There's not a much better way to work your way into Bears fans' hearts than to return a punt 84 yards in your NFL debut...at Green Bay...in a win.
Eight years later, the Devin Hester era ended in Chicago in much less spectacular fashion. The team's goodbye via a statement wasn't as dramatic as the Brian Urlacher divorce, and, for the most part, we saw it coming.
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Including the stunning kickoff return in Super Bowl XLI, Hester was "ridiculous" 20 times in those eight seasons. The Bears were 15-5 in those games.
And the excitement came especially in his first two campaigns, when he collected 13 of those returns to "the house." It's when Hester was at his best against unsuspecting opponents, as an unknown weapon. It was during the heydey of the Dave Toub Era as the coach developed into arguably the best special teams boss in the NFL.
And it came before the decision to try to turn Hester into a wide receiver. The first two years of that project that eventually failed, Hester did not return a single kickoff or punt for a TD. It's something Hester wanted, and because he was so good at what he did in the return game, Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith thought that speed and elusiveness could translate in the offense. It turned into another example of being careful what you wish for.
In two years as Bears general manager, Phil Emery has seen Hester return one kick for a touchdown, a punt last Oct. 20th at Washington. The team hoped the "old" Hester would return upon having him focus strictly on the return game once again, but after three TD returns in both the 2010 and '11 seasons, the return versus the Redskins was his only one for a touchdown in his past 38 games.
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That's not to say Hester was necessarily bad. A bigger highlight may have been his 249 yards on kickoff returns in Week 2 against the Vikings. He also had a revolving door of blockers he was working with as the injuries mounted in 2013.
There might be another return or two in the 31-year-old's future elsewhere. But if any return specialist has put himself in position to become the first elected to the Hall of Fame once he calls it a career, Hester's the one.
That door to Canton was opened significantly when punter Ray Guy was elected this year. It's by no means a spike in the end zone when it comes to the voting process, as we've come to know. Hester's numbers are better than anyone else who's done that job. And when the debate over whether Devin's "bust-worthy" takes place, it should not be forgotten that through all the revolving doors at quarterback and wide receiver — and even running back — through the Lovie Decade, an argument can clearly be made that Hester's impact to the team's success was a firm runner-up to the defense.
It's just too bad, in hindsight, that thinking more Hester would mean a better Hester, completely backfired. If left to do what he did best (no matter bow much Hester wanted an expanded role himself), the numbers he piled up might be even more...RIDICULOUS. And the door to the Hall would be opened even wider.
Take a look back at all of Hester's return TDs:
Week 1 - Bears at Packers (84-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 26-0
Week 6 - Bears at Cardinals (83-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 24-23
Week 10 - Bears at Giants (108-yard return of missed FG for TD) Bears win 38-20
Week 13 - Bears vs. Vikings (45-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 23-13
Week 14 - Bears at Rams (94-yard kickoff return for TD) Bears win 42-27
Week 14 - Bears at Rams (96-yard kickoff return for TD) Bears win 42-27
Super Bowl XLI - Bears vs. Colts (92-yard kickoff return for TD) Colts win 29-17
Week 2 - Bears vs. Chiefs (73-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 20-10
Week 4 - Bears at Lions (97-yard kickoff return for TD) Lions win 37-27
Week 7 - Bears vs. Vikings (89-yard punt return for TD) Vikings win 34-31
Week 12 - Bears vs. Broncos (75-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 37-34
Week 12 - Bears vs. Broncos (88-yard kickoff return for TD) Bears win 37-34
Week 17 - Bears vs. Saints (64-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 33-25
No return TD's
No return TD's
Week 3 - Bears vs. Packers (62-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 20-17
Week 6 - Bears vs. Seahawks (89-yard punt return for TD) Seahawks win 23-20
Week 15 - Bears at Vikings (64-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 40-14
Week 4 - Bears vs. Panthers (69-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 34-29
Week 6 - Bears vs. Vikings (98-yard kickoff return for TD) Bears win 39-10
Week 10 - Bears vs. Lions (82-yard punt return for TD) Bears win 37-13
No return TD's
Week 7 - Bears at Redskins (81-yard punt return for TD) Redskins win 45-41