A punt and kickoff returner is rarely the first to make a name for himself, but Devin Hester managed to do just that. Although he has been retired since the 2016 season, Hester remains one of the best ever to play his position.
Now approaching his eligibility for the Hall of Fame career, many wonder if Hester can be the rare special teams player to get into Canton’s illustrious halls.
Devin Hester’s strange career
Hester’s career was never going to be the same as anyone else’s. During his time at Miami’s famed football program, he played both wide receiver and defensive back on top of being an acclaimed punt returner.
That got him into the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft, where the Chicago Bears selected him with the 57th-overall pick.
Fans were initially puzzled as to why the team would select someone who didn’t have a definitive role beyond punt returns, but it didn’t take long for Hester to prove them wrong.
Hester made returning punts and kickoffs an artform, regularly capitalizing on the plays in ways that ended at the end zone. As a rookie, he set the NFL record for the longest punt return, reaching the end zone on a 108-yard missed field goal.
Throughout an 11-year career, Hester was an All-Pro punt returner three times. While he played sporadically at wide receiver over the years, he showed that a punt returner was not to be taken for granted. Hester maintained an all-star level of play throughout the rest of his career, rushing for a career-best 1,436 kick return yards in 2013.
In 2014, Hester left the team that drafted him for a two-year stint with the Atlanta Falcons before calling it quits after the 2016 season, which he spent with both the Ravens and the Seahawks.
He finished with an NFL-record 7,333 kick-return yards, 3,695 punt-return yards, 14 punt return touchdowns, and five kick return touchdowns according to ESPN. But one play stands above the rest for his career.
One shining moment
Even an illustrious returner like Devin Hester has to work extra hard to get into the Hall of Fame, and even with his list of accolades, Hester is far from a surefire candidate for the Hall of Fame.
One play in particular, however, might seal the deal for his place in Clanton. At the 2007 Super Bowl, many expected Peyton Manning to steal the show. However, Hester wasted no time to take the spotlight away from the superstar quarterback.
Although Hester’s Bears lost the game, his opening kickoff return remains one of the most impressive feats in Super Bowl history. After Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked off the Super Bowl, Hester caught the ball and went to work. He rushed by his defenders and gave the Bears an early 7-0 lead in the game. It was the first opening kickoff return for a touchdown in history, and still defines Hester’s career today.
Hester claimed that the moment played out in his head, leading up to the game. He spoke about it with the Bears’ website.
“This is what I had been envisioning all week and actually for the past two weeks,” Hester said after the game. “We had the chance to come out with the kickoff return on the first play of the game. But the bad part about it is that we didn’t come out with the victory.”
Will it be enough for Devin Hester?
Getting into the Hall of Fame is hard enough for position players, but it’s a whole different ball-game for special teams’ players. Although Hester’s status as one of the best returners ever to the game should, theoretically, get him in alone, voters are hard to predict.
He pled his case in 2014 with The Chicago Sun-Times, noting how Ray Guy, the first special teams player to do so, paved the way for guys like him.
“When you talk about the Hall of Fame, you really don’t talk about special teams,” Hester told the Chicago Sun-Times. “You talk running back, linebacker, receiver, quarterback kind of guys. The first time a special-teams guy made the Hall of Fame — he just opened up the window for everyone else.”
Now, Hester will just have to wait and see if the voters are as kind to him as they were to Guy. Otherwise, the voters will have to answer some questions.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference