NFL

Devin Hester, Matt Forte retire with the Chicago Bears

Former Chicago Bears returner Devin Hester speaks during a retirement ceremony Monday, April 23, 2018 at Halas Hall. Hester hopes to get into the Hall of Fame some day but may soon be part of an extinct breed if the NFL eliminates kick returns as is being suggested. Hester and former Bears multipurpose back Matt Forte officially retired Monday at an emotional ceremony after signing one-day contracts with their first NFL team. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP)

By GENE CHAMBERLAIN

Associated Press

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) It's easy to see former Chicago Bears standouts Devin Hester and Matt Forte as players with skills in decreasing demand.

For Hester, he's not happy about the possibility the NFL could soon eliminate one of his fortes - the kickoff return.

"At the end of the day kickoff and punt return is one of the key aspects of the quality of football," Hester said. "You've got to let these guys play football. It is what it is.

"You try to find ways to eliminate injuries. But the minute you step on the field you're bound to get hurt somewhere. That's just the nature of the beast. And I think taking that out of the game is big. I don't like to see it happen."

Hester and Forte both signed one-day contracts with their original team Monday at Halas Hall so they could retire as Bears, and an emotional ceremony capped careers rich in highlight-reel material for the former second-round draft picks.

For Hester it may mean a spot someday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Every athlete wants to be in the hall of fame," Hester said. "If there's one out there that says they don't really care about it then they're playing the wrong sport."

No other player is in the Hall based solely on returns, but Hester's league record of 20 TD returns could make him a candidate. He had 14 punt return TDs, five on kickoffs and one on a missed field goal.

Not included in those 20 returns is his most well known, because it came during his rookie year and in the postseason - the 92-yard return for a TD in 2007 on the opening kickoff of Super Bowl 41.

Whether a special teams player should be in the Hall is a question for voters, but Hester pointed out kicker Morten Andersen made it.

"He just opened up the doors for all special teamers," Hester said.

If Hester eventually gets in, he might be the only returner considered because of the number of concussions last season has league officials meeting next month. Eliminating kickoffs is expected to be a hot topic.

"It's one of the most exciting plays when you're playing this game of football," Hester said. "If I'm the last to be, the one who's the best to be at the return game, that's an honor. But at the same time, I want to see it continue to play out."

Like Hester, Forte is a player whose impact may soon be a rarity. In an age when many teams use multiple backs, Forte retired after 10 years with 14,468 yards from scrimmage, the most by any NFL player during the past decade.

"Going into the NFL, I knew it was a production-based league and consistency is better than peaks and valleys," Forte said. "So I wanted to be the best at all times and be available at all times for my teammates and my team."

Forte's consistency was so great, he managed to finish second only to Walter Payton in franchise rushing with 8,602 yards. After eight Bears seasons and two with the Jets, Forte had 9,796 yards rushing, 4,672 receiving and 75 TDs.

"Given how great Walter Payton was, it just didn't seem right that my name was just right there next to his," Forte said. "It's just kind of surreal to me that my name is right there with him in this organization."

Forte decided to retire after an injury-filled 2017 season with the Jets. He deflected much of the credit for success to teammates on both sides of the ball, and recalled being frustrated going against Hall of Fame inductee Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman at his first practice.

"Playing against a defense like that from a young rookie groomed me to know I'd just arrived here and I hadn't made it and I had to work very hard to continue to be very consistent in my production," Forte said.

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Updated April 23, 2018


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