By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Devin Hester, a Bears icon and the greatest returner in NFL history, officially announced his retirement Tuesday morning. He finished with 20 career return touchdowns, the most in league history.
“I have good news and bad news,” Hester wrote on Twitter. “Good news: Commissioner Goodell, you can put the kickoff back at the 30. Bad news: Y’all will have to find a new favorite returner. Over the last year, I’ve spent time reflecting on my career surrounded by friends and family, and I realize it’s time for me to officially retire from the NFL.”
Hester last played in a two-game stint with the Seahawks in 2016, after which he suggested that retirement was a possibility. He also played two years with the Falcons, breaking the record with his 20th return touchdown in Atlanta.
Most notably, Hester played eight seasons with the Bears, returning 13 punts, five kicks and one field goal for touchdowns.
“To all of the Bears fans, you brought me and made a Florida boy feel at home in the Midwest from Day 1,” Hester wrote. “I grew into a man, built a family, and became who I am today in the city of Chicago. I’ll always remember the noise y’all made whenever I hit open turf at Soldier — never hard anything quite like it. I’d also like to especially thank Coach Lovie Smith for taking a chance on me in the draft and getting the whole thing started.”
Hester was selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. A gifted returner out of Miami, his role in the NFL wasn’t immediately clear, but the Bears knew he would be a dangerous threat returning at the next level.
As a rookie, Hester posted five returns for touchdowns. He opened Super Bowl XLI by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, becoming the first player in Super Bowl history to do so.
Hester was indebted to Smith as a player, and their relationship was especially close. Hester has been active with Smith’s Illinois program during the last two seasons. When Smith was fired by the Bears after the 2012 season, Hester had initially said he would retire before ultimately deciding to return.
“Devin is a part of my life forever,” Smith said by phone earlier this year. “I love him to death as a man. You can’t meet a better person.”
There will be some debate as to whether Hester is worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His greatness as a returner was certain with the records, though many will argue that his role as a specialist doesn’t warrant that.
For Smith, there’s no debate.
“Absolutely,” Smith emphatically said. “Whenever you say that somebody is the best at a position in the NFL, when you say they’re the best, the greatest of all time, he should be in the Hall of Fame. For me, he should be first ballot in the Hall of Fame.
“Devin Hester is a Hall of Famer. I can’t wait to go and watch him get inducted.”