Devin Hester retires with Bears, doesn't want to see kickoffs ousted

Devin Hester, who officially retired with the Chicago Bears on Monday, said he's not happy about the possibility the NFL could soon eliminate one of his fortes -- the kickoff return.

"Kickoff and punt return is one of the key aspects of the quality of football," Hester said. "You've got to let these guys play football. It is what it is.

"You try to find ways to eliminate injuries. But the minute you step on the field, you're bound to get hurt somewhere. That's just the nature of the beast. And I think taking that out of the game is big. I don't like to see it happen."

Hester and running back Matt Forte both signed one-day contracts with their original team Monday at Halas Hall so they could retire as Bears, and an emotional ceremony capped careers rich in highlight-reel material for the former second-round draft picks.

For Hester it might mean a spot someday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Every athlete wants to be in the Hall of Fame," Hester said. "If there's one out there that says they don't really care about it, then they're playing the wrong sport."

No other player is in the Hall based solely on returns, but Hester's league record of 20 touchdown returns could make him a candidate. He had 14 punt return TDs, five on kickoffs and one on a missed field goal.

Not included in those 20 returns is his most well-known -- the 92-yard return for a TD on the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI in February 2007.

Whether a special-teams player should be in the Hall is a question for voters, but Hester pointed out that kicker Morten Andersen recently made it.

"I don't really look at it like, 'Will he make it as [the first] return man?'" Hester told reporters when asked about his chances. "Sometimes you've got to put guys in the Hall of Fame for being the most dangerous person out there on the field."

If Hester eventually gets in, he might be the only returner considered because the number of diagnosed concussions in the NFL last season (291) has the league considering the future of the kickoff. At last month's owners meetings, the league's medical department presented statistics showing that concussions are five times as likely to happen on kickoffs as on an average play, according to Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, who is a member of the competition committee.

The NFL is finalizing plans for a summit to be held May 1-2 at league headquarters in New York to discuss player safety, including a focus on the future of the kickoff.

"It's one of the most exciting plays when you're playing this game of football," Hester said. "If I'm the last to be, the one who's the best to be at the return game, that's an honor. But at the same time, I want to see it continue to play out."

Like Hester, Forte is a player whose impact may soon be a rarity. In an age when many teams feature multiple backs, Forte retired after 10 years with 14,468 yards from scrimmage, the most by any NFL player during the past decade.

"Going into the NFL, I knew it was a production-based league and consistency is better than peaks and valleys," Forte said. "So I wanted to be the best at all times and be available at all times for my teammates and my team."

Forte's consistency was so great, he managed to finish second only to Hall of Famer Walter Payton in franchise rushing with 8,602 yards. After eight Bears seasons and two with the New York Jets, Forte had 9,796 yards rushing, 4,672 receiving and 75 TDs.

"Given how great Walter Payton was, it just didn't seem right that my name was just right there next to his," Forte said. "It's just kind of surreal to me that my name is right there with him in this organization."

Forte decided to retire after an injury-filled 2017 season with the Jets. He deflected much of the credit for success to teammates on both sides of the ball, and recalled being frustrated going against Hall of Fame inductee Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman at his first practice.

"Playing against a defense like that from a young rookie groomed me to know I'd just arrived here and I hadn't made it and I had to work very hard to continue to be very consistent in my production," Forte said.

ESPN's Kevin Seifert and The Associated Press contributed to this report.