Devin Hester dressed very slowly, and carefully packed away his gear, the cleats last.
When he turned around to be interviewed, he sighed so that his lips fluttered, and he shook his head a time or two.
He had just played a brilliant game for the Seahawks in their 36-20 divisional-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and if this was to be his final game, he was absorbing the moment.
“It felt great,” the 34-year-old said of what might have been the last game of a probable Hall-of-Fame career. “Yeah, felt pretty good.”
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Hester was brought in as a free agent on Jan. 3 by the Seahawks, who had lost returner Tyler Lockett to a broken leg.
Against Atlanta, he returned five kickoffs for 194 yards, an average of 36.8 yards, with a long of 78 yards.
Hester looked to have made a crucial punt return in the second period, returning it from the Seahawks 13 to the Falcons’ 7. It seemed to set up the Seahawks to go ahead 17-7.
But linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis had held a Falcon at the line of scrimmage, so the ball was brought back to the Seattle 6-yard line, costing the Seahawks 87 yards of field position.
“That stuff happens,” Hester said. “That’s the nature of the game; it’s not the first time, and it won’t the be the last.”
Well, it might actually be the last for Hester.
“I told my wife it’s pretty much my last year,” he said. “I was hoping for a run to the Super Bowl. The only thing that I left out of this game is walking away without getting a ring. It’s tough.”
Hester is the NFL’s all-time leader in return scoring, having scored on 20 returns.
“Look at the contribution that Devin made today,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It was a thrill to watch a guy that has been that great over his career to do the things he did under these circumstances. It was amazing.”
Although he was only with the team 13 days, Hester was emphatic in his praise for the Seahawks.
“It was good being here,” he said. “It’s a great organization; I see why these guys go to the playoffs so consistently — five straight years.”
Hester has played with Chicago, Atlanta and Baltimore, but said Seattle had the best franchise.
What makes it so?
“The brotherly love, all the way down to the cafeteria guys and ladies, the whole organization,” he said. “It’s just so friendly … it’s like a real family. That’s the most family-oriented situation I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been on four teams.”
Was it a time to look back, and did he see it as a great career?
“Yeah,” he nodded slowly. “It was.”