As the Chicago Bears wake up this morning as champions of the NFC North, it is time for us to put into perspective something that rarely occurs for any NFL franchise, any sports franchise in any league anywhere. Look around the landscape of American and international sports and answer the following question: is there any current athlete who is the greatest all-time at their position?
Manning and Brady have not yet eclipsed the accomplishments of Montana. Ray Lewis is debatable but Butkus, Bednarik, Nitschke and the old guard would certainly have cases. LeBron, Kobe, Duncan…no, no, no. Jimmie Johnson? Don’t say that to a NASCAR fan. Tiger Woods, ability aside, can’t yet be ranked above Jack Nicklaus. Perhaps there is one – Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Rivera is without question the greatest closer in the history of the position but the position itself is a relatively new incarnation, emerging in the early-to-mid 70s.
Kick returns have been part of football since football began and no one has performed the task with more artistry, precision and excellence than Devin Hester. It took Brian Mitchell thirteen seasons to reach thirteen touchdowns and Hester has surpassed that mark in five. Five! He has scored more return touchdowns than the man considered to be the best returner in history in eight less seasons.
Add to the statistics what Hester has meant to the Chicago Bears organization over these past five seasons. His and Brian Urlacher’s rescuing the Bears from the depths of the “they are what we thought they were” game. His dominating the Rams single-handedly in Week 14 of that season. The only lasting memory of the 2007 season was Hester’s de-pantsing of Mike Shanahan, returning a kick and punt for a touchdown in a must-win game for both sides.
And then there was the Super Bowl – a game most of us have chosen to cast into the deep, dark recesses of our memory. That game, disaster though it may have become, still allowed Devin Hester to provide one of the proudest moments in the history of the organization. (I’ve included that video and one other after the jump.)
He is simply the greatest. And years from now we will all tell stories of having seen him play football right before our eyes.