Should Devin Hester be enshrined in Canton when his time comes? We discuss.
Devin Hester stated earlier in the week that he feels he very well might have played his last game in the NFL and plans to retire. Hester and the Chicago Bears parted ways after the 2013 season. Hester signed with the Atlanta Falcons and had a solid campaign in 2014, but his production has fallen off greatly the past two seasons as he bounced from Atlanta to the Baltimore Ravens and finally the Seattle Seahawks.
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If Hester has indeed finished his career, his argument to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a compelling one. First of all, Hester’s contributions on offense should be largely ignored. His offensive contributions are pedestrian at best. Hester never had more than 757 yards receiving in a season and never had more than four receiving touchdowns in a season. But as we know, Hester isn’t an offensive player, he’s a special teams player, and a great one at that.
Hester’s contributions on special teams are remarkable. Hester has more return touchdowns than any other player in history with twenty. The man he passed was none other than Deion Sanders, who had 19 return TDs but those include interceptions.
Hester is the greatest return man in NFL history. It’s tough to argue anyone else had more of an impact returning punts and kicks than Hester and that includes greats like the aforementioned Sanders. His impact was felt as a rookie and teams instantly had to start game-planning on special teams on ways to avoid allowing Hester to touch the ball.
The Bears reached the Super Bowl in Hester’s rookie season and faced the Indianapolis Colts. Tony Dungy said that they had no plans to avoid Hester and would play their special teams as usual. Hester returned the opening kick for a touchdown and Dungy had his special teams avoid Hester like the plague the rest of the game.
So here we have the greatest return man in NFL history knocking on Canton’s door. Should he be allowed to enter? The question becomes not whether or not Hester should make the hall of fame, but whether a return specialist should make the hall of fame.
I will admit that I’ve long thought that just being the greatest return specialist of all-time wasn’t enough, but over the last couple years, I have softened on that stance. In baseball, closers are specialists, and they are recognized in their respective hall of fame. Only a select few have been recognized, but they are recognized.
In football, we are seeing that the voters are starting to recognize specialists. Ray Guy is the greatest punter in the history of the NFL. Guy retired in 1986 and didn’t make the hall of fame until 2014, but he did make it in. Jan Stenerud has also been recognized and placed in the hall of fame. Lou Groza and George Blanda are also in Canton, but they played other positions (Blanda at QB, Groza at T). Current Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is also widely considered a lock to be enshrined in Canton when his day arrives.
So if kickers and punters are recognized, why not return specialists? Just because a return specialist has never been enshrined doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Simply put, the NFL had never seen a return man like Hester before, and with NFL rules changing the way they have, the league may never see one again.
Hester was special. Never before had punts and kickoffs been must-see TV until Hester came into the league. It no longer signified time to run to the bathroom or the fridge to get another beer, it was time to lock your eyes on the TV set and see what Hester was going to do next.
Simply put, Hester’s impact on games from his position was unparalleled. He changed the way teams had to prepare for the Chicago Bears on special teams. He is the greatest return specialist of all-time, and as mentioned before, due to changing rules in the NFL, he will probably always hold the title of “Greatest Return Specialist.” If that’s not a hall of famer, I’m not sure what is.