Devin Hester isn’t worried about what lies ahead two years from now, when he’ll first be eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Only three pure special teamers are enshrined in Canton: Kickers Lou Groza and Morten Anderson, and punter Ray Guy. No player whose primary job was returner is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So there’s some warranted concern from those in Chicago whose No. 23 jerseys are fading but still smile every time he or she hears “Soulja Boy.” Will Hester get his day in Canton?
Again: He’s not as worried as some of his fans might be.
“For me now, I honestly feel like it’s not whether I’m going to make it, it’s when now,” Hester said in an appearance for PointsBet on Monday’s edition of the Under Center Podcast. “I’ve been prepping for this since like 2008. You know? It’s been thrown in my face since 2008 when I was playing the game of football in my early career that (I was) Hall of Fame worthy already. I feel like, to be honest, I’ve been prepping for it since 2008 and now I’m in a situation where I feel like it’s not whether I’m going to make it or not, it’s just when right now.”
Hester’s 20 non-offensive touchdowns are the most in NFL history. Fourteen came on punt returns, another five on kickoffs, and one on a missed field goal. He’s a three-time All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler. I don’t think there’s an argument against him not only being the greatest returner in NFL history, but being a truly great football player, period.
And those guys are Hall of Fame worthy, no matter if the played offense, defense or special teams. Right?
“To be honest with you – not pushing anybody’s buttons – but that debate, when it is brought up whether he should make it or not, are guys that never played the game of football,” Hester said. “The guys that’s on a high level that played the game of football know that the things that this kid brought to the table not only as just a returner, but field position.
“When you gameplan players – there’s certain players that make the Hall of Fame. When you gameplan players every week, it don’t matter what position whether it’s the center or the guard or the starting linebacker. When you have to game prep and plan around a certain player and this player can change games, those are the ones that you have no question that they should be in the Hall of Fame.
“And in my shoes I feel like this is why I’m worthy of making it and being a Hall of Famer.”
We’ll see in 2022 if Hester’s argument wins out with the 48-person Hall of Fame selection committee, which is made up of writers covering each of the NFL’s 32 teams (Chicago’s rep is the great Dan Pompei) and 16 “at-large” voters. But as someone who grew up in Chicago and witnessed Hester’s greatness every Sunday (or Monday) for nearly a decade, it’s hard to imagine Hester not getting a gold jacket – even if he’s “only” a special teamer.
Check out Monday’s Under Center Podcast for more from Hester – there’s a great story in there about a punt return touchdown he still thinks was unfairly called back – but one last thing stuck with me in chatting with Hester for the podcast. While he said he’s been preparing for the Hall of Fame since 2008, he didn’t quite realize the gravity of *what* he was doing every time he took a kick or punt back for a touchdown.
But now he does.
“I have a lot of friends and family members come up to me and really, really break it down – even some of the Hall of Famers I talk to really break things down, and really open up my eyes to the things I did in the NFL,” Hester said. “And now it’s almost, it gets a little emotional, and it’s almost, you know, chills, shocking that wow, some of these things that you did have never been done in the NFL. And we’re talking of over 100 years of players playing the game of football.”