In Hester's first game as an NFL rookie, in 2006, the Chicago Bears traveled to Green Bay to renew the oldest rivalry against the Packers. With the Bears leading 19-0 in the fourth quarter, they forced a three-and-out, making the Packers punt. Hester took the punt on the 16-yard line, hit the right sideline and was easily en route to an 84-yard touchdown. An impressive display by anyone, but little did the NFL know exactly what had just started.
In Week 6 of that same year, the Bears traveled to Arizona for a Monday night showdown against the Cardinals. The Bears offense struggled the whole night with Rex Grossman at the helm. After a pair of fumble returns for touchdowns and the score 23-17, time was ticking away on the Bears in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals lined up for the punt, and Hester promptly returned it 82 yards for a touchdown and a Bears victory. That single play solidified the change in game plans to keep the ball away from Hester.
Over the next five years, Hester has set the record for most punt returns for touchdowns in NFL history with 12, and it's not over yet. He has also returned five kickoffs for touchdowns as well as a then-NFL-record, 108-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown against the New York Giants. All total, Hester has amassed 18 return touchdowns during his career. The NFL record is 19 by Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, but his record includes nine interception returns and a fumble return.
If Bears head coach Lovie Smith hadn't decided to use Hester primarily as a wide receiver in 2008-09, there is no telling how many more returns Hester would have had. During those two seasons, Hester didn't find the end zone as a return man. He did, however, make six touchdown receptions. With Hester being a primary return man for only three-and-a-half years, and putting up those numbers, he should have definite consideration in Canton.
Only one special teams player is in Canton—Jan Stenerud, a place kicker whose NFL stops included Kansas City, Green Bay and Minnesota, was enshrined in 1991. Hester definitely is up for debate to be the first Hall of Famer to make it in with returning kicks and punts as his specialty. Sanders made it in because he was a shut-down cornerback.
The Hall of Fame is meant for people who paved the way, changed the way the game is played and mastered the way it was meant to be played. Every return man has hopes of returning every kick; the only difference is Devin Hester has done it more than anyone else in the history of the game.
Don't worry, Canton, if you don't catch him when you call...Devin Hester will return it.
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