Three former Bears part of 7-member Pro Football HOF class

A trio of former Chicago Bears players were among seven players selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024 that was announced Thursday night.

Devin Hester, Julius Peppers and Steve McMichael each will be inducted into the Hall in Canton, Ohio, this summer. They will join four others: longtime Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, Houston Texans wideout Andre Johnson, Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.

McMichael and Gradishar were senior selections, while the other five were part of the modern class.

The Hall of Fame is filled almost entirely with offensive and defensive stars, but Hester got the nod for his achievements on special teams. He holds the NFL record with 20 overall return touchdowns, as well as the league record with 14 punt return TDs.

Hester’s highlights included returning the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown against Indianapolis. He also caught 255 passes for 3,311 yards and 16 touchdowns during his career.

“Devin revolutionized the game,” Bears chairman George McCaskey said. “No one had seen anything like him, and there hasn’t been anyone like him since. He had opposing head coaches telling their special teams coordinators, ‘Don’t kick to that guy,’ and they suffered the consequences when the message didn’t get through. We’re delighted that the Hall has recognized Devin’s special talents.”

Johnson also stood apart with his ability to find the end zone. The Texans’ first-round pick in 2003 finished his career with 1,062 catches and 70 touchdowns, and he finished with seven 1,000-yard seasons during his 14-year career.

On the defensive side, Freeney earned the call to Canton in his second year of eligibility. He led the NFL with 16 sacks in 2004 and finished his career with 125 1/2 sacks in 218 games.

Willis’ wait ended after five years of eligibility. Although his career was shortened because of injuries, he finished with seven Pro Bowl selections in eight years with the 49ers.

Peppers burst onto the scene with the Carolina Panthers in 2002, finishing his rookie season with 12 sacks, five forced fumbles and an interception in 12 games. The defensive end went on to star for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers before returning to Carolina to finish his career. He is the only player in NFL history to rack up at least 150 sacks and 10 interceptions.

McMichael, affectionately known as “Mongo” by Bears fans, was a key part of Chicago’s 1985 Super Bowl championship team. The defensive lineman finished his career with 95 sacks and 13 forced fumbles and gained notoriety for his fearless playing style. The honor was bittersweet as McMichael is battling ALS and was unable to attend the announcement in Las Vegas.

Gradishar was named to seven Pro Bowls during his 10-year career with the Broncos. He was voted the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 1978, and he finished with 20 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns to go along with 19 1/2 sacks and more than 2,000 tackles.