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LAS VEGAS, NV. — Devin Hester is finally where he belongs — in the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside the greatest players to ever play in the NFL.
Hester was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday night. It was his third time being a finalist and the return man/wide receiver was one of the 15 finalists to make it into the 2024 class.
Also joining Hester in the 2024 class are former Bears Steve McMichael and Julius Peppers.
McMichael played a pivotal role on arguably the greatest defense to ever be constructed. The Monsters of the Midway helped the Bears win Super Bowl XX in a dominant 46-10 victory over the Patriots. McMichael has been battling ALS after his playing career, but will still get to enjoy the moment of being a Hall of Famer.
Peppers went on to accumulate 159.5 sacks in his 17-year playing career — which is the fourth-most all time. The defensive lineman played with the Bears from 2010-13.
In Hester’s 11-year NFL career, he scored 20 return touchdowns (14 punt, 5 kickoff and 1 missed field goal) — which is still an NFL-record. While Hester was with the Chicago Bears from 2006-13, Hester scored 19 of those return touchdowns and was named an All-Pro three times and made it to the Pro Bowl three times. He also played two seasons with Atlanta and a season with Baltimore.
Dave Toub was the Bears’ special teams coordinator from 2004-12 and overlapped with Hester for seven seasons.
Toub — who is coaching for the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII against the 49ers — saw first hand how much Hester impacted the game outside of the return touchdowns.
“One of the things, probably the biggest thing, is that he was a lot stronger than people thought,” Toub told CHGO. “He was fast, everybody knew he was fast, but he was so much stronger than everybody else. He would break a lot of tackles, too. He just changed the game. He was just a cut above everybody else. I don’t know with the way the game is now, the way you’re changing the rules on kickoff, I don’t know if there will ever be another return man that is able to do what he did because of the amount of returns that he had. I mean it’s amazing.”
Hester had plenty of memorable games throughout his Hall of Fame career. But none were bigger than his return touchdown on the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI against the Colts — which is still the only time that has happened in Super Bowl history.
The former second-round pick out of Miami also had an iconic moment against the Arizona Cardinals during his rookie season. With the Bears down 23-16 with just over three minutes remaining in the game, Hester returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears a one-point lead, and that return ended up securing the victory for Chicago after a missed field goal by Arizona.
“I think for the Hall of Fame, if you want to talk what the Hall of Fame is supposed to represent, it’s supposed to represent being the best players at their positions – the best players to ever play the game,” Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said in January. “I don’t think that there’s a question that Devin Hester is the best player at the return position, in the combo return position, with all the records that he holds, everything he did his rookie year, everything he has done not only at the Bears, even when he went somewhere else. He revolutionized the game of football and how coaches cover kicks.”
Given how the game is played today with all rule changes on special teams, the opportunities for returns don’t happen as often as they did when Hester played. Even so, Hester was one of kind.
“I think God made only one Devin Hester,” Hightower said last December. “I don’t think we’ll ever see another player like Devin Hester again. I know I probably won’t in my time. Some people may. Maybe our kids’ kids or somebody will, but the impact that he’s had on the game and the way he changed the game, it’s just — when you really go back and study it, it’s unbelievable. And I don’t ever think you’ll see a player change their position the way he changed his position in the return game.”
When Hester was causing panic for opposing teams on how they would game plan for him, he had plenty of names given to him. Anything from “Anytime” to the “Windy City Flyer” and simply the Greatest return man of all time.
Now, he can finally and deservedly add Hall of Famer to cap off his historic career.
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