Matt Forte and Devin Hester’s legacies as Bears cemented on their retirement day
LAKE FOREST – Hugs went around, handshakes were plentiful, a few tears were shed.
“It’s tough, man,” admitted Devin Hester, fighting off tears on Monday at Halas Hall. “At 35 years, this is my first time saying no to football.”
But he, along with those in the audience and the franchise holding this event, answered with a resounding “yes” when it came to the significance of his along one of his teammate’s legacy in Chicago. That’s why the place of the final chapter of Hester’s career along with teammate Matt Forte was fitting, considering that each player made their greatest impact on the NFL while members of the Bears.
It made sense that the running back and kick returner inked one-day contracts with the franchise on Monday in the ceremonial end to their careers. Well before this day, both Forte & Hester had announced their retirements, this just officially put them back in the places where the enjoyed their finest days.
“It’s a walk down memory lane,” said Forte when giving his official retirement speech in front of a few dozen people, including chairman George McCaskey and General Manager Ryan Pace.
Indeed it was for both players, who shared plenty in common during their time with the Bears. Both were second round picks, with Hester joining the team from Miami in 2006 and Forte from Tulane two seasons later. Forte and Hester each played eight seasons with the Bears, each with an NFC North Division Title, thought the latter got a second division crown along with an NFC Championship in 2006.
Neither one of them got a Super Bowl title, as the franchise’s drought now extends back to 1985, and each ended up finishing their careers outside of Chicago. Yet their legacy was sealed in Chicago, with their statistics along with style.
Arguably the most electrifying player of the last generation, Hester holds the NFL record for kick return touchdowns with 20, 19 of those coming as member of the Bears. Thirteen of them came on punt returns with six coming on kickoffs, and his most famous serving as one of the iconic moments in franchise history to start off Super Bowl XLI.
That was part of a rookie year where he returned six kickoffs for touchdowns as the Bears won the NFC for the first time in 21 years. His swift moves and breakaway speed gave him a flair for the dramatic that gave Bears a reason to stay in their seats whenever the ball was kicked. No player who was primarily a kick returner has ever been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Hester figures to challenge that coming up in a couple of years.
Forte’s style was more blue-collar, but no less signficant. His 8,602 yards rushing are second only to Walter Payton, as are his 487 receptions, which are just five behind “Sweetness” for the all-time franchise lead. In 2014, Forte set the NFL record for catches by a running back with 102, versatility that made him one of the best dual-threats out of the backfield in the NFL.
Durability was also a Forte characteristic, playing in all 16 games in five of his eight Bears’ seasons, missing only eight games during that stretch.
Monday was one more chance for him along with Hester to look back on their careers in Chicago and the reputations the built during nearly a decade withcalle the Bears. While things weren’t always perfect, the place where they called it quits for good certainly was.