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Bears legend Devin Hester discusses NFL career, post-retirement life, Hall of Fame

The four-time Pro Bowler met exclusively with Windy City Gridiron to discuss his new partnership with PointsBet, the highlights of his NFL career, and much more.

Super Bowl XLI: Indianapolis Colts v Chicago Bears Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Throughout his 11-year NFL career, Devin Hester was known as one of the fastest players in the league. It makes sense, then, that the four-time Pro Bowler would partner up with a business that emphasizes speed after his playing days.

The Bears legend recently signed on as a business partner and spokesman for PointsBet, a premier global sportsbook operator. With the legalization of sports betting in the state of Illinois, PointsBet and Hester have teamed up to bring a revolutionary betting experience to all Chicago sports fans.

“I love the theme,” Hester told Windy City Gridiron. “We have our own high-tech [system]. If anything breaks down, the speed that you have...I know a couple of guys who bet throughout the year, and when you’re dealing with other companies, side bettors and things like that, sometimes you don’t get your bet off. They may have four, five guys that are calling them. But in this situation, everything is open, it’s easier. You can make a bet within the last 30 seconds of a game, and your bet goes in. Other betting companies, sometimes you can miss out on a lot of bets.

“With the technology that these guys have, it just makes things so easy and faster. And that’s why I partnered up with these guys, just thinking about myself being fast, and then coming in and joining with these guys, it just makes life so easy when you want to get in bets.”

With three off-track betting locations in Oakbrook Terrace, Crestwood and Prospect Heights, as well as a race course location in Hawthorn, PointsBet has already started expanding in Illinois and has made an impact in the United States after being originally founded in Australia.

“I think it’s really going to bring [satisfaction] to the city of Chicago,” Hester elaborated. “With everything going on with [the coronavirus] and everything like that, I think it will really, really open up the fans’ eyes to get more involved in sports all over Chicago. We have four venues—I think it will give a little more attention to the game of sports, period.”

Since his retirement from football in 2017, Hester has been looking for ways to spend time, and combining his knowledge of betting and Chicago sports made becoming the face of Chicago-based marketing a no-brainer.

“It’s one of the fastest betting companies out there, I believe the fastest betting company out there,” he explained. “That’s going to allow the fans to interact on and off the field, at home—especially right now with the situation that we’re in. I just think it’s a great idea for guys like myself that have retired to get me another hobby to get into.

“It’s been something that I did. For athletes like myself...whether it be a a ping pong game, shooting pool, if I just play pool with my friends, sometimes it would get boring. But if we a side little $5 bet, it will pick up my intensity.”

With robust betting options, the ability to bet on unique props in the middle of a game, and the option to request an individual bet and have it priced and available within minutes, PointsBet has many in the betting industry, including Hester, excited.

“I think it would allow fans to sit there and watch the game,” he said. “And to really, really learn all the Chicago players’ names, backgrounds, things like that, because when you’re betting on things like this in the game, it draws a little more attention from the person that’s betting. He will want to sit down and watch a little bit more to learn a little bit more about the players in Chicago. This right here will open up the eyes for all the fans in Chicago and it would be a great idea to give the fans something to cheer on a little bit more.”

Eye-opening would certainly be a way to describe Hester’s career in the NFL. Drafted out of the second round in the 2006 NFL Draft, the former Miami Hurricane had his fair share of big plays over the course of his career. He holds the all-time record for total return touchdowns with 20, as well as the record for the most punt return touchdowns in a career with 14.

His total return record sits as one of the biggest highlights of his career, and when asked for the crowning moment of his time in the NFL, he mentions that record, as well as one return in particular.

“Of course it would have to be the return at the Super Bowl, that and breaking the record in Atlanta with the 20 return {touchdowns].”

The Bears made an appearance in Super Bowl XLI as the NFC champions for the 2006 season, and a large part of that came because of Hester’s stellar play. He led the NFL in both kick return touchdowns and punt return touchdowns, finishing the year with two and three, respectively. He also returned a missed field goal for a 108-yard score against the Giants.

Hester was a first-team All-Pro return man right out of the gate—literally: he scored an 84-yard punt return touchdown in his first ever NFL regular season game against the Packers in Week 1—and opposing teams soon realized that kicking to him was a mistake. Even then, that didn’t stop the Colts, Chicago’s opponent in that year’s Super Bowl, from testing the rookie.

Super Bowl XLI - Indianapolis Colts vs Chicago Bears Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The rest was history, as he returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for the quickest touchdown ever scored in the Super Bowl.

“Before [that return], aw man, [I was] nervous as hell,” he joked. “You know me, just being a rookie, I was like ‘man, whatever you do, do not cause us to lose the game.’ That’s all I was thinking about. After the game and during the game, of course when the opening kickoff was set in place and I was able to get in the end zone, it was like, wow. As a kid, growing up in South Florida and being able to play in the Super Bowl in South Florida, it was a dream come true that I never imagined dreaming. To have that experience and to do that moment at the night, it was just an overwhelming accomplishment that I had at one of the key moments of my career.”

After Hester’s phenomenal rookie year, the Bears made the decision to convert him to the wide receiver position. Originally drafted as a cornerback coming out of college, Hester was originally against moving over to the offensive side of the ball, but he eventually came around to it.

NFL: NOV 18 Bears at Dolphins Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

“I think the toughest thing was coming in and doing it,” he said. “It wasn’t something that I was on board with doing when the question was asked. I was always like that throughout my career, from high school all the way through college, and now the NFL, this is a whole ‘nother repeated cycle. Let me just pick one position and let me just focus on it; I never was able to focus on just one position. It was always switching positions every year. So when I got to the NFL, cornerback was my passion. That’s something that I loved to do was to play corner and to just set that one side of the field. That’s what I loved to do. Coming out of high school, I was rated the No. 1, No. 2 corner in the nation. It was just something I felt was my niche.”

Hester followed up his rookie year with another stellar campaign, tallying a total of six return touchdowns that still holds the tie for the most in NFL history. He broke a single-season record with four punt return touchdowns, adding two kick returns to the house, as well. He went on to earn another appearance as both a Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro in 2007.

On the offensive side of the ball, Hester was slowly but surely brought into the Bears’ gameplan. Used as a reserve in 2007, he broke into the starting lineup for eight games in 2008 and took on a bigger role as a starting receiver in 2009 and 2010. He led the team in receiving yards in both 2008 and 2009 and served as a trusty weapon for an offense that didn’t have too many of them at the time. Hester soon realized that his skill-set was better suited on offense.

“On the second hand, the things I did with the ball in my hand just kind of outweighed [my defensive value],” he added. “As a cornerback, you kind of get overlooked just being a shutdown corner, but they only look for a guy that’s running and scoring all the touchdowns. I was good at both of them, so when I got to the Bears and the return game started going the way it did, teams started kicking away from me. That’s when it got brought up, like, ‘man, we got one of the most dangerous guys in the league right now and we can’t showcase it because teams are kicking out of bounds, kicking away from him. That’s when it got brought up to Coach Lovie [Smith]’s attention, the offensive coordinator, things like that, that, ‘hey, we have to move this guy to offense to get the ball more in his hands’, and that’s when that got brought up.”

Now that he is no longer playing football, Hester looks back on his NFL career and believes that the camaraderie of the locker rooms he has been in and the friendships he made with his teammates is the thing he misses most about his playing days.

“The locker room: the coaches that I built a relationship [with], and the teammates,” Hester said. “People don’t realize that, during the football season, you’re around your teammates more than your family. That’s something that’s like an in-the-locker room thing, if you haven’t played NFL football, then you probably wouldn’t experience it. You’d probably know about it, but we’d wake up 6:30 in the morning, we don’t get home until about 7:30, 8 o’clock at night on a daily basis. So those guys, year-round, it’s really a seven day week. We play on Sundays, we travel on Saturdays, so it’s not like we get weekends off. It’s not a typical job. We were around these guys five to seven months constantly, so these guys will become my family. It’s just that friendship and those bonds we built those months out the year, man, it’s incredible.”

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

After his first two NFL seasons, Hester was named to the Pro Bowl two more times in his career, once more with the Bears after the 2010 season and again with the Falcons after 2014. He added a first-team All-Pro nomination in 2010, as well as a second-team All-Pro berth in 2011.

Hester quickly became a fan favorite among Bears fans not just for his spectacular play and jaw-dropping returns, but for the fun and energy he brought to the team, as well. Before each return for much of his career, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” by Chicago native Soulja Boy blasted over the speakers, and Hester would often dance along to it, adding in the Superman pose made popular by the song’s music video.

The now-storied connection between Hester and the song wasn't one that the returner chose, but once the song started getting played regularly, he went along with it.

“It was something that was given to me, and I kind of just took it and ran with it. Pretty much, the Superman pose in the end zone, it just grew on me and it really, really blew up. I enjoyed it, man.”

His history with “Crank That” has followed Hester into retirement, too. He came out to the song when introduced at the Bears100 event last summer, as well as when he was acknowledged at Soldier Field for time with the team. He laughs when thinking about how the song has followed him everywhere he has gone.

“I still think of myself whenever I hear that song, man,” he joked. “It makes me want to dance. Everybody who knows me, whether it be teammates or family members, when we’re out and about and that song comes on, they look at me and be like, ‘you gonna do it? Are you gonna do the dance?’ It’s just something that stuck with me, man. Like I said, it gives me the chills every time I hear that song. To be honest, it’s a song that’s going to stick with me for the rest of my life. I can see it now.”

Hester’s impact on the game and his dominance as a return specialist has many viewing him as a potential Hall of Fame candidate once he becomes eligible in 2022. There is one problem, though: no players have ever been inducted into the Hall solely for their work as a returner.

Legendary returners like Gale Sayers and Deion Sanders have been enshrined in Canton, but they were arguably better known for their work on offense and defense, respectively. The lack of history gives Hester a somewhat steep hill to climb, but when considering how great his resume is, it would be hard to argue against him being inducted at some point in time.

“It would mean the world to me,” Hester explained. “Anybody that plays the game of football and played it at a high level, which is the NFL, wants to be in the Hall of Fame. There’s two things that, as a player, satisfies your career: that’s either winning the Super Bowl, or making it to the Hall of Fame. I think those are the top two, cream of the crop goals as a player to achieve in the NFL. Unfortunately, I was not able to win the Super Bowl, but the last icing on the cake is to make it into the Hall of Fame. That’s something I really, really want to be a part of, is that Hall of Fame.”

Now 37 years old, Hester and the Bears parted ways after the 2013 season, concluding his eight-year run with the team. He went on to spend two years with the Falcons and split his time in 2016 with the Ravens and Seahawks. He announced his intentions to retire after the postseason in January of 2017 and officially retired in December of that year.

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Since then, the former Pro Bowler has been looking for ways to spend his time. Outside of business ventures like his work with PointsBet, Hester has been using his free time to be with his family, specifically his three children, which was something he was unable to do much of as a football player traveling across the country every week.

“I’ve been trying to keep myself busy,” he detailed. “I found myself volunteering coaching AAU football. I have three boys, man. I’ve been kind of busy with that—that’s a way for me to really, really be in their life, so it’s been a blessing and fun. [I’m] just looking at it as makeup time for my boys.”

Hester has been enjoying his life outside of football, and even though his playing days are over, he believes that he is still, to this day, “ridiculous”.

“Once you earn the name, there’s no one taking that name away from you,” Hester said. “If you stood in front of the whole NFL league and you say the name ‘ridiculous’, who do you think of? I’m pretty sure 90 percent of people are going to say Devin Hester.”