Posted by Chase Stuart on December 11, 2009
Steve Tasker is anecdotally considered the greatest special teams player of all-time. What that usually means is that, after leaving out the kick returners, punt returners, kickers and punters, he's the best special teams player ever. He was terrific in kick and punt coverage, blocked his share of kicks and punts, and was a pretty good kick returner and punt returner, too.
Tasker was one of those players who would be forgotten immediately if he had played on bad teams, but he had the good fortune to play on the great Bills teams of the '90s. Buffalo would go to the Super Bowl four straight years, and on a great team, Tasker's skillset was very valuable. Forcing a fumble on a punt return when your team is winning by 3 in the 4th quarter in the playoffs is valuable; it's not so memorable when you do it when you're trailing by 17. In that way, he's not that much different than another AFC East special teamer, Adam Vinatieri.
It would be impossible to determine whether or not Tasker actually was the best special teams gunner/ace ever. Let's assume, for the same of argument, that he was. Does that make him a Hall of Fame player? The NFL Network did a nice job profiling Tasker's candidacy here. For each person, Tasker's ultimate place in history depends on your normative view of the Hall of Fame should operate.
You might think that the Hall should house the best talents in the NFL, composing the best 100-man roster possible, so to speak. In that sense, having the greatest special teams ace of all-time might add more marginal value to the Hall than the 11th best running back when the top ten are already inducted. This view gives the special teams players a chance to make the Hall -- it's the argument for guys like Nick Lowery, Ray Guy, Brian Mitchell (or maybe you prefer Mel Gray) and Tasker. They're the best ever at what they've done and what they did was a key part of football.
Most of us, though, think of the Hall of Fame as the place where the best and most valuable players of all-time are inducted. The 15th best WR ever was a lot more valuable to his team than Steve Tasker, who only was on the field for a few plays a game. If you're starting a franchise, who do you want: Chris Doleman or Steve Tasker? If he could add an in-his-prime Steve Tasker or an in-his-prime Dermontti Dawson to the Patriots in the off-season, whom do you think Belichick would take? For me, and I assume nearly everyone else, the answer is obvious. And the choice isn't Tasker.
So what about the pundits who say "special teams are an important part of the game, so how could the best special teams guy ever (who wasn't a returner or kicker) not be in the HOF?" Well, third downs are a really important part of the game. Should Kevin Faulk be in the HOF? Do you know which player is the best longsnapper in the NFL? Who is the best holder?
Perhaps a better question is should the best blocking fullback be in the Hall of Fame? The idea of a blocking fullback is relatively new; for most of NFL history, teams utilized multiple backs, all of whom both ran and blocked. Lorenzo Neal and Tony Richardson will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in a few years. Should they be inducted? They were terrific blockers who paved the way for many 1,000 yard rushers. Your first instinct might be "yes", but remember that there are no true pure blocking backs currently in Canton. Daryl Johnston retired 10 yeas ago and hasn't even received a sniff of support for his election, and he blocked for the leading rusher in NFL history. If you want to put in the great bocking backs, and the great special teams aces and the great third-down backs, there won't be much room left for the every down offensive and defensive players. A guy may "feel" like a Hall of Famer, but there are only 5 modern-era slots to give away each year.
Tasker was certainly a unique player, and in many ways has the profile of a typical Hall of Famer. He was the best at his position, he changed the way the game was player, he shined brightest in the biggest moments, and he forced teams to gameplan around him. Tasker literally changed the way the game was played; the rule that requires the punting team's gunners to stay in bounds was designed to stop Tasker. Tasker made 7 Pro Bowls and was selected to the Associated Press' first-team All-Pro roster five times; before Tasker, special honors weren't given out to non-returner, non-kicker, special teamers. He blocked a punt in the Super Bowl and won the 1993 Pro Bowl MVP. He forced teams to, on occasion, put three blockers on him because as a gunner, he could get past just two men. If he didn't invent the idea of special teams star, he certainly encapsulated it. Tasker's career was as unique as it was noteworthy.
Unfortunately for Tasker, we don't vote for players in a vacuum; we must vote for one player or another. It's Tasker, or it's John Randle. It's Tasker, or Aeneas Williams. Typically, there are about 50-60 players active each season who will eventually make the Hall of Fame. Was Steve Tasker ever one of the best 50-60 players in the NFL? I don't think so. I understand the desire to recognize the tremendous accomplishments Tasker made at an under appreciated position, but that doesn't mean he's more deserving of making the Hall of Fame than many of the other greats with whom he played.
Chances he'll make the HOF in 2010? Close to zero.
Chances he'll ever make the HOF? Poor.