Hester Proves He Still Has Magic Left

Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester had played 30 games without taking one all the way back to the house. That may be typical of some specialists, but Hester has proven to his own brand of special.

For a second week in a row, Lovie Smith's Bears upended what was believed to be a more highly-regarded team to come away with a win.

Week 3's victory over the Packers on Monday Night Football certainly wasn't pretty, but Chicago accomplished just enough to get the job done.

Aided considerably by Green Bay's team-record 17 penalties, two of which negated interceptions of quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears squeaked through by a score of 20-17 after a Robbie Gould 19-yard field goal with four seconds left on the clock.

Was it enough to earn the team some long-overdue respect? Receiver and return man Devin Hester, speaking with reporters after the game, wasn't so sure.

"We spent all week hearing about 75 percent of the so-called football experts giving us no chance at all to end up ahead tonight," the two-time Pro Bowler said in the locker room. "You try to avoid hearing that stuff when you're preparing for a game, but sometimes there's just no escape. Did it bother me personally? Of course. Did the rest of the team find it unsettling? I'm sure that they did."

Hester has been taking a lot of heat recently for his failure to come up with another return for a touchdown, which he did so routinely his first two years in the league but hadn't pulled off since the 2007 season finale, when he brought back a punt 64 yards against the Saints. For many observers, his 62-yard punt return for a TD in the fourth quarter was a good indication that Hester could be returning to form.

"Sure, I've felt pressure to perform," said Hester, "but that's something you can't think about every time you see the ball coming right at you. To do that would be counterproductive."

A soft-spoken and modest Hester gave credit to his teammates when recalling the runback.

"It certainly wasn't all me," Hester admitted. "It was the guys up front. I remember that Nick Roach in particular had a spectacular block that cleared a path. In that split second as the ball came into my hands, I could look down the field and see maybe eight openings. That's the best case, when you have those choices."

Once Hester had possession of the ball, he danced between defenders, accelerating and decelerating as necessary.

WR Devin Hester
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

"Believe me, that was all due to the work of the guys ahead of me out there," he said. "I looked around and saw what I thought would be the best path to the end zone. When I headed a way that I liked, I turned on the gas, made a few cuts, saw the way being cleared as I ran down the field. I was willing to do just about anything to reach that end zone."

After his touchdown, Hester ran toward the Soldier Field faithful and executed a pseudo-Lambeau Leap that had to make Packers fans from coast to coast cringe.

"I wasn't trying to rub it in or anything," he said. "That was purely the emotion of the moment."

The return for a score, which gave the Bears their first lead at 17-14, wasn't Hester's only spectacular play of the night. Earlier in the evening, he made a vertical leap in double coverage and one-handed a Cutler pass in the back of the end zone, but he landed just out of bounds. It may not have counted, but it flew if the face of Cutler's comments from a year ago, when he said his supposed No. 1 target wasn't necessarily a go-up-and-get-it kind of guy.

Hester had 93 yards on punt returns, and now that he has finally found paydirt again, the intimidation stranglehold he once had on the league may be back.

So is this the beginning of Devin Hester 2.0?

"I don't think I need to reinvent anything," he said, "but what I did need to do was to begin to rebuild confidence in myself. Even when you know it's all OK, there are times that doubt tends to creep in. That's not a productive state of mind. You know you can execute, but you aren't showing it on the field. That was pretty hard."

And what about the pressure on Hester? While it appears to have gone away, perhaps it is even greater now.

"It can be a problem when you have a big play," he laughed. "People always expect more. I won't guarantee that I'll be able to do that in every game from now on, but I'll certainly be out there trying. I view myself as a work in progress. I have a long way to go, but this definitely was a step on the right path, both for me and for this team. Maybe those so-called experts will stop and reconsider before they underestimate us next time."

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Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.

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