Jul/02/14 09:09 AM Filed in: Devin Hester
The Atlanta Falcons signed Devin Hester, one of the greatest return men of all time, to a three-year, $9 million deal this offseason.
He currently holds the NFL record with 18 combined kick-return scores -- 13 on punts and five on kickoffs during his eight seasons with the Chicago Bears. He is one away from surpassing mentor and former Falcon Deion Sanders for the most total return touchdowns in NFL history.
Hester's total doesn't even include his 92-yard touchdown off the opening kick in Super Bowl XLI.
Hester, 31, ranked his top five touchdown returns for ESPN.com. Over the next five days, we will review those returns, leading up to Hester's favorite.
Here is No. 5.
Scene: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis (Dec. 11, 2006)
Scenario: The Bears led 35-20 with just less than eight minutes remaining in regulation. With the Rams attempting a late comeback, the Bears prepared for the probable onside kick. Special-teams coordinator Dave Toub sent the "hands team" onto the field -- but the Rams boldly decided to kick the ball deep to Hester, who had already returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Hester sidestepped two defenders at his own 15-yard line, exploded through the hole and darted left, then blazed right by falling kicker Jeff Wilkins en route to a 96-yard score. Hester turned and taunted at the Rams' 25-yard line, then impersonated Sanders while high-stepping to the end zone.
The pair of scores were Hester's fourth and fifth kick-return touchdowns of the season, setting an NFL season record that he broke the next season. The Bears won the game 42-27.
Hester's take: "Coach Dave was saying we never had a kickoff return [for a score] on the hands team. When you put the hands team out there, you just make sure your guys don't give up on the onside kick. And you got guys out there that are not used to blocking. So, for them to kick it deep, it shocked us. And I took one back earlier that game. Even myself, I was thinking, 'It's going to be an onside kick. I hope it doesn't go through the guys and I have to run up and try to get it.' … He blooped it, and it wasn't like I could take a knee. And so I hit it through the hole and off to the races. And I think that was one when I set a record."
Blocker's perspective: "I'd like to think I was the one who sprung him for the touchdown because he ran right behind my block. When you go in on hands team, you're never thinking you're going to get a return. You're thinking recover the onside kick and get down. I believe that they lined up in a regular formation, but we stayed in our hands look. When they kicked it off deep, at that point, a lot of the times you're just kind of scattering. But Coach Toub, he always did a good job of having the special teams ready. You knew who you had to block. When you know you've got Devin back there, you stay on that block a little bit longer because you know if [you] give him a shot, he can take it all the way, and that's what happened.
"I remember looking at that film, and guys were on their men, but it wasn't like a regular kickoff return. Guys were kind of just hanging on. Once he found that lane … I would say that most of that was him. Everybody was like, 'There he goes. Uh-oh, damn, that's a touchdown!' Nobody was expecting him to take that all the way back to the house [end zone] because you don't practice a return off of the hands team a lot, if at all."
-- Desmond Clark, tight end and member of hands team