Here’s how the Ravens explained their decision today to cut return man Devin Hester after he misjudged a punt that led to a safety:
Hester, 34, has not fielded the ball confidently on many occasions this season, and the latest gaffe led to two points for the Patriots.
That’s a harsh (yet ultimately fair) assessment of the player Hester has been this year, but it belies the sort of utterly dominant player Hester used to be. I had no idea he was in the NFL this year, and even when he scored his 20th and final return touchdown two years ago we registered our surprise that he was still in the league then. Hester might not be long for the NFL, but he was the greatest of all time at his position, and there will probably never be another player like him.
Comparing star players to video game characters tends to be an imprecise exercise, but in Hester’s case, it truly fits. In old highlight clips, he simply appears faster and better than everyone else on the field. Hester also obtained the first 100 speed rating in Madden NFL history, a rather literal tribute to his video game maximalism. Watch this old highlight reel from his days at The U. He was an asskicker at the NFL level, but against college guys, he was completely unfair.
Tackling Devin Hester appears to be as difficult as catching fog with your bare hands. He doesn’t wiggle and bob like Barry Sanders, he just flat out burns you and makes incisive cuts more abruptly than anyone else. Hester scored 12 of his 20 return touchdowns (he should have at least one more) during his first two years in the NFL and was legitimately the Bears’ best scoring option for a while there. They fielded a series of great defenses, soggy offenses, but could always rely on the most terrifying return man in NFL history. He beat the 2007 Broncos all by himself in his second year. Watch his career’s worth of owning coverage units (absent his last touchdown from 2014) and tremble.
Hester’s peak was short, mostly because teams stopped kicking to him and the Bears’ brief attempts to convert him into an out-and-out wide receiver failed to harness his defense-busting tendencies. But when he was at his peak, he was all-time great. I selfishly hope he comes back for another round in the NFL because I want to see him turn an entire coverage unit into ash, but if he’s done, he’s already provided more jaw-dropping moments than most NFL players ever will.