Amongst all the depressing news in the NFL regarding domestic violence, the league finally has a reason to celebrate: Devin Hester has broken Deion Sanders’ NFL touchdown return record.
With a comfortable 28-0 lead, the Falcons forced a three-and-out against the Buccaneers forcing them to punt. The rest is history.
Devin Hester fielded the punt on the 38-yard line, hesitated and started a full out sprint towards the end zone. Hester went untouched for a 62 yards, resulting in a touchdown with 7:06 remaining in the second quarter. After scoring, the overjoyed Hester hugged and startled a Georgia Dome security guard. It was his 20th career return touchdown, surpassing Deion Sanders’ record of 19.
Hester did more than just break Sanders’ record, though, as he rushed for a 20-yard touchdown, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble as the Atlanta Falcons routed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14.
Many teams choose not to kick to Hester because even if he doesn’t run it all the way back for a score, he often puts his team in great field position. Lovie Smith, Hester’s former head coach in Chicago and the current head coach of the Buccaneers, knows this better than anyone else, but he still kicked it to him anyways.
Although Hester has played seven of his nine years as a wide receiver for the Bears and Falcons, he is most efficient on special teams as a kick returner. He made the Pro Bowl in 2006, 2007 and 2010, and earned a spot on the 2000s All-Decade Team by the Associated Press and ESPN.
Hester’s most memorable year as a kick returner was his rookie year, when he had six returns for touchdowns: three punt returns, two kick returns, and a missed field goal return against the Giants. Arguably the most memorable kick return in Hester’s career was on the opening kickoff against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2007 Super Bowl. Hester’s kick return in the Super Bowl held the record for the quickest score in the Super Bowl until this year when the Seattle Seahawks forced a safety on a bad snap on the first play of the game.
Hester gained a reputation for running bad routes and dropping passes as a receiver for the Chicago Bears. After new hires were made at the head coach and general manager positions in 2013, Hester was demoted from the wide receiver position and was strictly assigned as a returner.
Even though Hester was loved by the Bears and their fans, the team informed him this past offseason that he would not return to Chicago for a ninth season due to the salary cap. While Bears fans are disappointed that Hester broke the record in another team’s uniform, it is still great to see a guy like Hester finally break Sanders’ record.