Former Bears stars Devin Hester and Matt Forte said goodbye to the sport they've loved playing since they were in grade school Monday during an emotional day at Halas Hall.
The electrifying record-breaking return specialist and the prolific dual-threat running back signed one-day contracts and officially retired as Bears.
Both players were selected by the Bears in the second round of the NFL Draft—Hester in 2006 and Forte in 2008—and spent their first eight NFL seasons in Chicago.
Bears chairman George H. McCaskey introduced the former stars at a well-attended press conference in the PNC Center that included media, team employees and current and former players. Among those in attendance were Mitchell Trubisky, Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Charles Tillman, Johnny Knox and Jason McKie.
During Hester's career with the Bears, he became the NFL's all-time leader with 18 kick return touchdowns and 13 punt return TDs, was voted to three Pro Bowls, won 13 special teams player of the week awards and was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 2000s.
"The most prolific returner in the history of the game is a Bear," McCaskey said. "We're very proud of that and we're proud of Devin."
An emotional Hester had to pause twice, closing his eyes and turning his head back and forth to regain his composure. He acknowledged that it was difficult to say goodbye to the sport.
Devin Hester and Matt Forte returned to Halas Hall and visited with the team on Monday to officially retire with the Bears.
"To be here and say that it's my last time picking up a ball and playing football is tough," he said.
Hester thanked the Bears organization and his teammates for their support.
"It was amazing to be part of a group of guys that every time I stepped on the field these guys were saying, 'Please follow me, I've got your back,'" Hester said. "It's an honor and a privilege to be in this family and I appreciate you guys. This is the end of the road for me and I appreciate it."
Hester made an immediate impact as a Bears rookie in 2006, setting an NFL single-season record with five kick return touchdowns and then eclipsing the mark with six TDs in 2007. He conceded Monday that he surpassed his own expectations.
"To be honest, I did," Hester said. "A kid coming from a small town, Rivera Beach, Fla., the biggest goal was to just make it to the NFL. My first year, it was a big shocker for me."
Forte arrived two years after Hester and developed into one of the league's most productive running backs. During his eight seasons with the Bears, the Tulane product led all NFL players with 12,718 yards from scrimmage while becoming the second fastest player in league history to compile 8,000 yards rushing and 4,000 yards receiving behind only Marshall Faulk.
Forte ranks second on the Bears' all-time list behind Hall of Famer Walter Payton in rushing yards (8,602), receptions (487), receiving yards by a running back (4,116), yards from scrimmage (12,718), 100-yard rushing games (24) and games with at least 150 yards from scrimmage (25).
"As a fan, he was just a joy to watch," McCaskey said, "a superior athlete and frequently the best player on the field—among the best in a long line of great Bears running backs."
Forte, who played the past two seasons with the Jets, enjoyed being back at Halas Hall.
"This is a walk down memory lane," Forte said. "I'm standing here today full of emotion, but I'm not sad or disappointed or anything. I'm just grateful. I'm grateful just because of how long I was able to play and the impact I was able to have on the field and off the field.
"I wanted to be the best at all times and be available at all times for my teammates and team. That's why I left it all on the field and honestly have no regrets of how I played and what I did on the field, except for not winning a Super Bowl for this great franchise."
Like Hester, Forte also praised his former teammates.
"I've only been in two different locker rooms," Forte said. "But the one with the Bears was amazing to me, the character of the guys and how they conducted themselves but also how it was a brotherhood. There were also great on the field.
"I'm very grateful and humble today to stand up here and say that I'll be a Bear for life."