Share this article

print logo

TELL ME WHERE IT HURTS
STEVE TASKER COPES WITH FOOTBALL'S WEAR AND TEAR TO STAY IN THE GAME

There are no more Pro Bowls in his future.

Another Super Bowl is, at best, a long shot.

These days, Steve Tasker's accomplishments are measured by the consecutive games he can stay healthy and employed.

That is how it is when you're 35, when you've injured nearly every body part imaginable in 16 1/2 years of playing college and pro football, and when you're on the fringe of an NFL roster.

Six games into the Buffalo Bills' season, Tasker already has dealt with pulled hamstrings in both legs, a severely poked right eye, and a groin-muscle injury that kept him out of last week's game.

He also has been cut -- to allow a practice-squad player to be activated -- and re-signed a day later.

Once Tasker was admired solely for his uncanny special-teams play, which earned him seven Pro Bowl trips, and his occasional brilliance at receiver.

Now he is admired more for the hits that his 5-foot-9, 183-pound body -- as well as his psyche -- can withstand.

"Some of the stuff he does is pretty amazing, and we, as his teammates, appreciate it as much as anybody," guard Jerry Ostroski said. "Plays that most guys should be dead or knocked out on, Steve pops up and seems to go on.

"I wish I knew how he did it."

So do many others when they think of the countless bad things that have happened to Tasker's body -- things that would have had another man changing careers long ago . . . if not permanently disabled.

A head-to-toe rundown follows:

Head. Tasker has had at least two concussions that he can remember. Just before the start of the season, teammate Sean Woodson accidentally poked him in the right eye in practice. Tasker didn't miss any playing time, but began wearing an eye shield over his face mask.

Spine. At Northwestern University, he suffered a stress fracture of his spine that forced him to wear a chair-back brace for a couple of months.

Arms. Tasker broke the right one. Bone chips are floating in both elbows.

Hands. He has suffered breaks to eight fingers and other bones in both hands. He played most of the 1994 season with a fractured thumb.

Groin. That's the area that kept him out against New England. But he expects to play Monday night.

Hamstrings. Tasker has lost count of how many times they have been pulled. The alternating hamstring pulls that he had in each leg earlier this season kept him from playing the first Colts game.

Knees. He has had four surgeries on his knees: an arthroscopic procedure on the left, two major operations and an arthroscopic procedure on the right.

Ankles. Tasker has had a badly twisted left ankle.

Feet. A severely sprained right foot kept him out of six games last season.

Tasker avoids certain exercises in the weight room because they are "too destructive" to some joints and muscles that have been traumatized through the years. He compensates with others.

Still, for all of the injuries, Tasker remains incredibly upbeat.

"You never really think about getting damaged," he said. "What you're thinking about is the positive. You want to get back and play and take your spot on the roster and make something happen, help the team win.

"Being on the fringe really doesn't bother me because I never really felt like I was all that indispensable. There have always been people within the organization who felt that I was a luxury as a special teams player. There have always been other teams in the league that didn't keep guys like me around.

"I always knew how lucky I was to be here and tried to act accordingly. So when the time does come for them to release me and bring me back or say good-bye to me for whatever reason, that's not going to surprise me."

Linebacker Chris Spielman, one of the NFL's leading authorities on toughness, paid Tasker the highest compliment he could pay any player when he said, "He's a guy you love to have on your team. Anybody would."

Tasker's remarkably high tolerance for pain is legendary around the NFL. But he doesn't give it much thought.

"That's part of the weeding-out process," he said with a shrug. "There isn't a guy in the locker room who hasn't gone through all the bumps and bruises of a season in college and pros. The guys who aren't willing to live with that and go through it, don't play pro football.

"The only time it gets you down is when you go through a stretch like I had in the beginning of the year, when it's just one thing after another -- a couple of little nagging things you can't really get rid of. You don't really miss a lot of time, but you have to drag them around like luggage.

"You break a leg, and, OK, you've got to take some time to heal and rehab. But you get a twisted ankle, it takes a long time to heal because you're always asking it to go the distance. You're always asking more than what it's really ready to give. And you play for three or four weeks with that, and you can't feel good.

"Then, when that finally heals, all of a sudden you've got a sprained wrist. Now you've got to live with that for another three or four games."

"The game's a lot of fun and it's great and it's easy when you feel good. But it's all this other stuff -- the pulled muscles, the sore back, the sore shoulder, the sprained knee -- that you've got to live with that takes the fun out of it."

One has to wonder, then, if there can be any fun left for Tasker.

"It's always a kick," he said. "Anytime you get to go out and play pro ball, it's fun."

Tasker is trying his best not to think about the fact that this is likely the final season of his career so as to not lose focus on the remaining 10 games.

"But it's hard not to think that when you're laying on the turf," he said. "When you're laying there, and you've got a broken bone again, and you're saying to yourself, 'You know what? This is pretty crazy.' "

There are no comments - be the first to comment