Devin Hester is unquestionably the most accomplished returner to ever play in the NFL. The record books make that very clear.
But after being nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Wednesday, there still seems to be a question about whether or not he deserves to get in.
“I think he does,” Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said Thursday. “We all know when he was here, when he touched the ball, people weren't getting up to go to the concession stand when it was time for him to receive the football. He changed games.”
Tabor was the assistant special teams coach for the Bears under coordinator Dave Toub from 2008-10 and coached Hester in all three seasons, including one of his All-Pro seasons in 2010.
During his 11-year career, Hester set an NFL record with 20 total return touchdowns, 14 punt return touchdowns and the most return touchdowns in a single-season with six.
“How many times do you open up a Super Bowl with a touchdown kickoff return to get things going?,” Tabor said.
One time. Hester is the only player to ever return an opening kickoff for a touchdown in a Super Bowl. His candidacy is unique though because he never caught on at a position on defense or offense. Hester caught 255 passes for 3,311 yards and 16 touchdowns, but was never a consistent weapon for the Bears on offense. He also didn’t play multiple roles on special teams like other players do. He was primarily just a returner — but the best to ever do it.
"It's crazy because it's the first ever do it," Hester told the Under Center Podcast of a possible induction. "Just to be the first one is is crazy. And it's mind boggling because you're thinking about me as a player and everything that I did and everything to accomplish and to be the first ever to do it, it's almost (mind boggling)."
If inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Tabor thinks it would be a good thing for special teamers everywhere.
“100 percent. Because I think the game has changed with regards to special teams throughout the years. Guys take a lot of pride in it,” Tabor said. “Obviously NFL games come down to the end and special teams have a hand in that. And obviously you always want to be on the better side of it. We would all love to see a special teamer go into the Hall. That would be great.”
Hester certainly understands the significance.
”Nobody from 1990 to today had ever thought about I'll be the first quarterback to make it to the Hall of Fame. I'll be the first running back. Nobody in our era has ever thought about it," Hester said. "And for me and my era to say that wow, I'll be the first kickoff and punt returner that makes it to the Hall of Fame, to open up the doors for everybody else."
The Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalists for this year’s class are expected to be announced in November. The 2022 class will then be announced at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles in February.
“He was a dynamic player, but he's a great person. And I hope he gets in. It would be awesome,” Tabor said.