Bears return star Devin Hester doesn’t make Pro Football Hall of Fame

Devin Hester, whose ridiculous returns made him the greatest to ever play the game, was not selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday night.

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Former Bears returner Devin Hester scores a touchdown in 2010.

Former Bears returner Devin Hester scores a touchdown in 2010.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Devin Hester, whose ridiculous runs made him the greatest return man to ever play the game, will have to do what he never could as a Bear: slow down and wait.

Hester, one of 15 finalists, was not selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday in his first year of eligibility. But just because he didn’t take the stage at the NFL Honors event at the YouTube Theater doesn’t mean he won’t as soon as next year.

Making the finals practically guarantees that Hester, who holds the NFL record for most return touchdowns, will be there again next year and, if need be, the years after that. Modern-era candidates are eligible for 20 years before going to the senior pool. Hester almost certainly will reach the Hall much sooner.

His career, which spanned from 2006 to 2016, speaks for itself. He had an NFL-record 20 returns for touchdowns — 14 punts, five kickoffs and one field goal that fell short. All but one of those returns came while he was a member of the Bears from 2006 to 2013, and none was more memorable than his 92-yard kick-return touchdown that opened Super Bowl XLI against the Colts 15 years ago. No player before or since has started the Super Bowl with a return for a touchdown.

The five modern players voted in Thursday were former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli, former Packers safety Leroy Butler, former Saints and Panthers edge rusher Sam Mills, former Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour and former 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young, a Chicago Heights native. 

Former Raiders receiver Cliff Branch made it as a senior candidate. Dick Vermeil, who reached the Super Bowl with the Eagles and won one with the Rams, got in as a coach. Art McNally became the first on-field official voted in. He worked as an official from 1959 to 1967 and was the NFL’s supervisor of officials for the next 23 years.

Young is a 1990 graduate of Bloom High School in Chicago Heights who became a three-year starter at Notre Dame. He was a first-team All-Pro in 1996, a four-time Pro Bowl player and won a Super Bowl with the 49ers after the 1994 season. 

Young said his roots in the Chicago area propelled him toward the NFL. Never great at basketball, he learned the required toughness for tackle football by playing in the park with neighbors when he was little. 

He grew up a Bears fan and idolized defensive end Richard Dent, with whom he played briefly with the 49ers as a rookie in 1994. 

“I loved Mike Singletary’s intensity and leadership,” he said. “As far as the position, Richard really had my eye.”

Before ever playing a down for the 49ers, he grew to like them because they beat the Bears twice in the playoffs in the 1980s.

“It was actually my love of the Bears, how I became a Niner fan,” he said. “‘Who’s this team beating my Bears?’ ”

Young and the other Hall picks were chosen by a 49-person selection committee made up of media representatives who cover each team, delegates from Pro Football Writers of America and at-large representatives. The list of modern-era finalists was whittled from 15 to 10, then from 10 to five, in a virtual vote last month. The last five players were then issued a yes or no vote; whoever received 80% or more of the yes vote got in. 

Young got in. 

Sooner or later, Hester will, too.

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