CURTAINS ✌🏾 Appreciate all of the love for all these years!!! Y’all made the ride incredible!!! pic.twitter.com/jkcVrRLcNI— Devin Hester (@D_Hest23) December 12, 2017
Although he hadn't suited up at all during the 2017 season and hadn't inked a contract since splitting the previous campaign between the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks organizations, the door had at least been left cracked open. No more. After 156 games over the course of 11 seasons, Devin Hester has decided to close the book on one of the most distinguished and unique careers in professional football history.
Hester was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2006 out of the University of Miami to serves as a cornerback and was later switched to wide receiver. However, it was as a punt/kick returner that Devin made his household name in the Windy City. During his eight years in Chicago, Hester returned 19 kicks and punts for touchdowns, including the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI - one of the most iconic moments in the history of the franchise. Adding one more during his brief stint in Atlanta, Hester brought his career total returns for TD's up to an eye-popping 20, which was and is an NFL record.
Specialists have typically had an incredibly steep, uphill climb to make it to Canton; however, I truly believe that Hester deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame for his career as a returner. The m,an turned one of the most boring plays in sports into absolutely must-see TV. You just never knew when "The Windy City Flyer" was going to take one all the way.
I must admit, I wasn't always a Bears fan. In fact, through most of my childhood and into early adolescence, I didn't even understand how football was played; I was all about baseball and NASCAR racing. It wasn't until Devin Hester burst through special teams coverages onto the national scene in 2006 that I truly started to pay attention. As a track athlete, his incredible speed on the gridiron drew my fascination and by the team he racked up a single season record of six returns in his rookie season, I was hooked. When he returned that Super Bowl kickoff into the endzone, I recall jumping up and down in my living room so violently that I thought I might break through the hardwood floors and end up in the basement!
In short, much like the 2003 Cubs pulled me back into baseball after several years in the wilderness, Devin Hester and the 2006 Bears finally inspired me to learn the ins and outs of football. Maybe I should actually be mad at him though; if he hadn't drawn me in 11 years ago, I wouldn't have to suffer through the never-ending dumpster fires that have been the John Fox/Marc Trestman eras!
To this day, the only Bears jersey that I've ever purchased has been in honor of good ol' number 23 (a number with an astonishingly rich history in Chicago sports), seen above during my annual high school, cross country alumni Turkey Bowl)... I don't think that's going to change anytime soon either.
"The Flyer" signed off his announcement by saying, “hopefully the next time I see y’all it’ll be in Canton.” Whether or not Hester ultimately gets his bust in Canton is going to an interesting matter of great debate. He absolutely revolutionized and under-appreciated position on the field and quickly became the all-time best in his craft. Will that alone be enough to earn enshrinement in a Hall of Fame which has only admitted two full-time placekickers and one punter in it's long history? After all, his career elsewhere on the field was mediocre, at best.
In my extremely biased opinion, I give an emphatic yes. What say you? Please feel free to make your thoughts known in the comments section below.
Ironically, even though he is - by far - my favorite football player to ever suit up in the NFL, I don't have much in the way of Hester cardboard. In all honesty, the three cards which appear in this post are the only pasteboards I have which feature his likeness. Clearly I am slacking. That being said, as modest as my PC is, I felt like I still had to show it off today.
In the end, it's sad to see another player from my teen years hang up their cleats. I guess this is why the sports-consuming public loves ageless wonders like George Blanda, Bartolo Colon, and Jaromir Jagr - they serve as a last, fleeting connection to our youth.
Anyway, good luck to you, Mr. Hester, in whatever and wherever your life takes you next. Thank you for making kick-offs the most exciting part of any Chicago Bears game and for introducing me to the game of football. He may have revolutionized the kick return specialist; but, he also cemented my "Monsters of the Midway" fandom (for better or worse).
Here's hoping that "the Windy City Flyer" lands in Canton sometime soon.