Bears Super Bowl memories: Watching Devin Hester's return from the field

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Alex Shapiro
·4 min read
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Idonije on Hester Super Bowl return: 'The ground was shaking' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

“Devin Hester, you are RIDICULOUS!”

Jeff Joniak’s iconic radio call is one of the first things all Bears fans think of when remembering the 2006 season. Hester’s incredible speed and ability to alter any game, on every kick, was a huge reason the Bears made it to Super Bowl XLI in the first place. But the only thing more ridiculous than Hester’s ability was Tony Dungy’s decision to kick to him to start the Big Game.

Former Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije had a rare perspective of Hester’s historic return, as he was part of the special teams unit that season. When talking about the big play from 15 years ago, his eyes still light up.

“I know leading up to that week that Tony Dungy had said that they were not going to kick to him,” Idonije told NBC Sports Chicago. “But the night before in their team meeting they must’ve gotten a little hype, like, ‘You know what? We’re going to kick to Devin.’ Unfortunately for them, they did, because it was probably one of the most incredible sports moments that I’ve been a part of.

“I was on the field. I was on the field, it was my job to set the wedge. So, obviously the ball is kicked, my job is to set the wedge about 15 yards away from Devin. He catches the ball, obviously blazing speed, and we run either the left, right, whatever return Dave Toub had called. Then I gotta go get my block.”

The play is still imprinted in Idonije’s memory, and he was able to break the play down moment by moment.

“They kicked him the ball, I broke out, my block went wide,” Idonije said. “(Hester) came up the middle as usual, and he broke to the right. As I stood on the field, literally, the ground was shaking as every Bears fan in the stadium was jumping up and down, cheering, and just going absolutely bonkers.  As I stood there, it felt like a little earthquake. The whole stadium was just vibrating. Obviously he took it to the house, and it was just incredible.

“I know for sure every Bears fan was like, ‘Listen, he’s going to take this kick to the house.’ And sure enough, when he did it was awesome. It was special.”

We caught up with former Bears fullback Jason McKie about the big play as well. His feelings towards the return are more nuanced, for understandable reasons.

“I’ve got a love-hate with that play,” McKie told NBC Sports Chicago. “Obviously I love it because it happened. But I hate it because all year I’m the middle upback on kickoff returns. That season we played Detroit later on in the year, and I had a high ankle sprain. So, I missed the last game of our season and the first playoff game against Seattle… Going into New Orleans, I still had the high ankle sprain, but it was getting better. It didn’t really feel 100% until the week of the Super Bowl.

“So what happened was, our staff made the executive decision to take me off kickoff returns, being that I was the only active fullback on the roster. So it was like, ‘We can’t get him hurt, because then we don’t have any other fullbacks.’ So I wasn’t in on that play, but I was supposed to be.

“But at the same time they didn’t need me, because we have the great Devin Hester back there.”

Disappointment from not being in on the play aside, McKie recalls the entire team watching Hester with rapt attention.

“Whenever there was a kickoff or a punt return, nobody was sitting down on our sideline, all year. Everybody was front and center, had that front-row ticket to watch the great Devin Hester return a kick, and that’s where I was.”

For this particular kick however, McKie celebrated with a fellow running back.

“I can recall myself and Thomas Jones just dancing, watching him return that kick. We’re just sitting there, dancing on the sideline, and you’re almost blinded at the same time because of all the flashes from the pictures going off in the crowd at the same time. So it was like Club Bears on the sideline, because you had the flashing cameras, and we’re all dancing on the sideline watching Devin return the opening kick of the Super Bowl.

“I remember him catching the ball, making one cut then bursting upfield. You know, as soon as he makes that one cut and gets to getting north and south upfield, man he’s so dynamic, as we saw throughout that whole year, and his whole career.

“It was curtains.”

All these years later, Idonije is still a little incredulous that the Colts even afforded Hester the opportunity to start the game with a bang.

“Guys, come on. You don’t know who this is back there? That’s Devin Hester. And he made them pay.”

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