continued miring in mediocrity.
They won an average of five games in 1985 and 1986. They extended their postseason drought to six years.
It was only when Tasker left Houston in 1986 when the Oilers went on a seven-year postseason run.
After the Oilers put Tasker through waivers, first-year Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy promptly signed Tasker in the fall of 1986.
Tasker’s life would never be the same again.
It turned out Tasker became a member of Bills Mafia through word of mouth.
The Oilers dismissed tight ends coach Joe Faragalli after a disappointing five-win campaign in 1985.
Faragalli signed with the Buffalo Bills the next season.
When his boss, new Bills head coach Marv Levy, brought up the possibility of improving special teams in one of their team meetings, a light went off in Faragalli’s head.
He thought about Steve Tasker.
Tasker told BuffaloBills.com some twenty-seven years later that Faragalli was still seething from his dismissal in Houston.
When he saw Tasker’s name emerge on the waiver wire, he took it down the hallway and showed it to Levy, who didn’t know anything about Faragalli at the time.
The new Bills tight ends coach quickly put in a good word for Tasker. He told Levy he could excel on special teams, play kick returner, and even cover kicks.
Levy just shrugged his shoulders and gave Faragalli his nod of approval, per the Bills’ official website.
For Tasker’s part, he and his wife were at the grocery store when Bills general manager Bill Polian left a message on his answering machine.
Next thing Tasker knew, he and his family were on a plane bound for Buffalo, NY the next day.
— Steve Tasker (@SteveTasker89) February 29, 2020
When Tasker landed in Western New York, his Northwestern Wildcats teammate and Bills punter John Kidd welcomed him to the team at Rich Stadium.
The two then made their way to the hotel for team meetings later in the day.
When Levy introduced Tasker to his Bills teammates, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They saw a baby-faced twenty-four-year-old who barely resembled a football player.
Levy and Tasker stayed behind after team practice in a blinding Buffalo snowstorm several weeks later.
Levy taught his new special teams guy how to block a punt.
He got the basics down pat and blocked a punt against the New England Patriots that week, per BuffaloBills.com.
As Tasker walked off the field, he pointed at him and they exchanged nods.
Steve Tasker had officially arrived in Buffalo.
The Bills won an average of six games in Tasker’s first two seasons in Buffalo.
They endured some serious growing pains as they evolved into a force at the turn of the decade.
It wasn’t until the 1988 NFL season that Buffalo turned the corner. The Bills’ twelve victories tied a franchise record.
Regrettably, they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game, 21-10.
The Bills took a step backward the following season. They won nine games and didn’t make it past the AFC Divisional Round.
This time around, the Bills lost to the other Ohio team, the Cleveland Browns, 34-30.
At this point in Steve Tasker’s NFL career, he wasn’t so sure if he’d stick around in Buffalo.
The Bills didn’t protect him during the Plan B free agency period in 1988 and 1989.
When Tasker thought his career in Buffalo was in jeopardy, he put his 16-acre farm in Colden, N.Y. on the market. He figured it would be easier to uproot them if he moved closer to the downtown area instead.
To Tasker’s astonishment, the Bills protected him during the Plan B free agency period after Super Bowl XXV against the New York Giants.
Tasker played like a man possessed in the Bills’ postseason march toward Super Bowl XXV.
He blocked a punt to complete an improbable comeback against the then-Los Angeles Raiders on October 7, 1990.
Steve Smith hauled in a four-yard pass from Jay Schroeder to give the Raiders a 24-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
After the Bills wide receiver scored on a 42-yard touchdown reception, Tasker blocked Jeff Gossett’s punt.
Buffalo defensive back James Williams scooped up the loose ball and ran it 38 yards for the touchdown.
The Bills scored 24 unanswered points to secure the miraculous 38-24 victory.
It was one of the biggest highlights of Steve Tasker’s NFL career.
Tasker blocked two punts, forced two fumbles and recovered two more, and bludgeoned two return specialists inside their 10-yard line that season.
It wasn’t a coincidence Tasker was the AFC’s Pro Bowl special teams player for the second time in the past four years.
While Buffalo lost in heartbreaking fashion, 20-19, (Scott Norwood muffed a potential game-winning field goal that made the Bills lose the first of their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances), Steve Tasker had a new lease on life.
“I always thought it was kind of silly to protect me,” Tasker told SI.com in 1991. “I don’t think I could be that valuable to a team.”
Indeed, Steve Tasker proved valuable to the Bills’ cause. He wound up playing seven more seasons in Western New York.
By the time the Bills protected Steve Tasker in free agency, management had laid a firm foundation.
Buffalo had future Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, and Andre Reed – the core which made the Bills a juggernaut in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
While the Bills never won that elusive Super Bowl, Tasker compared his Buffalo stint to winning the lottery.
“I was on a great team and the guys were great – Jim and Thurman and Bruce,” Tasker told the Bills’ official website in fhe fall of 2013. “Those guys were great. It was a great fun, team. I won the lottery.”
Jim kelly, Bruce Smith, Steve Tasker and an unknown Hula girl at the Pro Bowl. Look at those pants and socks! pic.twitter.com/VAUWebGlII
— 𝙃𝙚𝙡𝙢𝙚𝙩 𝘼𝙙𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙩 (@HelmetAddict) November 3, 2016
Even in Tasker’s seventh year in the National Football League, he still looked like a baby-faced assassin.
Tasker was already 29 years old and the father of three children in 1991. When he hung out with his Bills teammates at a bar, bartenders usually asked him for his I.D., per SI.com.
Tasker was juggling faith, family, and football at the peak of his pro football career.
Aside from his football and family obligations, he was also a deacon at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in West Falls, NY.
“My faith in Christ has to do with every day of my life and everything that I do,” Tasker told SI.com just before the 1991 NFL season kicked off. “I believe I’m playing football for a purpose. This is where God wants me right now.”
Deep into Tasker’s 13-year NFL career, Bills head coach Marv Levy knew his special teams star also had a fiery side.
Levy called Tasker the “Wild Angel” during their time together in Western New York. He knew Tasker was a polite and courteous man off the gridiron.
However, when Tasker put his helmet and cleats on, he threw his choir boy persona out the window. He became a terror on special teams for Buffalo.
For Tasker, nothing was more exciting than covering kickoffs in the National Football League.
Laying somebody out on the gridiron gave him a sense of satisfaction like no other.
“It sounds absolutely barbaric to say, but laying a good lick on somebody is the best feeling ever,” Tasker told Sports Illustrated in 1991.
Don’t let Tasker’s 5’9″, 185-lb. frame fool you. He could put the hurt on return specialists who ran into him.
Tasker’s incredible strength set him apart from other special teams players of his era: he could squat 500 pounds, dunk a basketball with two hands, and perform backflips with ease.
Tasker continued making highlight plays in the Bills’ attempt to win their first Super Bowl title.
His blocked punt led to a Thurman Thomas two-yard touchdown run in the opening moments of Super Bowl XXVII.
Unfortunately, the Bills lost to the powerful Dallas Cowboys in blowout fashion, 52-17.
That was the last time Buffalo made it to the Super Bowl.
The Bills would go through several up-and-down seasons in Steve Tasker’s last four years in the National Football League.
They averaged eight wins per year from 1994 to 1997. They never made it past the AFC Divisional Round during that stretch.
Tasker’s role with the Bills evolved as his pro football career wound down.
Buffalo’s lack of depth at wide receiver in 1995 prompted head coach Marv Levy to make Tasker a part of the pass offense.
Tasker showed everyone he was more than up to the daunting task.
He had 108 yards and a touchdown on five receptions in the Bills’ 37-22 rout of the visiting Miami Dolphins on December 30, 1995.
Steve Tasker decided to retire from the National Football League two years later.
He finished his pro football career with 204 special teams tackles and seven blocked punts.
Tasker is also the only special teams player to earn Pro Bowl MVP honors. He pulled off the impressive feat in 2003.
He left behind a stirring legacy that included seven First-Team All-Pro and seven Pro Bowl berths.
Tasker, arguably the best free-agent signing in Buffalo Bills franchise history, set the bar high for the next generations of special teams players.
Steve Tasker and his wife Sarah were married in 1986 – the former’s first year with the Buffalo Bills.
They have four sons: Deacon, Lucas, Gabriel, and Jacob. They also have a daughter, Annelise.
The Tasker family still consider Buffalo, NY their home to this very day.
Lucas “Luke” Tasker made his professional football debut for the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the fall of 2013.
Steve Tasker made the transition to sports media after he retired from the National Football League in 1997.
He became a CBS Sports NFL television analyst a year later. He served in that capacity for the next twenty-one seasons.
Aside from Tasker’s role at CBS Sports, he also worked for the cable network Empire Sports Network at the time.
Tasker became a CBS Sports sideline reporter in 2018. Long-time NFL broadcasters Kevin Harlan and Howie Long worked with Tasker that year.
Tasker told The Buffalo News (via BuffaloRumblings.com’s John Boccacino) he stepped down from his role with CBS in the spring of 2019 because the network didn’t renew his contract.
Tasker also maintained he left CBS Sports on good terms.
He’s currently a color analyst for the One Bills Live radio and television shows.
Here’s a little of BILLS by the Numbers… pic.twitter.com/pIpcMoHAmC
— Steve Tasker (@SteveTasker89) November 19, 2021
The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inducted Tasker in 2001.
He became the 24th member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame six years later.
Tasker missed the cut for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his last year of eligibility in 2021. However, he can still make it to Canton via the senior committee process.
Since Tasker’s retirement from the NFL, he and his wife have served in many public service endeavors including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, March of Dimes, and Asbury Shalom Zone.
The Tasker couple has also supported numerous Buffalo Bills causes such as Jim and Jill Kelly’s Hunter’s Hope over the years.
Steve Tasker played golf with his parents in Winfield, KS every time he visited them, per LivingPrimeTime.com.
He currently hosts the “Unpackin’ It Podcast,” a show that’s geared toward Christian sports fans.