When you think about Bears special teamers, the odds are strong the first player you think of is Devin Hester.
There has yet to be a dedicated return specialist to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the argument is strong that Hester should be the first. The all-time leader in total returns for touchdowns with 20 scores, he seemed like a threat to break away for a touchdown on just about any return.
His dominance started as a rookie in 2006, leading the NFL with both two kick returns for touchdowns and three punt returns for touchdowns. He was named a Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro for his efforts, and his return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI is a moment that lives on in the memories of NFL fans to this day. On a Bears team whose calling card was its dominant defense, Hester provided a spark on special teams in a way that few teams, if any, have ever had in the third phase.
Hester built upon his stellar rookie year with an even bigger 2007 season. He added two kickoff returns for touchdowns and broke the all-time record with four punt returns for touchdown, once more being named a first-team All Pro and a Pro Bowler. He would go on to return seven more punts and more more kickoff for touchdowns in his remaining 8 seasons, 6 of which have been spent in Chicago. He broke a two-year scoreless drought with three punt returns for touchdowns in 2010 and three total returns for touchdowns in 2011.
With four total All-Pro nominations and four Pro Bowl appearances — three of which having been earned as a Bear — Hester was, in every sense of the word, ridiculous.
With my final answer out of the way, here are some honorable mentions from my lifetime:
- Jerry Azumah: His contributions tend to get overlooked because of his successor, but Azumah was a dynamic Pro Bowl kick returner who was a consistent threat to break away for a big gain.
- Brendon Ayanbadejo: A two-time Pro Bowler in his three seasons with the Bears, Ayanbadejo had 73 total tackles as a standout in the third phase and was named a team captain for his special teams excellence.
- Robbie Gould: Gould is the Bears’ all-time leading scorer, and his consistency was at a level that few kickers in NFL history have been able to match. Ranking sixth all-time in field goal percentage with 86.6 percent, he proved to be one of few kickers to be able to consistently show up in the harsh conditions of Soldier Field.
- Patrick Mannelly: I had to update this article to include him, and I’m ashamed of myself for not putting him on here. Mannelly was one of, if not the best long snapper in recent NFL history.
- Johnny Knox: Most of his special teams production came as a rookie in 2009, but Knox’s blazing speed made him a reliable kick returner who even made a Pro Bowl in that role.
- Sherrick McManis: McManis was a special teams star in his 9 seasons with the Bears, tallying 136 tackles and starring in punt coverage on a yearly basis.
- Cordarrelle Patterson: His time with the Bears was short, but Patterson was an All-Pro in each of his two seasons in Chicago. He had a kickoff return for a touchdown in both years in an NFL whose rules make life more difficult for kick returner, and he was also a fantastic gunner with his size and speed.
Now it’s your turn.
Who is your all-time favorite Bears special teamer?