Bears Classics: Why did the Cardinals kick to Devin Hester?

Bears Classics: Why did the Cardinals kick to Devin Hester?

November 25, 2013, 8:30 am
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It's one of the greatest comebacks in Chicago Bears history.

October 16, 2006.

The Bears scored 21 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes — all on defense and special teams — to shock the Arizona Cardinals, 24-23, on Monday Night Football.

Do you remember where you were?

No need to ask Scott Player. He knows exactly where he was.

Player was the unfortunate soul who punted the ball to Devin Hester with 3:17 left in the game. The Bears rookie caught the ball, raced upfield, made Player and 10 other Cardinals miss, and miss, and miss again, until Hester was celebrating in the end zone, clinching the improbable victory.

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Seven years later, what most people recall from that night in the desert is Dennis Green's nuclear post-game press conference when he shouted the famous words, "The Bears are who we thought they were!"

Player remembers much more, which he revealed in the new CSN documentary "Bears Classics: Night of the Ridiculous," which debuts 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Some of Player's former Cardinals teammates aren't going to like what he has to say. Neither will the Bears.

"I've gone back lately and watched that punt return. The effort was not there from our football team,” Player said. “For me to be the only guy to even touch the guy? You hope that those 10 other guys can cover the punt, which they should be able to do if they're in the National Football League."

Until that point, Hester had yet to make a name for himself as one of the most dangerous return specialists in league history. This was only his sixth NFL game, and his one return touchdown had come in the first week against Green Bay.

Why not punt it to him?

"Nobody knew me. I hadn't proven a lot to be feared to kick to," Hester said in the documentary. "Little did they know that I was hoping for a return to pretty much showcase what I'm capable of doing."

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Player didn't mean to kick the ball to Hester. He says a breakdown in his special teams unit led to that fateful play.

"I was trying to kick the ball out of bounds, but it was either the tackle or the wing who got beat on that play and the punt almost got blocked, so I had to redirect it towards the middle of the field, which we didn't want to do."

Hester's score was the third return touchdown by the Bears in 12 minutes. The first two came on defense. They somehow beat the Cardinals despite six turnovers by quarterback Rex Grossman.

"If a guy turns it over six times and you still win, it's forgettable," Brian Urlacher said. "If we lose that game, we're mad at Rex."

Urlacher, Hester, Player and Grossman are interviewed for the documentary, along with Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Muhsin Muhammad, Olin Kruetz, former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, Bears chairman George McCaskey, Sports Illustrated's Peter King, Bears play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak and many others. They look back on this classic game with behind-the-scene stories that have never been told.  There's also compelling footage that has never been seen.

The victory over the 1-5 Cardinals made the Bears a perfect 6-0. They finished the regular season 13-3 and won the NFC championship before losing to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI.

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Scott Player wasn't impressed then. He isn't impressed now.

"There was no reason to lose that game and to that team," Player said of the 2006 Bears. "I know they went to the Super Bowl, but that was not a very good football team. We definitely outplayed them on that night, except for probably three plays."

What does Kruetz think about Player's comments?

"He's a punter. I don't comment on punters. Tell him thank you for kicking it to Hester. We appreciate it."

Much more to come on Wednesday night.

Chuck Garfien is the writer and director of "Night of the Ridiculous."