Chicago Bears: Ridiculous to keep Hester out of Hall of Fame

(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images) /

Specialists don’t normally make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But legendary Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester may have been more special than any specialist that ever played. As such, he deserves to get that call eventually.

Today, former Chicago Bears great Devin Hester officially announced his retirement from the NFL after he went unsigned this season.

It’s been coming for a while, but at least he went out with one last dominating performance for the Seattle Seahawks last year in their playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Quite simply, Hester was the greatest return man of any kind in NFL history without a scrap of debate. Truthfully, he was already knocking on that door after just his second year in the league and just cemented it later.

And it wasn’t just because of the numbers—he set records with 20 total return touchdowns and an insane 14 punt return scores, made four Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro three times.

It was because of that buzz in the stadium or in your house whenever he was back to return a kick.

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It was because of you hoping and praying the defense would not only stop the other team but do it with enough room to work his magic.

And it was because of that ultra-satisfying feeling of knowing that he could flip even the ugliest-looking game for the Bears at “anytime”.

That’s why I hope that Devin Hester will one day have a Chicago Bears-themed bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

I know specialists don’t usually get the Hall call no matter how influential they are. In particular, while three kickers (Jan Stenerud, Ray Guy and Morten Anderson) have broken the mold, no return man ever has.

But I also know that Hester was more than just influential and more than just statistically the greatest return man of all-time. He was one of the greatest game-breakers of all-time, period.

As inspired as the Chicago Bears defense played against the Arizona Cardinals back in 2006, that epic comeback effort would’ve fallen short without Hester’s 82-yard punt return, stunning the football world in prime time.

Remember that 2007 game against the Jay Cutler-led Denver Broncos when he thumbed his nose at Todd Sauerbrun twice and put the Bears’ flagging playoff hopes on his back?

And even though the Bears didn’t win the 2007 Super Bowl, I bet everyone remembers where they were when he delivered one of the most incredible highlights in Super Bowl history.

My dad and I jumped up and down so hard I thought we were going to crash into the basement.

Detractors will say, of course, that him not impacting every snap will taint his candidacy. And that fact that he didn’t excel at any other position—he finished with just 255 catches for 3,311 yards and 16 career touchdowns as a receiver—will cause people to write him off.

But looking at him that way minimizes his true impact on football games and what made him great.

His ability—whether you’re talking about his speed, agility, vision or just plain sorcery—was truly one of a kind. And with the NFL phasing out kickoff returns, I doubt any return specialist will ever be able to touch the records he set again.

And his mere presence on the field terrified teams for years, forcing them to kick out of bounds and constantly give the Chicago Bears offense better field position. Yes, he improved his team’s probability of winning by just standing on the field, sometimes without ever touching the football.

Only rare players, and hardly any specialists, command that kind of respect.

And when teams eventually relaxed as Hester endured a long touchdown drought, he started making them pay all over again.

That’s why he was nicknamed “Anytime”: he was always dangerous, always entertaining to watch and always great at what he did. Again, he was greater at what he did, by leaps and bounds, than anyone who ever did it.

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He won’t get into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, obviously. The voters will need some time to talk themselves into it.

But after a few years, I truly hope people take stock of Hester’s greatness, both in statistics, impact and how he revolutionized the way people played his position. And when they do, I hope they’ll vote him in as he should.

It would be “ridiculous”, in the worst way, not to put him in the Hall of Fame.