We conclude our series on new Atlanta Falcons return specialist Devin Hester and his top 5 returns, as he ranked them. Hester set an NFL record with 18 kick-return scores in eight seasons with the Chicago Bears and is tied with Deion Sanders for the NFL record with 19 career returns for scores (including a return of a missed field goal).
And here is the return Hester ranked the best of them all:
The scene: University of Phoenix Stadium (Oct. 16, 2006)
The scenario: The Bears trailed the Cardinals 20-0 at halftime during Hester's rookie season and were still down 23-10 with just under six minutes left in regulation. After cornerback Charles Tillman scored the Bears' second defensive touchdown off a fumble recovery, the stage was set for Hester's late-game heroics. He fielded a Scott Player punt with 3:17 remaining, followed a block up the middle, swerved by a pair of defenders, then made a quick cut to elude Player en route to an 83-yard touchdown.
Thanks to Hester and a missed 41-yard field goal by Arizona's Neil Rackers, the Bears escaped with a 24-23 win to move to 6-0 despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. The dramatic ending set off an unforgettable postgame rant by Cardinals coach Dennis Green, who claimed, "The Bears are who we thought they were ... and we let them off the hook!"
Hester's take: "The top one was Arizona. It just brought back memories of the Louisville game I had at Miami where it was a prime-time game. We played Louisville that Thursday night, and we played Arizona on [Monday] night. Same situation: We're down late in the game and then we take a punt return to the house that changed the whole momentum and won the game."
Blocker's perspective: "For me personally, it was special and electric because I was playing against my brother [Obafemi Ayanbadejo] and my whole family was at the game. We knew we were going to get it done on special teams. Coach [Dave] Toub said all week we were going to score, but we thought we could score every game. Toub pulled us all over on the sideline and he's like, 'We're going to score. This is our chance. This is the return we're running.' He told me, 'If you can block it, block it. And the return is going to go away from you.' That means I would get to be in the wall to escort Devin in. So I knew I was going to hold up my guy.
"We're talking fourth quarter, end of the game: They kicked our [butt] the first half and all of a sudden, our defense starting kicking their [butts]. And it's not often that you have a special teams unit that can change a ballgame. We had one of those teams. Toub made the call, and it was a green return. We had yellow and green -- which meant a right return. So I tried to block the punt, and I barely missed it. So I got up off the ground and told myself to hustle so I could set this wall. So I picked off a guy. Then I picked off another guy. Devin's still running and all of a sudden, I'm playing basketball out there setting screens. I'm out there doing iron crosses and Devin's wiggling all the way to the end zone.
"We just erupted. There was nothing like that feeling, being a special teams guy. I was like playing for the '85 Bears and playing on defense. It was probably the best special teams unit to ever exist in NFL history. That was us those two years with Devin Hester. That was definitely us." Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who provided the key block on Hester's most memorable return.