MINNEAPOLIS --- Devin Hester was inconsolable when he allowed himself to be tripped up by Detroit Lions punter Nick Harris on what what may well have been his record-setting 14th kick returned for a touchdown earlier this month, but he wasn't similarly frustrated when he was tackled six yards shy of the goal line after returning the second half kickoff 79 yards.
Hester ended the suspense the next time he touched the ball when he returned a Chris Kluwe punt 64 yards for a touchdown to break Brian Mitchell's record with 12:06 left in the third quarter of the Bears NFC North-clinching victory over the Vikings on Monday night TCF Bank Stadium.
"I remember coaches who said I would only be a punt and kick returner," Hester said of his critics coming out of college. I am a kick and punt returner, but I'm the best ever to do it."
Bears coach Lovie Smith said last month that while he prefers to focus on team rather than individual goals the entire team was looking forward to Hester breaking Mitchell's record. It was especially something that members of the kickoff and punt return teams were looking forward to because it would allow them to be part of history.
Hester congratulated his teammates on the sideline after he broke Mitchell's record despite playing in 211 fewer games than the former Redskin, Eagle and Giant returner.
Hester caught the 34-yard punt near the right sideline, glimpsed a hole, sprinted up the sideline for the score. Players milled around for a moment immediately afterwards because officials had thrown a flag on the play. The penalty was later picked up and the play stood.
The return, which gave the Bears a commanding 27-9 lead, was the 10th punt return touchdown Hester has scored during his career, tieing him with Eric Metcalf for the most ever. It took Metcalf 351 punt returns to score 10 touchdowns while Hester has managed it in just 173.
"I really love the guys," said Hester, who became emotional when talking about his teammates. "I know my success is from those guys. It's hard. I hake taking all the glory. I wish those other guys could be up here answering your questions."
It was fitting that Hester broke the record on a national stage as several of his most memorable returns occurred in big moments, such as his 108-yard missed fiel goal return against the Giants in 2006 and his 92-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XLI.
Hester entered teh game as the second-leading punt returner in the league.