The most memorable special teams coverage standouts in NFL history
These are guys who stop the highlight returns from happening and even force a few change-changing turnovers. Although the great kick and punt returners get far more glory, the NFL’s unsung heroes are special teams coverage aces. Here are some of the best in league history.
We have to start with Steve Tasker. Nobody did it better as a special teams dynamo.
A ninth round pick by Houston in 1985, Tasker played at full speed all the time. A wide receiver by trade, he made seven Pro Bowls as a special teamer. In 1987 with the Buffalo Bills, he made 20 special teams tackles to set the tone for his career that really took off with during the run of four straight Super Bowl appearances by the Bills.
Tasker, who made 186 special teams stops, is in Bills Hall Fame. He also returned 44 kicks and 32 punts. The 5-foot-9 Tasker always joked that he was often mistaken for the ball boy. In an ultimate sign of respect, Bill Parcells said that his coaching staff would game plan against Tasker.
Larry Izzo… remember him? Undrafted out of Rice signed by Dolphins, the 5-foot-10 linebacker had 298 career special teams tackles, including 23 tackles in 21 postseason games.
Former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson took over the Dolphins in 1996 and guaranteed only two players were assured of making the 1996 Dolphins roster — Dan Marino and Larry Izzo. The three-time Pro Bowl special teames ace was also the Patriots’ special teams captain all eight seasons he was there while taking home three Super Bowl rings.
Billy Bates had 216 special tackles in a memorable career with the Dallas Cowboys. He had 667 total tackles including play on defense as a steady safety. Bates is one of only three Cowboys to have played 15 seasons with the franchise.
Although he only ran a 4.8 forty, Bates was a tough guy who threw his body in harm’s way. The four-year starter for the Tennessee Vols embraced special teams work to make it in the pros. In 1990, he made a career-best 23 special team tackles.
Fred McAfee, nicknamed Fast Freddie, played 16 seasons including 10 with the Saints. He earned a 2002 Pro Bowl spot with New Orleans and also earned his keep with the Steelers for five seasons. The cousin of running back Marcus Dupree also played the same postion with Saints, leading the team in rushing as a rookie in 1991. He played in all phases of special teams.
Hank Bauer played seven NFL season as an undrafted running back out of California Lutheran in 1976. He holds the all-time NFL record with 52 special teams tackles in 1981. Against the Saints in 1979, Bauer had four carries and scored three touchdowns but was officially credited with one yard on the day.
Bauer suffered a broken neck in 1983, leading to several years as San Diego’s special teams coach before a successful sports broadcasting career in San Diego.
Ron Wolfley played on suicide squads as a gunner once termed a “Rambo in should pads.” The four-time Pro Bowler played for 11 seasons, fearless covering kicks. Wolfley shined brightest with the Cardinals (1985-’91) before time with the Browns and Rams. Like Bauer in San Diego, he has found retirement success as a sports broadcaster in Phoenix.
Mosi Tatupu, an eighth round pick of Patriots in 1978, played 15 seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 1986 and earned his keep as a solid special teamer and fullback who the fans adored.
Rusty Tillman spent eight years with the Redskins an served as a special teams captain for four seasons. He was named one of 70 greatest Redskins of all-time.
Jim” Crash” Jensen wore jersey No. 11 because he played everywhere (quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, running back and special teams). He played a dozen seasons, wreaking havoc on opposing special teams. The nickname says it all as he sacrificed his body foten. In 1988, Jensen was named the NFL’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
And of course there’s Vince Papale, called “Rocky” as a Phuladelphis native who famously made his hometown squad as a 30 year old rookie. With the Eagles, he made 20 special teams tackles in two seasons. The St. Joseph’s alum who played for Philly’s World Football League team in the mod-1970’s was named Eagles Man of the Year in 1978. The major motion picture Invincible was based on his story.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…