Devin Hester was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He came into the NFL as a cornerback but the Bears had every intention of having him as a return specialist. They had lost some of their better return men and needed a replacement. Hester, was it.
His first season with the Bears was nothing short of spectacular. In his debut as an NFL player, he ran back a punt return for a touchdown. Perhaps his most amazing regular season feat was returning a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown. This, against the New York Giants.
Hester had a hand in helping the Bears win one of their greatest games, a 24-23 comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals. He returned a punt 83 yards to seal a huge and important victory for Chicago He registered two kickoff returns for touchdowns in a game against the St. Louis Rams that season as well.
Opponents of the Bears began to not kick towards Hester after they realized what he could do on returns. This often left the Bears with good field position which helped them out a lot.
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The star return specialist received a lot of accolades for his performance during the regular season. He earned three NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. He received NFC Player of the Month honors for December. Perhaps his biggest honor came when he was selected to the Pro Bowl as well as the AP’s All-Pro team. He was also nominated for the 2006 Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year but did not win.
He did manage to be the Bears’ second leading scorer in the regular season (behind kicker Robbie Gould). However, Hester did have some issues holding onto the football. This would plague him throughout his career.
Hester’s returns and the great field position they provided helped the Bears get into the post-season. He almost had a hand in helping the Bears defeat the Seahawks on their playoff game. His punt return for a touchdown was called back due to a penalty however.
Perhaps his biggest impact in the post-season came in the Super Bowl. The Bears faced the Indianapolis Colts and the Colts were brave kicking the ball right to Hester to start the game. Hester took the kick and returned it all the way down the field for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown return of a Super Bowl opening kickoff in the game’s history. It was also the fastest lead gained by any team in that game’s history at that time (that record has since been broken).
After Hester returned that kickoff, the Colts, wisely, chose not to kick the ball to Hester. The Bears were not able to effectively return the ball which helped contribute to their loss.