“Special” may be an understatement, but that’s exactly what the overwhelming thought was when Miami Hurricanes fans caught their first glimpse of Andre Johnson and Devin Hester in orange and green. Coincidence they both played special teams? Maybe.
Now, over twenty years after their playing days in Coral Gables, both men have the honor of calling themselves Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Thursday evening during the annual NFL Honors show held at the Resorts World Theatre in Las Vegas, the league acknowledged its best players and performances while unveiling the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. Former Hurricanes superstars Devin Hester and Andre Johnson were announced as two of the newest seven inductees.
Johnson and Hester will join a prestigious fraternity of NFL elites who will be remembered forever as the best of the best. With their place in the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame - Johnson 2014 and Hester 2018, the two also join Canes football royalty as they are to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, later this year.
Ted Hendricks, 2013
Michael Irvin, 2007
Edgerrin James, 2020
Jim Kelly, 2002
Cortez Kennedy, 2012
Ray Lewis, 2018
Jim Otto, 1980
Ed Reed, 2019
Warren Sapp, 2013
Each are members of the UM Sports Hall of Fame as well.
A product of Riviera Beach, Florida, and Suncoast High School in Palm Beach County, Devin “Anytime” Hester is currently the only return specialist to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Hester possessed every bit of speed imaginable. Although he was known for his top-end speed, it was his explosiveness and burst from the moment he touched the ball, combined with his elusiveness, and ability to change the outcome of games in an instant, that made him a second-round pick (57th overall) in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Some of his most memorable plays in a Hurricanes uniform came during the opening kickoff return versus UF in 2003, a returned punt block versus the Gators in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve of the 2004 season, and a dizzying punt return for a touchdown versus Duke.
His pro career was chock-full of captivating moments, however, one of those will stand the test of time as Hester was the first player in NFL history to return the opening kickoff in a Super Bowl for a touchdown, a feat he accomplished during his rookie campaign.
After 11 years in the league, Hester accounted for 14 punt return touchdowns (13 with the Chicago Bears) and five kick returns for scores (all with the Bears). The Windy City Flyer was also voted to four Pro Bowls, three All-Pro selections, is a member of the NFL 100 all-time team, and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2010s.
Widely known as the best returner ever, Hester was excited after being announced as a Hall of Fame inductee.
“It’s an honor. You know, when you talk about it and you talk about the unique situation that I was put in as a returner and to be the first one. You know what I mean, when you talk about the Hall of Fame you talk about a lot of great athletes, a lot of great quarterbacks, a lot of great running backs, defensive backs, linebackers... but when you talk about Devin Hester you talk about right now the first one to ever do it. And I just thank God that he allowed me to open up the doors for the rest of the returners, and not only returners but special teams guys as well that say ‘Hey, at the end of the day we do have a big part in this situation, in this ball game which is the NFL.’”
He went on to say “I’m on cloud like 13 right now, I know you can only go to cloud 10 but I’m on cloud 13!”
Born and raised in the county of Dade, Andre Johnson’s road to greatness started at Miami Senior High School, minutes away from the site where he played his college football games at the old horseshoe in Little Havana - The Miami Orange Bowl.
Weighing 230 lbs. at the time he was drafted, Andre Johnson was an intimidating, physical specimen who overwhelmed opposing cornerbacks with his combination of superior size, skill, speed, and strength. A member of a loaded 1999 recruiting haul for Miami which included the likes of Bryant McKinnie, Clinton Portis, Ken Dorsey, and other high-profile names, Johnson may have been the biggest get.
His career bests at Miami include a 7 reception performance versus Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl when Miami claimed its fifth national championship in program history. Ironically, Johnson registered 199 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns in the same game. Also noteworthy, he recorded three, two-touchdown games playing for Miami with the most recent coming in the title game versus Nebraska - all career highs.
After his junior season, Johnson decided to forego his eligibility and declare for the 2003 NFL Draft where he was selected third overall by the Houston Texans. For perspective on how great a receiver Johnson was, and where he may rank all-time amongst other wide receiver greats, Johnson is one of only three players in NFL history to lead the league with receiving yards in back-to-back seasons (2008-2009). The other names on that list are Calvin Johnson and Jerry Rice.
Johnson culminated his stellar pro career by boasting 1,062 receptions, 14,185 receiving yards, 70 receiving touchdowns, seven seasons with at least one thousand receiving yards, and was voted to seven Pro Bowls. In 2017, he was the first player inducted into the Texans’ Ring of Honor.
Johnson detailed his emotions upon finding out the news:
“When I heard the knock on the door, I went to unlock it. When I looked outside, all I could see was a gold coat or jacket. I didn’t have any idea it was Cris Carter wearing his gold Hall of Fame jacket. When I opened the door, I saw Cris with a big smile and all the cameras and people, and my mom started screaming and hugging me, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ I couldn’t believe it. I had so much emotion, a feeling different than anything I’ve ever experienced.”
When combining his on-field exploits and physical stature, it can be argued that Andre Johnson is one of the most unstoppable receivers in league history.
With Johnson and Hester being the two latest Miami Hurricanes football alumni elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the arrow points to a handful of Canes who also had exceptional careers in the NFL. A list that will undoubtedly grow in the coming years with potential inductees like Frank Gore (third all-time in rushing yards), Reggie Wayne (tenth all-time in receptions), and Vince Wilfork who was a key cog on two New England Patriots Super Bowl-winning defenses (2005, 2015), Miami has a chance to tie or surpass Notre Dame and USC to become the university with the most players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Perhaps Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham are Hall of Fame candidates as they rank seventh and eighth, respectively in all-time receiving yards amongst tight ends. Only time will tell.
Whatever the case may be, the Miami Hurricanes football program is now tied with the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, with the second-most number of Hall of Fame inductees (11), trailing only the University of Southern California (14), and Notre Dame (14).
There is a reason Canes football is hailed as NFL U.