Players in contention: Jerry Azumah (1999-2005), Rashied Davis (2005-2010), Devin Hester (2006-2013), Johnny Knox (2009-2011), Danieal Manning (2006-2010), R.W. McQuarters (2000-2004), Glyn Milburn (1998-2001)
Want to know what it feels like to watch your team return a kick for a touchdown?
This video is all you need.
On a cold but not brutal Thursday night at Soldier Field in December 2008, with the Bears facing a must-win game in Week 15, Danieal Manning fielded the opening kickoff at the Bears 17 and ripped through the New Orleans coverage unit for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Listen to the man on the video. Listen to how his excitement for the opening kickoff as merely a signifier for the start of the game (“Yeeeaahhhhh! Yeah!”) quickly morphs into chaotic jubilation for the act of the brilliant kick return in and of itself (“YEAAHHHH! YEAHHHHH!”) and rolls right into laughter with the Bears now leading 6 (and soon 7) to nothing.
Even Manning was pumped, pointing to the crowd as he ran.
Danieal Manning led the NFL that season with 29.7 yards per return. That’s good enough to make him, oh, the fourth best Bears returner in the post-Ditka era.
You might not have realized it, but since 1993, the Bears’ collection of return man rivals any in the NFL. We’ve sent a league-high four different returners to the Pro Bowl with six total appearances, had three Associated Press All Pro return men (including two 1st teamers), and had at least one player lead the league in every significant return category in a season:
- Returns: Devin Hester (2013), Deonte Thompson (2016)
- Yards: Glyn Milburn (1998), Devin Hester (2013)
- Yards per return: Jerry Azumah (2003), Danieal Manning (2008)
- Touchdowns: Glyn Milburn (t-1998), Jerry Azumah (t-2003), Devin Hester (t-2006, t-2011), Chris Williams (t-2014)
- Returns: Devin Hester (2006)
- Yards: Devin Hester (2006, 2010)
- Yards per return: Devin Hester (2010, 2011)
- Touchdowns: Devin Hester (2006, 2007, 2010)
- Pro Bowl: Glyn Milburn (1999), Jerry Azumah (2003), Devin Hester (2006, 2007, 2010), Johnny Knox (2009)
- All Pro: Glyn Milburn (1999), Jerry Azumah (2003 - 2nd team), Devin Hester (2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 - 2nd team), Danieal Manning (2008 - Pro Football Weekly)
Obviously the standard bearer here is Devin Hester, whose rookie season was a promise of the Hall of Fame career to come. For the Windy City Gridiron All-Bears Post-Ditka team, we’ve got Hester returning both our kickoffs and our punts. We’ll see how the rest of the roster shakes out to see who is joining him.
But as the names above show, even a Hester-less All-Bears team has a wealth of return talent. Glyn Milburn made the Pro Bowl and the All Pro team in 1999, and set the Bears franchise record for kick return yards until Hester broke it. In 1995, before joining the Bears, Milburn set a still-standing NFL record 404 all-purpose yards in a game. The highlights are bonkers.
Azumah — who famously wore #23 before Hester — returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in his Pro Bowl season of 2003. One of those was the opening kickoff of the second half in a home game against Detroit...
...something Johnny Knox did his rookie year six years later, leading an injured Brian Urlacher on the sideline to shake his head in giddy disbelief and tell any teammate he can find that “He’s fast!”
There are so many great names, that “lesser” ones with amazing speed and talent get lost in the shuffle. I’m thinking about R.W. McQuarters’s electric returns in 2004 against Tennessee and Dallas, Rashied Davis lighting up the preseason with a kick return TD, Jeff Graham and Bobby Wade striking on punts, Ahmad Merritt and Bernard Berrian threatening to break games open.
No matter. Our Bears have kick and punt return touchdowns up the wazoo, 32 to be exact since 1993, the most in the NFL in that time. Our 20 punt return touchdowns are the most for any team in either kick or punt returns; our 12 kick return touchdowns rank 6th in that category.
In the words of an anonymous Bears fan who speaks for us all: “Yeeeaahhhhh! Yeah! YEAAHHHH! YEAHHHHHHHHHH! YEAH YEAH! Go Bears! That was awesome man.”
KICK RETURNER — Devin Hester
PUNT RETURNER — Devin Hester
NEXT WEDNESDAY: the men out on an island... the cornerbacks
All statistics from pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
YOU BE THE JUDGE
Excluding Devin Hester, who is the best Bears KICK RETURNER since 1993?
This poll is closed
Excluding Devin Hester, who is the best Bears PUNT RETURNER since 1993?
This poll is closed