It’s official: The greatest scoring returners ever have each played for the Bears.
And the Falcons.
We spend an awful lot of time talking about our terrible history of quarterbacks, and to balance it, we spend a good amount of time talking about our league-leading history of running backs and linebackers.
But when it comes to franchises with elite units, the Bears have another: returners.
In the second quarter of today’s Bears-Falcons game, ex-Bears All Pro return man Cordarrelle Patterson busted out a 103-yard kick return touchdown, the 9th of his career, setting a new NFL record for kick return touchdowns. He was previously tied with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington at 8.
That means that the career leader in kick return touchdowns and punt return touchdowns are both former Bears:
- Punt return touchdowns: Devin Hester, 14
- Kick return touchdowns: Patterson, 9
- Combined return touchdowns (AKA non-offensive touchdowns): Hester, 20
Hester, of course, set the combined return touchdown record in 2014 as a member of the Falcons, while Patterson spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons with the Bears, where he earned AP first team All Pro honors in both years for his kick returning. Incredibly, in 2019 he was also the AP’s second team selection for his work as a special teams coverage ace!
.@ceeflashpee84 has now been named AP All Pro in six of his eight NFL seasons, with seven selections:— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) January 8, 2021
2020: 1st team, KR
2019: 1st team, KR
2019: 2nd team, special teams
2018: 2nd team, KR
2016: 1st team, KR
2015: 2nd team, return specialist
2013: 1st team, return specialist pic.twitter.com/bl0FcTXbo5
Meanwhile, here’s another fun bit on Patterson: two of his nine kick return touchdowns were in a Bears uniform...
...and incredibly, another three were AGAINST the Bears, with three different teams:
- 2013 Vikings, 105 yards
- 2018 Patriots, 95 yards
- 2022 Falcons, 103 yards
While the Lions, Cardinals, Rams, Oilers (RIP) and Kansas City are among the franchises with great return history, for my money, the best two franchises for returners are the Bears and the Falcons, in that order. In fact, look at how many great returners (All Pro, Pro Bowl, league leaders, etc.) suited up for either or both the Bears and Falcons:
BEARS: Devin Hester, Gale Sayers, Cordarrelle Patterson, Glyn Milburn, George McAfee, Red Grange, Tyrone Hughes, Tarik Cohen, Jerry Azumah, Johnny Knox, Cecil Turner, Jakeem Grant...
FALCONS: Deion Sanders, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Devin Hester, Eric Metcalf, Darrick Vaughn, Tim Dwight...
When it comes to returners, no one does it like the Bears and Falcons. And when it comes to kick return touchdowns, no one does it like Flash.
Kudos to Cordarrelle Patterson on his new NFL record!
The greatest kick and punt return scorers in NFL history have both come through Chicago (and Atlanta):— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) November 20, 2022
Punt returns: Devin Hester, 14
Kick returns: Cordarrelle Patterson, 9
Combined returns (AKA non-offensive touchdowns): Devin Hester, 20@WCGridiron @TheFalcoholic pic.twitter.com/Olk5SJVUo2
Now, because we are Windy City Gridiron, I would be remiss if I did not note part of what makes Hester so unique in NFL history. While Patterson might be the greatest kick returner in NFL history, he has exactly one punt return to his name, for nine yards in 2016. That’s not abnormal. Great kick returners are not necessarily great punt returners, and vice versa.
Hester is the greatest punt returner of all-time, but you could make a case for him as the greatest kick returner of all-time, too, and certainly the greatest all-around returner of all-time.
Of every player in the top 10 all-time in either kick return touchdowns or punt return touchdowns, only Hester and Dante Hall are in the top 10 in both — and Hester has more punt return touchdowns than Hall has punt and kick return touchdowns combined.
Hester also has the distinction of making the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team as a punt returner and the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team as a kick returner.
All love to special teamers!
Everyone in the @notinhalloffame committee presented 1-2 of our 19 PH HOF finalists. I channeled @danpompei and presented Devin Hester. We elected him first ballot! Here is the start of my presentation. Close your eyes... #BearTFDown @WCGridiron @VinLospinuso91 pic.twitter.com/9Rqto3vdTu— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) February 3, 2022
Here is the ending of my Devin Hester Pro Football Hall of Fame presentation, with help from:— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) February 4, 2022
* Mel Gray
* Dante Hall
* Desmond Howard
* Billy “White Shoes” Johnson
* Brian Mitchell
* Deion Sanders
* Gale Sayers
The class of 2022 is announced Feb. 10. We shall see! #BearTFDown pic.twitter.com/Nc4vFQJTjj
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, and author of the forthcoming “6 Rings: The Bulls, The City, and the Dynasty that Changed the Game.” His newsletter, “A Shot on Ehlo,” brings readers inside the making of the book, with original interviews, research and essays. Sign up now, and say hey at @readjack.