When Devin Hester left the Chicago Bears via free agency this past offseason, everyone associated with the Vikings breathed a sigh of relief. In eight seasons with the NFC North rival Chicago Bears, Hester played 15 games against the Vikings and found the end zone nine times – five as a receiver and four times on returns.
But the good news that Hester had left the Bears was quickly met with the bad news that he had joined the Atlanta Falcons, who just happened to be on the Vikings 2014 schedule. The Hester-induced headaches would not be going away, after all.
While nine touchdowns in 15 games against one opponent are impressive enough, it was the manner in which Hester scored those nine touchdowns that was so remarkable, and so headache-inducing.
2006: 45-yard punt return
2007: 89-yard punt return
2007: 81-yard reception
2008: 65-yard reception
2010: 64-yard punt return
2010: 19-yard reception
2010: 15-yard reception
2011: 98-yard kickoff return
2011: 48-yard reception
Do the math on the list above, and you'll see Hester's average touchdown length against the Vikings is 58.2 yards, and he's scored touchdowns on kickoff returns (one), punt returns (three) and receptions (five).
In facing the Vikings this week, Hester returns to the field in which he scored twice against the Vikings in 2010. On that snowy Monday night at TCF Bank Stadium, Hester scored on a 15-yard pass from QB Jay Cutler in the 2nd quarter and then dashed 64 yards on a punt return for another touchdown to help lead the Bears to a 40-14 victory.
Hester, now 31 years old and in his ninth season, isn't slowing down quite yet. He had a 62-yard punt return touchdown last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which gave him 20 career return touchdowns and made him the NFL's career leader in that category, surpassing Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
With his past success against the Vikings and with that 62-yard return fresh in their minds, you can be sure the Vikings will be aware of their familiar nemesis.
"Great task, great challenge ahead of us this weekend with the best returner that's every played this game, in my opinion, a future Hall of Famer," Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said on Thursday. "Unfortunately, he hasn't skipped a beat. Watching him on tape, he still has the great vision, great explosion, great speed. He's kickoff return and punt return unfortunately this year, again, like he's been in the past. We have a great challenge, and our work cut out for us."
But the Vikings seem to be up for the challenge. Last week K Blair Walsh blasted four touchbacks, eliminating the chance for any returns, and P Jeff Locke had one of the better games of his career, punting four times for a net average of 46.0 and doing his part in the punt coverage team holding explosive returner Brandin Cooks to negative three yards on one return.
Priefer and his group won't rest on last week's success, though. They have too much respect for Hester to make that error.
"Every time we go against him he's a huge challenge," Priefer said. "He's a great player."