Could this be the year Hester, McMichael make the NFL Hall of Fame?

Two Bears legends could be selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday. Return specialist Devin Hester and defensive tackle Steve McMichael are among the finalists who could hear their names called during the NFL Honors awards show on Thursday in Las Vegas.

McMichael is one of three “senior” nominees for the class of 2024. Hester is one of 15 “modern era” nominees. The NFL Honors award ceremony, which takes place annually during Super Bowl week, will include the announcement of the Hall of Fame class, the MVP award, coach of the year and more.

Hester has been a top 15 finalist in each of the past two years but was not among the players selected either time.

The other 14 modern era finalists in 2024 are defensive back Eric Allen, defensive end Jared Allen, tackle Willie Anderson, guard Jahri Evans, defensive end Dwight Freeney, tight end Antonio Gates, defensive back Rodney Harrison, receiver Torry Holt, receiver Andre Johnson, defensive end Julius Peppers, running back Fred Taylor, receiver Reggie Wayne, linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive back Darren Woodson. Jared Allen and Peppers also played for the Bears for part of their careers.

From the list of 15 modern era finalists, a maximum of five players can make the Hall of Fame. The Pro Football Hall of Fame does not release voting results, so it’s unclear how far off Hester was on previous ballots.

For McMichael and the two other senior nominees — linebacker Randy Gradishar and receiver Art Powell — each must receive at least 80% of the vote in order to be inducted. None or all of them can make it.

The 66-year-old McMichael, who announced in April 2021 he’s battling ALS, was an All-Pro defensive lineman for the Super Bowl XX champion Bears during the 1985 season. He played for the Bears from 1981-93 and earned five All-Pro nods and two Pro Bowl appearances.

McMichael totaled 95 sacks over a 15-year career, including 92.5 as a member of the Bears. He was originally drafted with a third-round pick by the New England Patriots in 1980 but was cut after one season. The Bears signed him ahead of the 1981 season and he played in a limited role in his first few seasons in Chicago. In 1983 he had a breakout performance with 8.5 sacks and followed it up with 10 sacks in 1984. He earned his first All-Pro honors in 1985 and was a dominant force for the Super Bowl champion Bears.

McMichael, nicknamed Mongo, also became a pro wrestler after his NFL career and was a frequent presence on Chicago sports talk radio for many years.

Hester’s effect on the game still resonates. No player affected his position more than Hester did for returners.

During his 11-year NFL career, Hester returned 14 punts and five kickoffs for touchdowns, plus one touchdown returned on a missed field goal. His 20 total return touchdowns ranks first all-time in NFL history. His 14 punt return touchdowns are also an NFL record.

Seventeen years ago, Hester returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown on the first play of Super Bowl XLI. To do it in the biggest game of his life, with the world watching — on the first play of the game, no less — cemented Hester’s legacy. It remains the only touchdown scored on the opening kickoff in Super Bowl history.

Daily Herald file photoChicago Bears Devin Hester returns a kickoff by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, December 29, 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

“He cost a lot of coaches a lot of sleep,” current Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said when Hester became a finalist in December. “It was tough to try to keep the ball away from him on punts and on kickoffs. And just the way the rules have changed, I’m glad Devin was here before the rules changed so that the whole world can appreciate how special his talent really was.”

The Bears selected Hester with a second-round draft pick in 2006. He played in Chicago from 2006-13, scoring all but one of his kick return touchdowns with the Bears. He went on to play two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014-15. He played for the Baltimore Ravens in 2016 and briefly appeared with the Seattle Seahawks during the playoffs that season. He retired following the 2016 season and signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the Bears in 2018, ending his career where it began.

Defensive tackle Steve McMichael, 191 games, is third among most games played in Bears history DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

The Bears have 30 former players in the Hall of Fame. Linebacker Brian Urlacher was the last Bears player inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.

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