30-day challenge: Who is your absolute favorite special team member at Bears?
When you think of Bears Special Teamers, chances are the first player you think of is Devin Hester.
There has yet to be a dedicated return specialist to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the argument is strong that Hester should be first. The all-time leader in total returns for touchdowns with 20 scores, seemed like a threat to take off for a touchdown on almost every return.
His dominance began as a rookie in 2006, leading the NFL with two kick returns for touchdowns and three punt returns for touchdowns. His name was a Pro Bowluh and a first team all-pro for his efforts and his return to the inaugural kickoff for a touchdown in Super bowl XLI is a moment that lives on in the memories of NFL fans to this day. On a Bears team whose calling card was the dominant defense, Hester sparked a specialty team spark that few, if any, teams have ever seen in Phase Three.
Hester built on his stellar rookie year with an even bigger 2007 season. He added two kickoff returns for touchdowns and broke the all-time record with four punt returns for touchdowns, reappointing him as a first-team All Pro and Pro Bowler. He would return seven more punts and more kickoffs for touchdowns in his remaining 8 seasons, 6 of which were spent in Chicago. He broke a two-year goalless drought with three punt returns for touchdowns in 2010 and three total returns for touchdowns in 2011.
With a total of four all-pro nominations and four Pro Bowl appearances – three of which were earned as bears – Hester was literally ridiculous.
After getting my last answer out of the way, here are some honorable mentions from my life:
- Jerry Azumah: His posts are often overlooked because of his successor, but Azumah was a dynamic Pro Bowl kick returner who was a constant threat to break out for a big win.
- Brendon Ayanbadejo: Ayanbadejo has been a two-time pro bowler in his three seasons with the Bears. In the third phase, Ayanbadejo had a total of 73 tackles as an outstanding result and was named team captain for his outstanding special teams.
- Robbie Gould: Gould is the Bears’ all-time scorer, and his consistency has been on a level few kickers have matched in NFL history. At 86.6 percent in sixth place all-time in the field goal percentage, he proved to be one of the few kickers able to consistently perform in the harsh conditions of Soldier Field.
- Patrick Mannelly: I had to update this article to include it and I am ashamed that I did not publish it here. Mannelly was one of the, if not the best, long snapper in recent NFL history.
- Johnny Knox: Most of his special team productions came out as a rookie in 2009, but Knox’s breakneck speed made him a dependable kick-returner, even making a Pro Bowl in that role.
- Sherrick McManis: McManis was a special team star in his 9 seasons with the Bears, counted 136 tackles and featured in punt coverage every year.
- Cordarrelle Patterson: His time with the Bears was short, but Patterson was All-Pro in both of his two seasons in Chicago. He’s had a kickoff return in both years for a touchdown in an NFL whose rules make life difficult for the kick-returner, and he was also a fantastic shooter with his size and speed.
Now it’s your turn.
Who is your all-time favorite Bears special team member?