Devin Hester, who emerged as perhaps the best returner in NFL history during his eight-year Bears career, was one of 122 modern-era players nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Hester is in his first year of eligibility and presents maybe the strongest case to add to the Bears’ list of an NFL-best 30 players in the Hall. He’s joined by former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman, center Olin Kreutz, edge rusher Jared Allen, receiver Muhsin Muhammad, guard Ruben Brown and quarterback Dave Krieg. Of the group, only Hester, Briggs, Tillman and Kreutz are synonymous with the franchise.
The list will be shortened to 25 players in November. Fifteen finalists will be chosen in January, with the winners — whittled down from 15 to 10, and then 10 to five — announced before the Super Bowl. The winners will be enshrined in August 2022 in Canton, Ohio.
The 122 nominees included 65 offensive players, 46 defenders and 11 special-teamers. Hester is listed as a kick returner/punt returner and receiver. In 11 seasons — he spent 2006-13 with the Bears — Hester had 20 returns for touchdowns, an NFL record. He returned 14 punts, five kickoffs and one field goal for touchdowns.
He’s best known for becoming the first player to return the opening kickoff of a Super Bowl for a touchdown; he ran 92 yards for a score against the Colts.Last year, he was named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team.
When he and Matt Forte both formally retired as members of the Bears in 2018, the running back argued on Hester’s behalf.
“The definition of a Hall of Famer is somebody that changed the game. . . .” Forte said. “I don’t think there will ever be another one like that.”