Three former Bears have a chance to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year. The list of 25 semi-finalists was announced on Tuesday, and among them are special teams superstar Devin Hester, and pass rushers Julius Peppers and Jared Allen. This is Peppers’ first time on the Hall of Fame ballot, the third for Hester and fourth year as a HOF semifinalist for Allen.
Simply put, Devin Hester is the best return man in NFL history. Hester burst onto the scene with three punt return touchdowns, two kick return touchdowns, and one remarkable score returning a missed field goal in his rookie season in 2006. He was an integral part of the team's Super Bowl run that season. He made NFL history that year, too, when he became the first (and still only) player to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
It didn’t take long for opposing teams to kick around him, but it didn’t matter much. Throughout his career, Hester found ways to score. And if teams kicked it out of bounds to avoid him, the offense got to reap the benefits of working with a shorter field.
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Hester turned special teams plays from an opportunity to grab a beer into can’t-miss TV. And he made NFL history several times over. Including the playoffs, and that one missed field goal attempt he returned for a score, Hester’s 21 combined return touchdowns are by far the most in league history. He twice led the league in punt return yards and kick return yards. He led the league in punt return scores three times, and kick return scores twice. He was named to four Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro three times.
Peppers joined the Bears in 2010 after a lengthy and productive career with the Panthers. He started his Bears career with a bang by notching a sack and a forced fumble in his first game with the team, and pretty much never slowed down from there. Peppers played for the Bears for four seasons and never missed a game. In his 64 games with Chicago, he recorded 37.5 sacks– which gave him a 0.59 sack per game average. In addition, he forced 10 fumbles, recovered seven more and intercepted three passes.
The stellar defensive end did more than generate big pressure numbers himself. He also created opportunities for others. Peppers demanded so much attention from opposing offenses that other linemen got free more easily. For example, Israel Idonije had eight sacks in 86 games for the Bears while playing defensive tackle before Peppers’ arrival. But when Idonije moved to DE opposite Peppers, his production exploded to the tune of 20.5 sacks in 48 games.
Peppers made two All-Pro teams, was named a Pro Bowler three times and finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting over his four seasons in Chicago.
Allen had the shortest Bears tenure of the three Hall of Fame semifinalists. He joined the Bears in 2014, but was traded away to the Panthers in the first month of the 2015 season. In 18 games with the Bears, Allen had 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception. Allen retired after he finished the 2015 season with the Panthers.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will now look at the list of 25 semi-finalists and determine which 15 players will move on to the finalist stage. Then, just before the Super Bowl at the Hall of Fame selection meeting, the 50-person committee will take a series of reduction votes to narrow the list from 15 names to 10, then 10 names down to five. The five remaining finalists then go up for an individual “yes,” or “no” vote. A player must receive 80% votes in favor of enshrinement to be elected into the Hall of Fame.