Yesterday, The 300 brought you one of the Hall of Fame’s most recent entrants. Today, it is the turn of one of the NFL’s most recent retirees.
Chicago Bears (2006-2013)
Atlanta Falcons (2014-2015)
Baltimore Ravens (2016)
Seattle Seahawks (2016)
WHY IS HE IMPORTANT?
In case you hadn’t realised it, the selections for The 300 are appearing in a completely randomised order. This is to avoid giving the impression that we believe that any one of those selected is any better than the others, when our intention is to highlight the most important players at each position, administrators and so forth, in the history of the game. Occasionally, this will throw up little oddities, like two of the greatest return men in the game turning up withing days of one another.
Like Steve Tasker, Devin Hester was nominally designated as a wide receiver (despite being drafted as a cornerback). Unlike Tasker, though, that is what Hester really believed himself to be, and it was one of his bugbears that the Bears thought differently. Nonetheless, he did manage to notch up 16 receiving touchdowns in his career – but that was still less than his 20 return ones.
Who can forget the sight of Hester returning the opening kickoff of Superbowl XLI for a touchdown? Things might have gone downhill for Chicago from that point, but Hester went on to become the most feared kick returner in the NFL. By that point he had already returned a missed field goal for an NFL-record 108 yards. The next season he set an NFL record with six returns for touchdowns, and teams began to realise that they had to develop a whole new strategy for dealing with him.
After the 2007 season it was punt returns, rather than kicks, that became his speciality (indeed, he only scored one more kick return touchdown in the rest of his career). His time with Chicago ended rather abruptly in 2013, with then-Head Coach Marc Trestman using him exclusively as a returner. The Falcons snapped him up, but he managed only one return touchdown in 21 games for them (although, oddly, he also managed the only rushing score of his career). He moved to the Ravens for 2016, but was cut after 12 games and appeared headed for retirement until he received an unlikely call. Seattle needed a new returner after Ricardo Lockette was injured and sent for the veteran for their playoff push. The final game of his career came – ironically – in their divisional round defeat to Arizona, a game in which he creamed off returns of 78 and 50 yards.
There are many who believe that Tasker should be in the Hall of Fame, but Hester may well be the first man to reach Canton purely for being a special teams star.