Hall of Fame next stop for Chicago Bears star Hester?
To current Chicago Bears who played with, coached against or just watched Devin Hester, the question of whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame is a no-brainer.
Hester, who played eight of his 11 seasons and had 19 of his NFL-record 20 return touchdowns with the Bears, announced his retirement Tuesday. It immediately sparked a lively debate about his qualifications for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.
Bears special-teams stud Sherrick McManis played with Hester for two years (2012-13) and against him in 2014 when Hester was in his first of two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
Asked about making a case for Hester's inclusion in the Hall of Fame, McManis said: "He made his own case. Just watch the tape. He deserves that. He brought something special to the game."
Drafted by the Bears in the second round in 2006, Hester burst onto the scene, setting an NFL single-season record with 5 kick-return touchdowns (3 punts and 2 kickoffs). He broke that record the next season with 6 (4 punts and 2 kickoffs).
In his retirement announcement, Hester addressed a special note to Bears fans, writing: "You brought me in and made a Florida boy feel at home in the Midwest from Day 1. I grew into a man, built a family, and became who I am today in the city of Chicago.
"I'll always remember the noise y'all made whenever I hit open turf at Soldier - never heard anything quite like it. I'd also like to especially thank Coach Lovie Smith for taking a chance on me in the draft and getting this whole thing started."
Actually, Hester was drafted by Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who admitted he became "Hesterized" after watching his exploits at the University of Miami. But Smith was instrumental in moving Hester from cornerback, the position he was drafted at, to wide receiver in addition to his return duties.
In his first two seasons as a full-time receiver, Hester caught 108 passes for 1,422 yards and 6 touchdowns. He had 255 career receptions for 3,311 yards a 13.0-yard average and 16 touchdowns.
But it was as a return specialist that Hester excelled, and special-teams players are grossly underrepresented in the Hall. Only two full-time kickers and one punter have made it, and no one has even been elected as a return specialist.
Should Hester be the first?
"In my opinion, I don't get a vote, but I definitely think so," Bears coach John Fox said. "It took forever for Ray Guy to get in, and I always thought he was very special as a punter.
"Special teams has impacted plenty of games in football over history. That makes a difference in wins and losses when you have a guy that's that dangerous of a weapon and can change field position and change the score in an instant. That's a huge impact on the game. He changed games."
In his last year as a Bear, Hester had 1 punt-return touchdown and led the NFL in kickoff-return yardage.
McManis said Hester had a unique quality as a return man, sometimes doing it by design and other times by instinct.
"You can't really tell him where to go," McManis said. "He just knew where to go. He could go to the edge. He could hit it in the middle. There was just no telling what he was going to do with that ball."
If the ball came off someone's foot, Hester got it in the end zone more often than anyone who has ever played the game.