Steve Tasker is a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time since 2013, and seventh time overall. The former Buffalo Bill is best known for his special teams play.
With only two pure kickers (Jan Stenerud, Morten Anderson) and a punter (Ray Guy) in the Hall, and no other special teams players represented, one view is that Matthew Slater’s eventual Canton case could ride on the fortunes of Tasker.
That means the likelihood of the Patriots special teams captain, a seven-time Pro Bowl player, being able to wear a gold jacket may hinge on Tasker getting in first and opening the door.
Slater, who has been a part of three championship teams, is arguably the best coverage player ever to play the game. Over the course of his 11 seasons with the Patriots, he’s impacted so many games with his play. Opposing teams have had to game-plan around the Patriots gunner, and he continues to make meaningful plays. Hopefully, when the time comes, he’ll be strongly considered by the voters, and not automatically cast aside.
To get a better perspective of Slater’s future chances for induction, we spoke with two members of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
Clark Judge, writer and host of the Talk of Fame Network and an at-large selector for the Hall of Fame, doesn’t believe Slater has much of a chance given the preferences of voters over the years.
“It’s going to be very tough for him. All you have to do is look at Tasker, who’s never been a finalist. And then there’s (returner) Brian Mitchell. He’s the second all-time leading combined yardage leader in the NFL, only Jerry Rice has more, and he’s never been a finalist,” said Judge. “Could Slater become a semi-finalist? Sure he could. But to get to the finals is very difficult. For whatever reason, the Hall of Fame voters tend to be somewhat blind to special teamers.”
Ron Borges, also of the Talk of Fame Network, and formerly of the Boston Herald, agreed it would be a difficult road for Slater, but said he would love to see how it would play out as his presenter.
“I can see him get nominated and get into the room, but I think it would be a tough sell to get into the Final Five. But I wouldn’t mind trying and making the argument for Slater,’’ said Borges. “He has made a lot of plays that changed important games, there’s no doubt about that. I think I could make a case for Slater, and would be happy to try.”
There are 48 members of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee. It’s comprised of sportswriters from every NFL market and a handful of at-large members from national media outlets, and two Hall of Famers (currently Dan Fouts and James Lofton). That group is responsible for deciding who gets in, and who gets left out.
Borges was instrumental in getting former Patriot great Ty Law inducted last year after the cornerback wasn’t voted in on two prior attempts. He made a strong case to presenters, providing irrefutable data and facts supporting Law’s entry.
“It’s an interesting debatable point, there’s no doubt about that,” said Borges. “A lot of guys that are opposed to kickers and punters, they’d make the same argument … they’re only involved in five or six plays. OK, but they could be the most important plays of the game in many cases. So I see both sides of it.”
Slater’s father Jackie Slater, an offensive lineman with the Rams, was enshrined in 2001. Like his son, he was a seven-time Pro Bowler. The elder Slater, however, was not part of three Super Bowl championship teams.
Matthew, who is listed as a receiver, primarily functions as a gunner and core special teams player for the Patriots. He only rarely takes snaps with the offense.
“In Slater’s case, what’s going to hurt him, I think he’s only caught one pass in his career. You might have the tendency to look at that, and say, ‘OK, who are we not sending to Canton for him?’’’ Borges said, referring to Slater’s lone career catch, a 46-yard bomb from Tom Brady in 2011. “On the opposite side, it’s clear, (special teams) is a third of the game, as (Bill) Belichick would tell you. Obviously, those are transitional plays. Last week, if Slater doesn’t block that kick, they probably don’t win that game against Dallas.”
With the arrival of Justin Bethel, a three-time Pro Bowler, along with Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon Bolden, and Terrence Brooks, the Patriots have assembled a cast of special teams superstars. But Slater is the clear leader of the band. He’s the superhero with the “S” on his chest.
“He’s been making plays for over a decade. He’s been the guy everybody’s been chasing ever since he came into the league,” said Bethel. “I guess you could call him the Steve Tasker of our era. It’s been cool to be able to play with him.”
Bethel, of course, believes special teamers should be represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’d love to see Tasker get in, and eventually, Slater.
“I think we’re just as important as any other position, but that’s the stigma special teams gets. It’s part-time. But a receiver doesn’t think he’s part-time because he doesn’t play defense. Or, a defensive player doesn’t think he’s part-time because he doesn’t play offense,” said Bethel. “For us, our job is to be good on special teams. That’s our phase of the game. It’s a third of the game. And it can make a big difference as you saw when Slater blocked that kick. So, even though people don’t give it as much credit that’s due, we make plays that can change the shape and outcome of a game.”
No argument here. If any special teams player deserves a Hall nod, it would be Slater down the road.
Rivers not buying decline
Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers refuses to give in to the notion he’s hitting an age wall because of his poor play. His 14 interceptions rank second-worst in the NFL behind Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, who has 20. Rivers, who turns 38 next month, told the Los Angeles Daily News he is aware of the criticism, but doesn’t pay attention to it.
“I don’t necessarily try to seek it out, but I’m also not naive to it or ignore it completely,” Rivers said about the doubters. “I understand it. I know it comes with it. It’s not one of those things that I’m looking for extra motivation or, ‘I’ll show them,’ or, ‘I can’t believe they think that.’ I get it. If I was in that locker room, I’d be upset with me, too, for some of those things. That just comes with it. That comes with the position. I understand that.
“Again, I’m disappointed that I haven’t made some of the plays that I need to. I’ve also made some plays that helped us be in these games, too. It goes both ways. I’m not trying to sell that I’ve played well. I have not played well. The turnovers are unacceptable, but there’s no lost confidence, no lost belief in myself. I don’t even entertain (that).”
Former Lions player rips Patricia
No surprise here — Matt Patricia is getting no love in Detroit. Thursday’s 24-20 loss to the Bears officially eliminated the Lions from the postseason, and made the former Patriots defensive coordinator 9-18-1 during his time as head coach in Detroit.
Former Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who retired in 2017, used his Twitter account to question why former Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who was 9-7 in his final two seasons, was let go in the first place.
“We fired coach Caldwell for this @Lions?” Tulloch tweeted. “Time for a change ASAP. The fans deserve better.”
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