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Sayers, Hester among all-time special-teamers


Former Bears players are well-represented on an all-time all-NFL special teams unit constructed by long-time pro football writer Rick Gosselin.

Gosselin selected 22 players on a first team and 22 on a second team—with each consisting of a kicker, punter, kickoff specialist, holder, long snapper, personal punt protector, kickoff returner, punt returner, two interior blockers, two edge kick blockers and 10 coverage aces.

Two former Bears are on Gosselin's first team, kickoff returner Gale Sayers and punt returner Devin Hester. Second-teamers include holder Brad Maynard, long-snapper Patrick Mannelly, coverage aces Brendon Ayanbadejo and Larry Whigham, and interior kick blocker Alan Page.

To form a full 53-man special teams roster, Gosselin added nine "wildcard spots," one of which went to Julius Peppers as an interior kick blocker.

Here are Gosselin's capsules on the players he included who had their greatest special-teams success with the Bears:

First team
Kickoff returner: Gale Sayers
Years with Bears: 1965-71
Other teams: None

A Hall-of-Fame halfback and a member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team. Sayers led the NFL in kickoff returns with an average of 31.2 yards in 1966. He was even better in 1967, with an average of 37.7 yards per return, but finished second in the NFL to Travis Williams (41.1) that season. Sayers holds the NFL record with a 30.6-yard career average and six touchdowns.

With Devin Hester announcing his retirement from the NFL Tuesday, senior writer Larry Mayer ranks his top 10 most memorable plays of Hester???s career with the Bears.

Punt returner: Devin Hester
Years with Bears: 2006-13
Other teams: Falcons (2014-15), Ravens (2016), Seahawks (2016)

A member of the 2000s' NFL all-decade team. Hester holds the NFL record for touchdowns on kick returns with 19 — 14 on punts and five on kickoffs. He scored a 20th touchdown when he became the only player to return the opening kickoff of a Super Bowl for a touchdown, a 92-yarder against the Colts in 2007. Hester led the NFL in punt returns in back-to-back seasons, averaging 17.1 yards in 2010 and 16.2 yards in 2011. He ranks eighth all-time with his 11.7-yard punt return average and also averaged 24.9 yards on kickoffs.

Second team
Holder: Brad Maynard
Years with Bears: 2001-10
Other teams: Giants (1997-2000), Browns (2011)

His primary job was as a punter, and his 1,339 career kicks rank fourth all-time. But he was a master at holding for placements kicks. "He could catch the ball with one hand," said Dave Toub, his special-teams coach with the Bears. "That was his warmup. He was caught on TV doing that on the sideline. He was able to catch and hold for our right-footed kicker (Robbie Gould) with his left hand-only." There have been only three 30-field goal seasons in Bears' history, and Gould had two of them with Maynard holding. A former high-school quarterback, Maynard was adept at fakes on both field goals and punts. He completed 5-of-8 career passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

Long-snapper: Patrick Mannelly
Years with Bears: 1998-2013
Other teams: None

The Bears are one of the NFL's most historic franchises with nine championships and 27 Hall of Famers. But no one played more seasons (16) or more games for the Bears (245) than Mannelly. When you're that good, you can play a long time. His snaps helped Robbie Gould become Chicago's all-time leading scorer with 1,207 points and allowed Brad Maynard to set a franchise record for inside-the-20 punts with 284. "Mannelly was a perfectionist," Toub said. "He turned long-snapping into a science. He was the first to count the rotations of the ball on a short snap so the holder never gets the laces, and he also developed cutting edge drills that are used by most special-teams coaches today."

Coverage: Brendon Ayanbadejo
Years with Bears: 2005-07
Other teams: Dolphins (2003-04), Ravens (2008-12)

Three-time Pro Bowl special-teams ace. He collected 187 career special-teams tackles, leading his team in such tackles in seven of his 10 seasons. "Brendon was basically unblockable," Toub said. "He was extremely fast and very football smart with great instincts. I would free him up to just go to the ball and everyone else just played off of him. He would draw a double team which would free up other guys."

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