Devin Hester stood at his locker in a dejected haze.
“I don’t want to compare myself to him — I’m Devin Hester, he’s Adrian Peterson,” Hester said. “He’s got a great future ahead of himself.”
About the same time, Adrian Peterson reflected on his own trailblazing counterpart.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Peterson said. “Guys come up to me and they say, ‘When you got the ball it’s kind of like holding your breath.’ I experience that when [Hester] is on the field. I’m holding my breath knowing he can take it to the house any time he touches the ball.”
Did Peterson purposefully plug Hester’s nickname? I’ll just say this: never were a pair of honorifics more apt than October 14, 2007, at Soldier Field.
Devin Hester — AKA “Anytime” — did his damage as his nickname suggests: any time he touched the ball. On that day, the total was a mere ten. Yet Hester gained 272 yards on those ten touches, an absurd 27.2 yards per touch, scoring a pair of 80-plus-yard touchdowns, one on a punt, one on a catch.
Adrian Peterson — AKA “All Day” — also matched his nickname, brutalizing the Bears all damn day. The Vikings rookie ran for the most yards ever against the Bears, with 224 on 20 carries, and gained the most all-purpose yards in a game against the Bears, with 361. He also set Vikings records for rushing yards and all-purpose yards in a game.
Peterson was in his 5th NFL game. Of the four records he set that day, the only one that no longer stands is the Vikings rushing record, which he broke himself.
Hester was in his 22nd NFL game. His first quarter punt return touchdown broke the franchise return TD record of eight, which Gale Sayers needed 43 games to set.
Together, in a game the Vikings won 34-31, Hester and Peterson combined for just over 47% of the game’s all-purpose yards, and scored five of the game’s eight touchdowns. The shootout that Minnesota won, what Bears QB Brian Griese accomplished, the effect the game had on the season — hardly anyone remembers.
Nearly ten years later, all that remains is #23 and #28 gaming each other to be #1.
The Set Up
Talk about a Super Bowl hangover.
By the time the Bears were prepping for the Vikings in Week 6, they’d already lost as many games (three) as they had in the 2006 regular season. Rex Grossman was a backup without injury for the first time since his rookie year. New starting running back Cedric Benson was averaging 3 yards per carry. The defense had allowed back-to-back 30-point games for the first time since 2002.
Devin Hester was crushing.
He was the league-leader in punt return yards and 10th in kick return yards. He was tied for the league lead with two kick or punt return touchdowns. His 143 punt return yards in week 2 was his 2nd most ever. His 219 kick return yards in week 4 was his 2nd most ever.
He was also, allegedly, a wide receiver. After playing corner his rookie year, Hester switched to offense over the summer. But to that point, he’d had one pass thrown his way, without a catch.
In Minnesota, Adrian Peterson was technically a backup. Veteran Chester Taylor was coming off a 1200-yard season, and the two men split carries that day at Soldier Field. Peterson was 9th in the league in rushing yards, and had three 100-yard games out of four. The Bears run D had allowed 100 yards just once, and held reigning league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson to 25 yards on 17 carries in week 1.
After upsetting the Packers 27-20 the week before behind Brian Griese and our tight end tag-team of Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen, spirits were high in Chicago. A win against Minnesota would get the Bears back to .500 and the playoff hunt. All eight Tribune reporters picked the Bears to win.
“All you had to do was block your guy for a split second.”
And on the fourth punt, Hester scored.
The teams traded punts on the first four possessions, with Minnesota kickers Ryan Longwell and Chris Kluwe doing their best to kick away from the All Pro Hester. The week before, the Packers neutralized Hester on kickoffs, holding him to zero returns with a mix of squibs and pooch kicks.
But keeping the ball from Hester is easier said than done, as Kluwe acknowledged while watching a Bears-Vikings game in 2013:
Goddammit announcers. You can't say "Why kick it to Hester" on a fucking kickoff. If you kick it short, they're two passes away from a FG.— Cassandra (@ChrisWarcraft) December 1, 2013
Indeed, Kluwe began the 2007 game by punting away from Hester. His second punt was a deep floater that Hester fielded with an over-the-shoulder catch at the 11 while facing his own endzone, like a gridiron Willie Mays. He turned to his left, looked up field, looped around, took a block from Brendon Ayanbadejo, split four defenders, and blasted off.
In a blink, he was down the right sideline with no one around him but Bears. Jeff Joniak memorably shouted that Hester had “nothing, and I mean nothing but Kentucky Blue Grass in front of him.”
.@readjack both of those guys outrun angles. Hester was awesome to block for. All u had to do was block ur guy for a split second & poof— ANTHONY ADAMS (@spiceadams) August 9, 2015
The 89-yard return was Hester’s third return touchdown of the season, and his second career touchdown against the Vikings. Though it looked that week as if he would get more reps on offense, David Haugh of the Tribune described him as a “part-time decoy.”
“We’re all thinking, ‘Oh, let’s put him on offense a little more,’” Bears guard Ruben Brown said leading up to the game. “‘Oh wait a minute, we don’t want to lose him on special teams.’”
Ain’t that the truth. Bears 7, Vikings 0.
“Once he’d get into the open field, it was over.”
Hester and Peterson weren’t the only players knocking out long touchdowns that day.
Five plays after Hester’s punt return touchdown, the Vikings tied the game when Tarvaris Jackson found Troy Williamson for a 60-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the 1st quarter. The Bears ended the ensuing drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Bernard Berrian. After four more punts, the Vikings took over trailing 14-7 with under five minutes remaining in the half.
On 2nd and 10, from his own 33, Peterson took his first step toward the Hall of Fame.
“It’s kind of a blur,” Peterson said later about the run. “The guys created a hole. I pressed the line of scrimmage and that cutback was there and it was a big gap. And it was off to the races.”
The run was off-tackle to the left, with the Vikings line absolutely demolishing the Bears front seven. Urlacher and Hunter Hillenmeyer were manhandled, mostly legally. Peterson had the first down before a Bear made contact.
That was safety Brandon McGowan, who squared up, got his shoulders low, put his helmet into Peterson’s thighs, and got whipped into oblivion with his legs spinning beneath him.
“That was nuts,” said a furious Alex Brown after the game. “We couldn’t tackle. The kid would cut back, and once he’d get into the open field, it was over.”
Peterson juked safety Adam Archuleta to the turf and flew past Charles Tillman. Urlacher, Tillman, and Danieal Manning gave chase. There was no hope.
Peterson, 67 yards. Vikings 14, Bears 14.
“We’re dealing with a different breed here.”
Peterson’s first touchdown could have been a fluke — a huge push by the line, a blown tackle by the safety, another safety slipping on the notorious Soldier Field turf. I mean, it wasn’t, but it could have been.
“That first game, nobody really knew how good he was going to be,” Hillenmeyer told me in 2013. “He runs really hard, but there’s a lot of big, fast guys who can run over you and make you miss and do all those kinds of things. But for some reason he just takes it to another level.”
There was nothing flukey about the second touchdown. Now in the 3rd quarter, still tied at 14, the Vikings had 1st and 10 at their own 27. Peterson took the handoff running right. To his left was Ricky Manning Jr., unblocked.
“On the one play, I had an outside blitz-contain,” Manning said after the game. “I have to read it better. I have to make that play. I put that all on me. Like I said, we missed a lot of tackles.”
Manning didn’t even get a chance to make the tackle. Peterson made a hard cut left and zoomed past him. Zoomed past everyone, really — a razor cutting onions. At the 45, he still hadn’t been touched. Tillman and Lance Briggs were behind him. They stayed behind him.
“Peanut is faster than almost every running back in the NFL,” Hillenmeyer told me. “Up to that point in Peanut’s career and my career, I’d never seen him not catch a running back.”
When they passed midfield, Peanut hit another gear. Only problem is that Peterson did too. On a 73-yard touchdown run, Peterson was untouched.
“That was the first time where I was like ‘Wow, we’re dealing with a different breed here,’” Hillenmeyer said.
Vikings 21, Bears 14.
“Does it hurt to think about it? Yeah.”
The Bears, it seemed, had one last shot.
After trading field goals in the fourth quarter, we still trailed by seven, 24-17, with more than eight minutes left in the game. All we had to do was get a stop and give our offense the ball again.
The backbreaker was a nine-yard reception by former Bear Bobby Wade on 3rd and 8. That one killed us. The heartbreaker came five plays later.
After a false start followed by a two-yard run, Minnesota had 2nd and 13 from the 35 with under five minutes to play. Peterson took a handoff running left, and once again, the Minnesota line along with fullback Jim Kleinsasser won the line of scrimmage.
Kleinsasser moved Briggs out of the path of the run. Tommie Harris burst into the backfield with his trademark first step and was still a step slow. Anthony Adams and then Hillenmeyer could merely dive in his direction. At the 25, Peterson had one man to beat: Danieal Manning, who was at the 20 and seemingly had the angle.
Now, what’s funny about what happened next is that it turned out to be one of the best possible tactics one could take against Peterson. Because Peterson had a weakness. He fumbled.
The reason, Hillenmeyer explained, is that he fights for every yard.
“He’s still on his feet where most guys would already be on the ground,” Hillenmeyer said. “And that creates opportunities for that second, third, or fourth guy to knock the football out.”
There was no second, third, or fourth guy. Danieal Manning was the only one. He caught Peterson on the sideline at the 14. He’s close, Manning thought to himself. Real close to that sideline. And he was carrying the ball in his right arm. A fumble meant a live ball. Manning would go for the strip.
He rose his right arm. He crashed it down on the ball. Peterson ripped through him like an Amtrak through a truck. Bears fans screamed — why didn’t Manning just push Peterson out of bounds? Peterson skipped away.
“Does it hurt to think about it?” Manning said later in the season. “Yeah, because I knew I could have got him out (of bounds). But I thought I could have made a play. It’s funny how things work. You go one way, and it doesn’t turn out for you. If I would have made the strip and we recovered it, we wouldn’t even be talking about that.”
Vikings 34, Bears 17.
“You’re going to score a touchdown on this play.”
The week leading up to the game, there was a lot of talk in Chicago about what had gone wrong that season and what needed to be fixed (spoiler: almost everything).
The lone offensive bright spot was that Brian Griese looked like a quarterback who might possibly combine the best of Rex — ability to make daring plays down the field — and the best of Kyle Orton — ability to win games without doing too much.
When the Bears got the ball back after Peterson’s third touchdown, Griese tried to do both and instead did neither. He went deep to Muhsin Muhammad and was intercepted.
Well, miracle of miracles, the Vikings were still splitting carries between Peterson (who had 231 yards rushing at that point) and Taylor (who had 78). Taylor ran twice for a net gain of two yards, Peterson gained two on 3rd and 8, and they punted back to the Bears, who inherited prime field position at their own 47.
After a 20-yard pass play to Berrian, Griese went over the middle to Muhammad, who scooted across the formation from left to right, hit the sideline, and found a burst at age 34 to bolt in for the touchdown.
We missed our onside kick, but actually stuffed the Vikings on three run plays, and took back over at the 19 after another punt. Now it was time for something new. Hester was on the field.
“For me, as a quarterback, I’d love to see him out there every play,” Griese said after the game. “It’s hard in this league as an offense to go 10, 12, 15 plays and score a touchdown. You need explosive plays and you need to work the ball down the field and have a chance to score quickly.”
That was the plan here. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner had worked with Hester on the play that week, an out-and-up. The Bears tried to call the play earlier in the game, but didn’t like the coverage. Down seven with less than two minutes to play, it was time.
“Ron (Turner) told him, ‘You’re going to score a touchdown on this play,’” wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said about those practices. “And he did.”
Indeed, Hester took off from the 19, shimmied a bit to his right on the out, and then bolted up the field. Griese took a deep drop and a couple of launch pad steps up in the pocket and unloaded. The pass traveled 53 yards to Hester, who caught it two steps ahead of the defender.
“It seemed like a type of cover-two,” Hester said later. “The safety bit on the out route.”
A game-tying, 81-yard touchdown. Soldier Field went nuts. Jeff Joniak went nuts. His voice cracked as he yelped his trademark call: “Touchdown! TOUCH-DOWN BEARS!”
The extra point was good. Bears 34, Vikings 34.
“Devin Hester does what he normally does,” Lovie Smith said later. “He keeps us in the football game.”
“Did we think about not kicking to him? No.”
Ninety seconds stood between the Bears and overtime. They had no timeouts and one decision to make.
“Kicking away from someone is not what we do,” Brendon Ayanbadejo said later about the team’s decision to kick to Adrian Peterson. “We’re the best special teams unit in the league. We’re not going to be like the Minnesota Vikings and kick the ball out of bounds.”
That was the feeling all the way around.
Dave Toub: “I thought about (not kicking to Peterson) for a second. I decided I knew how good our coverage team is.”
Lovie Smith: “We haven’t gone into many games where we don’t kick the ball to the player.”
Robbie Gould: “Did we think about not kicking to him? No. We kicked to him. We have the best special teams in the National Football League.”
Peterson fielded the kick at the 8 and wasn’t touched until midfield. Ricky Manning Jr. dragged him down to save the touchdown and basically end the game. The Vikings ground the clock down to four seconds remaining and called their first timeout at the 37. It would be a 55-yard field goal.
“It was on line,” Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell said later. “I couldn’t tell how far it cleared, but I knew it wouldn’t be much.”
There were no more miracles.
“Adrian made a great play,” Gould said. “They made blocks. They made a lot of good blocks. And we’re sitting here talking about a 55-yard game-winner.”
Vikings 34, Bears 31. Zeroes on the clock. Pain in our hearts.
Longwell’s field goal was one of several records broken, tied, or approached that game. Most significantly:
- Bears career return touchdowns: Hester, 9
- Vikings single-game rushing: Peterson, 224
- Vikings single-game all-purpose yards: Peterson, 361
- Bears single-game rushing yards allowed: Peterson, 224
- Bears single-game all-purpose yards allowed: Peterson, 361
- Longest field goal at Soldier Field: Longwell, 55 (tying Kevin Butler)
Griese’s 381 yards passing was 3rd in franchise history, while Hester’s 272 all-purpose yards was 7th in franchise history.
Peterson was named NFC offensive player of the week. Hester was named NFC special teams player of the week.
“All of the great things that happened are forgotten,” Hester said after.
More than any other game in 2007, this one summed up the Bears season. There were fireworks, and there was heartbreak. It was the second of five “must win” games that could have gotten the Bears back to .500. We lost all five.
Peterson continued to terrorize the Bears. In 16 career games through 2015, Peterson rushed for 1562 yards against us with 14 touchdowns and 4.94 yards per carry.
Hester continued to terrorize the Vikings. In 16 career games through 2014, Hester scored 10 touchdowns. His most against any other opponent was three. Those 10 TDs included four returns, also a top against any opponent.
@LaurenceWHolmes I would amend that to "Hester loved to go against the Vikings coverage unit." Some were my fault, some weren't.— Cassandra (@ChrisWarcraft) October 20, 2013
Hester’s receiving touchdown was the dawning of a new day in his career. The team began developing him as a wide receiver, leading to the most controversial portion of his career, and a two-year drought in return touchdowns.
Peterson incredibly broke his personal record of 224 yards rushing later that season. He ran for 296 yards against the Chargers, setting the NFL’s single-game rushing record, which still stands.
Hester was first-team All Pro. Peterson was 2nd team. They were both Pro Bowlers. They will both be Hall of Famers.
On October 14, 2007, Hester couldn’t care less.
“I don’t pay attention to records,” he said quietly at his locker after the game, his team a disheartening 2-4 and facing an uphill road to the playoffs. “At the end of my career, I’ll look back at all that.”
Jack M Silverstein is WCG’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” Say hey at @readjack. Thank you to Pro Football Reference, Newspapers.com, and YouTube.