|Opener against Colts stirs memories of Hester's TD|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 04 September 2008 13:59|
Now, imagine this.
The Bears win the coin toss and Devin Hester returns the opening kickoff.
The last time he did that against the Colts, he made Super Bowl history with a 92-yard run to the end zone. And then?
``After that, it was a tragedy so you want to forget about it,'' Hester said.
``Tragedy'' is a strong word to describe the Bears' 29-17 loss to the Colts in Miami on Feb. 4, 2007. ``Disappointing'' would fit, though.
Hester made history by becoming the first NFL player to return the opening kick in a Super Bowl for a touchdown, but the Colts left the stadium as champions.
The Bears haven't been the same since, stumbling to a 7-9 record last season behind sloppy play and a long line of injuries. Now, they're trying to regain their balance against the team that landed the staggering blow. That happened after Hester landed a big shot at the start.
Hester caught the opening kick at the 8, wove through the middle and sprinted up the right side. Even though the Colts won, that electrifying play still is remembered.
``You try to make a statement on the first play of the game,'' Hester said. ``The special teams unit, that's what we harped on. The return game, let's try to punch a hole in them. That's what we tried to do.''
The Colts decided to go at Hester, anyway, even though he ran back two kickoffs and three punts as a rookie. After the touchdown, they fed him squib kicks.
Whether they'll kick to Hester this time remains to be seen. If they do, Dungy said they'll try to pin him near the sideline rather than boot it deep down the middle.
``There are going to be times when you have to kick to him and we're going to try to punt well, and punt high and make him move around to catch it,'' Dungy said. ``We're going to try to make him move to catch the kickoff. We certainly don't want to kick it out of bounds on the kickoff. There's going to be a chance he's going to get the ball. I don't think we're going to just kick it high and down the middle to the 1-yard line to him, but we'll try to make it so hopefully if he does field it, he has to run the field and move around.''
Dungy said his special-teams players have lobbied to kick to Hester, but who could blame the coach for avoiding him?
Dungy has seen his team give up a league-high seven return scores - five on kickoffs - the past two years, and Hester is closing in on the all-time record. Through two seasons, the two-time Pro Bowl pick ranks fourth in NFL history with 11 kick returns for touchdowns - two shy of all-time leader Brian Mitchell, who played 14 years. And that does not include his 108-yard return of a missed field goal against the Giants in 2006 or the return against the Colts.
``I think he's one of the best returners of all-time and he's proven he's one of the most dangerous ever,'' Colts defensive tackle and special teams enforcer Darrell Reid said. ``We've got a tough task ahead of us, it might be the toughest all year. But it's not just him. He's got a unit that does a great job blocking for him and they do different things.''
The Bears are hoping Hester's big-play capability will translate on offense, where he'll play a bigger role in an overhauled receiving corps after being used on a limited basis last season.
``They put him out at receiver, you're going to see a reverse or two in the course of the game, you're going to see a couple of screens to him and then the balls they throw to him in the regular offense,'' Dungy said. ``I think their thought is that he can get seven or eight balls on offense as well as the kicks. It makes it harder to keep it out of his hands, and he is dangerous anytime he is touching the ball.''
Not that the Colts needed a reminder.
All they have to do is watch that Super Bowl video.
Hester remembers coach Lovie Smith and special teams coordinator Dave Toub asking for a big return before the game, and he remembers thinking he would have one or two chances to deliver. Reaching the end zone was ``a big release'' for him, but Hester said: ``It was like we got a partial job done; we didn't finish the game.''