Former Chicago Bears star Devin Hester was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the second consecutive year. That news became official Wednesday night with the announcement of 15 modern-era finalists for the Hall’s Class of 2023.
Five of those finalists are expected to be named to the Hall of Fame on Feb. 9 during Super Bowl week with the induction ceremony scheduled for July in Canton, Ohio.
The 14 other finalists are offensive tackles Willie Anderson and Joe Thomas; wide receivers Torry Holt, Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne; defensive ends Jared Allen and Dwight Freeney; outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware; linebackers Zach Thomas and Patrick Willis; cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Albert Lewis and Darrelle Revis; and safety Darren Woodson.
“At the end of the day, when you look at the Hall of Fame you don’t categorize a guy for what position he played,” he told the Tribune in September. “You categorize a guy for what he brought to the game of football. That’s how I want to be viewed. I don’t want to be viewed as just a special teams guy. I want to be viewed as a National Football League player and what did he bring to this game of football. … Listen, I know I’m a special teams guy. I know I’m a kickoff and punt returner. But at the end of the day, do you look at me as the best to ever do it?”
In 2019, Hester was No. 19 in the Tribune’s rankings of the 100 greatest Bears players . He was a first-team All-Pro in 2006, 2007 and 2010 while earning second-team honors in 2011. He averaged 11.7 yards per punt return in his career, which ranks as the fourth-best average during the Super Bowl era. He also set the Bears’ single-game record for kickoff return yardage in Week 2 of 2013 with 249 yards.
Hester’s rookie season breakthrough with the Bears in 2006 was unforgettable, a season in which he scored three touchdowns on punt returns and two more on kickoffs during the regular season. To punctuate things, he went 92 yards to the end zone with the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI.
Hester later became a significant part of the Bears offense, too, converting from cornerback to receiver and totaling 255 catches, 3,311 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career.
He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team twice, for the 2000s and 2010s, and was included on the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2019.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, who kicked off to open Super Bowl XLI, has long believed in Hester’s Hall of Fame credentials.
“Absolutely he belongs in the Hall of Fame,” Vinatieri told the Tribune in 2019. “Without a doubt. He changed games. You’re telling me he wasn’t as important for his team as anybody else who played in the league? … In my mind, the Hall of Fame is for guys who changed the league and did special things that other guys weren’t capable of. He’s that guy. One-hundred percent. If I had a vote, I would 100% vote him in.”
Bill Polian is a member of the Hall of Fame’s 49-person selection committee and last winter expressed his belief that Hester will eventually receive his gold jacket but couldn’t say exactly when.
“It doesn’t matter if you make it on the first ballot or the 15th ballot, when they put the gold jacket on you, you’re a Hall of Famer,” Polian told the Tribune. “If you watched Devin Hester play, you came away with a just ‘Wow!’ feeling. He did those ‘Wow!’ things every week. He was an incredible weapon, a guy who changed the game.”
The Bears organization has 30 representatives in the Hall of Fame — the most of any franchise — with Jimbo Covert, Ed Sprinkle and Brian Urlacher as the most recent inductees.