Devin Hester Clears Big Hurdle
There are no players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame based solely on their kick or punt returns and former Bears return man Devin Hester still has the chance to become the first.
Hester, dubbed the Windy City Flyer, has been named one of the 15 finalists to be considered for election into the PFHOF and is one of only three first-year eligible players on the list. The other two are defensive end/outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and wide receiver Andre Johnson.
There has been at least one first-time eligible each of the last eight years.
Hester is the all-time leader in special teams touchdowns with 20, holds the record for punt return TDs (14) and also in a single season with four. His 19 kick or punt return TDs is also an NFL record. His other kick returned for a TD was on a field goal miss against the New York Giants.
The NFL announced the finalists on NFL Network and Hester made an appearance, telling network hosts that former Bears special teams coach Dave Toub, who is now in Kansas City, had the greatest influence on him.
"This guy had more faith in me than I had in myself," Hester said. "He really made me feel like I was unstoppable, I was untouchable, that I was more of a Superman. When I realized and understood what he was getting to and what my ability was to play in the league and I was capable of doing, then that's when it clicked.
"He really, really instilled into me that I could change the game as a returner."
It started for Hester in his very first game with a punt return TD against the Packers in the 2006 season-opening 26-0 Bears win at Lambeau Field.
The other finalists are former Jared Allen, who played briefly for the Bears, tackle Willie Anderson, defensive back Ronde Barber, tackle Tony Boselli, safety LeRoy Butler, wide receiver Torry Holt, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebacker Zach Thomas, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive lineman Bryant Young.
Getting in will be no easy task. He has already made a cutdown from 123 to 15, but now the selection committee will reduce the list to 10 and then five, before voting on each of the five who remain. Then it would be a matter of getting 80% yes votes if he makes it to one of the final five.
Former Raiders receiver Cliff Branch has already been nominated from the seniors committee. Dick Vermeil is the coaching finalist and referee Art McNally also was nominated.