Five of the Bears’ six living Hall of Famers were in attendance for this weekend’s Bears100 Celebration in Rosemont (only Brian Urlacher, who dropped out at the last second due to some self-reported digestive issues, was not present). Dick Butkus, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers and Mike Singletary brought with them to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center decades of history, reams of All-Pro honors and, of course, five distinguished gold jackets.
And then there’s Devin Hester. He won’t be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame until 2022, but very well could become the seventh Bears player enshrined in Canton.
That is, if he can buck a trend that’s existed ever since the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s doors opened in 1963: Special teamers rarely get in. Only three are Hall of Famers: Two kickers (Morten Andersen and Jan Stenerud) and one punter (Ray Guy). No player who’s primary talent was as a returner is a Hall of Fame.
But consider Hester’s resume: More punt return touchdowns (14) than anyone in NFL history; 20 total non-offensive touchdowns, the most in NFL history; one of two players with five or more kick return and punt return touchdowns; the highest average yards per punt return among players with at least 300 punt returns in their career; and three first-team All-Pro seasons and four Pro Bowl appearances. Anyone who watched him play, too, know he passed the eye test.
“We’re sitting here talking about the Bears and 100 years,” Hester said. “There were a lot of return players when you think about 100 years of football. To say that, at the end of my career, do I feel like I’m the best that ever did it when it comes to kickoff return, punt return?
“Honestly, I do.”
It’s hard to argue with that.
Hester received one of the loudest ovations from the packed crowd during Friday’s Bears100 opening ceremonies, dancing across the stage to “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy),” the song he used to vibe to before his electrifying kickoff returns at Soldier Field.
Hester remains very much a beloved figure in Chicago, and is appreciative of the support he’s received for his Hall of Fame bid since retiring.
“Every now and then I get blogs pop up on my phone about whether or not I’m Hall of Fame worthy,” Hester said. “You know, a lot of the blogs are more positive than negative. A lot of the writers feel as though the things I did on the field are Hall of Fame worthy for me.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find many people at the Bears100 Celebration this weekend who didn’t believe Hester deserved to go to Canton. We'll find out in a few years if that belief extends beyond the borders of Chicagoland, allowing the best return man in NFL history to take his place among the legends of the game.
“For my career, I would say that would be the icing on the cake for me,” Hester said. “Every player that plays football wants to be one of the best to ever do it. You get into that Hall of Fame vote and you get to be in the Hall of Fame, you get to say you’re one of the best to ever play in the National Football League.”