It was a warm early September night in Miami, and the Gators had traveled down south to take on the 3rd ranked Hurricanes. Over 80,000 were there in the old Orange Bowl, with millions watching around the country. Gators kicker Matt Piotrowicz kicked off to begin the game. Hurricanes freshman Devin Hester returned it from the three yard line, and took it to the house. On that night in Miami, a legend was born.
Since that day over fourteen years ago, when you think of returning kicks in football, you automatically think of Devin Hester. My opinion of Hester is obviously biased due to the fact that I’m a Hurricanes fan, and I grew up watching him in person. I don’t mean to brag or anything, actually yes I do, but you’ve seen the video of him against Duke, where he broke at least 36 tackles and still ran it back for the touchdown? Yeah, I was at that game, and my father bought me his jersey after the game.
Anyway, back to Hester.
Hester was incredible at the U, and the Canes used him on the offensive side of the ball too, making him the ultimate threat. However, because he was known primarily as a returner, I was sure that we wouldn’t hear much of him in the NFL.
However, Lovie Smith and the Bears drafted him in 2006, and that season was one for the books. Whether it was his return on Monday Night to beat the Cardinals, or his 108-yd runback missed field goal at the old Giants Stadium, or the two returns for scores he had on another Monday Night in St. Louis, Hester was one of the main reasons why the Bears went 13-3 in 2006 and won the NFC championship.
Though when you think about the 2006 season, one play comes to mind, opening kickoff against the Colts in the Super Bowl. To describe that touchdown, all you have to do is quote Jeff Joniak, Bears radio announcer. “Devin Hester, you are ridiculous!’’ I was in our rental car getting ready to board a cruise in Hawaii listening to the play, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll also never forget how bad Sexy Rexy Grossman played that game, actually that entire season.
While the 2006 campaign for Hester was incredible, it was the prelude to his performance in 2007. While at the U, Hester returned six punts/kickoffs for touchdowns. He matched that statistic in 2007 in the NFL, setting a league record.
Hester played eight seasons for the Bears, was a three-time Pro Bowler, and was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2000’s by ESPN and the Associated Press.
Hester, during the span of his 11-year career with the Bears, Falcons, Ravens and Seahawks, scored an NFL 20 non-offensive touchdowns, one more than Deion Sanders.
So the question that everyone will be debating for years to come, will Hester earn him a spot in the Football Hall of Fame?
In order to be inducted into Canton, the player should be remembered for changing the game, making people stop and watch, and being a someone who could change a game. Hester definitely checks all of those boxes, and would absolutely get my vote.
As for his own words, he thinks he’ll be inducted someday too. “I owe it all to my coaches, teammates, fans, and family. And to my speed…I can still beat anyone down that sideline,” he wrote. “Hopefully next time I see y’all it’ll be in Canton.”