Devin Hester drove to Halas Hall countless times during his eight remarkable seasons with the Bears. On Monday, en route to the retirement ceremony honoring him and former teammate Matt Forte, there was a new element to that old road.
“Normally when I drive here, I’m always late,” Hester cracked. “That was my first time driving the speed limit. I got a chance to enjoy the scenery.”
Finally, long after his arrival in 2006, neither fines nor the wrath of coach Lovie Smith waited for him.
Instead, there were hugs of reconnection, smiles of appreciation and the figurative exhale that comes with closure, as the organization gave Hester and Forte their due in an hourlong ceremony at team headquarters.
There was the iconic, electric return man and the versatile, consistent running back, impeccably dressed in suits, sifting through their emotions for words of perspective on careers that highlighted a bygone era of Bears football.
Most notable was the free-flowing gratitude from the two players to their families, teammates and the organization — and the thank-yous reciprocated by those parties.
There also was current director of college scouting Mark Sadowski — a busy man this week — who was a Southeast area scout for the team when Hester was drafted out of Miami in 2006 and Forte was selected out of Tulane in 2008, each in the second round.
To those assembled, Chairman George McCaskey asked: “What is your favorite Devin Hester moment?”
Really, the question was about the second-favorite. A framed photo of the consensus top moment — Hester’s touchdown return on the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI — was presented to him.
Hester stopped his remarks on multiple occasions because he nearly was overcome with emotion. But when the topic was his eventual Hall of Fame candidacy, he had no trouble voicing his outlook.
“It’s very important,” Hester said. “I hope one day too say I was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I think that’s every athlete’s dream. I, myself, feel I have a great shot at it.”
Before it was Forte’s turn to speak, McCaskey listed surnames from the long list of great Bears running backs, including Grange, Nagurski, Sayers, Casares and Payton.
“Put Forte right in there,” McCaskey said.
“I’m standing here today full of emotion, but I’m not sad, disappointed or anything,” Forte said. “I’m just grateful.”
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