Bills' Tasker earns Levy's special praise

January 16, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Steve Tasker skated past the first wave of kick coverage before the Los Angeles Raiders knew what had happened.

The Buffalo Bills' special teams master had taken a line drive kickoff from Jeff Jaeger at the Bills' 32, and 67 slippery yards later, he had set up Buffalo's first touchdown in what became a 29-23 victory.

In an AFC playoff game that featured three botched extra points and two missed field goals, Tasker's kick return represented the highlight of a trying day for the special teams.

On the sideline, Bills coach Marv Levy paid Tasker the ultimate compliment.

"I turned to our trainer and said, 'I don't know anyone in the NFL who plays their position as well as Steve Tasker plays his,' " Levy said.

Tasker is a special-teams dynamo, but his specialty is covering kicks, not returning them. He had a big play in coverage yesterday, too, tripping up the Raiders' Tim Brown for a 1-yard gain when Brown appeared to have some room to run.

Of Levy's compliment, Tasker said, "For me, that's high praise, and it means a lot to me coming from Marv."

Kicks did funny things in yesterday's gusting winds at Rich Stadium. On Tasker's second-quarter return, it knocked Jaeger's ball down.

"I thought it was going to go over my head, but it knuckle-balled about three yards in front of me," he said.

"By the time I caught it and started running down the field, the Raiders still didn't know where the ball was."

Tasker tightroped down the side line, outran two would-be tacklers and dodged a dive by Jaeger. When he was pushed out of bounds at the Raiders 1 by Willie Gault, it was the Bills' longest postseason kick return. Ken Davis scored on a 1-yard dive moments later.

Tasker doesn't envision a new career opening up.

"I used to be a kickoff returner," he said, "but I had a propensity of fumbling. I returned kicks back in 1986 and '87, but we have much more talented guys than I am."

It was a tumultuous day for Bills kicker Steve Christie. He was wide right on the extra point after Davis' touchdown, and another point-after attempt was blocked. In the third quarter, he was wide left on a 43-yard field-goal attempt.

The icy surface was the big problem. "I don't know where to line up, I don't know where my plant foot is," Christie said. "I couldn't feel my kicking foot."

On the other side of the field, Jaeger bounced an extra-point try off an upright, and badly missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt.

"I'm sure the weather had something to do with it," Levy said of the misadventures in the kicking game. "As great a job as the field crew did, and as cooperative as the weather was, the footing was not good. They would come in with a cold foot."

NOTES: At minus-32 wind chill, it was the coldest game in Bills' history. The temperature at kickoff was zero, and at halftime it was minus-1. The previous coldest game was Dec. 26 at Rich Stadium against the New York Jets. The temperature then was 9 degrees with a wind-chill of minus-28. . . . DT Warren Powers of Baltimore, signed last week by the Raiders after Chester McGlocklin broke his left leg, did not dress for the game.

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