Devin Hester has had several amazing performances in his six-year career with the Bears. He had touchdown returns in the Super Bowl, against the Packers, on primetime television, and in the moments when the Bears needed them most. But Sunday's 122-yard performance might be the most impressive because it puts him in the pantheon of other Chicago greats who have performed despite illness or injury.
During the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run, Duncan Keith lost seven teeth in game four of the Western Conference Final. He played through the pain to help the Blackhawks sweep the Sharks and eventually beat the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup. With the grueling schedule of the playoffs, he didn't have time to get his mouth fixed until after the season was over. Seeing Keith raise the Cup was a bit more touching when his gummy smile appeared behind the gleaming silver of the cup.
The Bulls were tied at two with the Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals. Playing in Salt Lake City, Karl Malone and John Stockton had a raucous crowd behind them. To make matters worse, Michael Jordan woke up the day before the game with a stomach virus. He was vomiting, nauseated and sweating profusely. He got out of bed just three hours before tip-off, dropped 38 points on Utah, then collapsed in Scottie Pippen's arms for the memorable image from the Bulls fifth championship.
Walter Payton missed just one game in his 13-year career with the Bears, and he wasn't going to let the flu keep him out of a game against NFC Central foe Minnesota on Nov. 20, 1977. Playing on a rainy, cold November day that makes most people want to stay in bed, Payton pulled out the best performance of his life. He ran for 275 yards and scored the only touchdown in a 10-7 win over the Vikings.
And then there was Hester on Sunday. Though he had battled the flu and an ankle injury all week, the Bears needed a win over the Lions to keep hope alive in a tight race for a playoff spot. He did exactly what Chicago needed him to do: Ignore the flu, ignore the injury, and run back a punt return 82 yards for a touchdown that sparked a dominating win by the Bears.
Chicagoans like to pride ourselves as the City of Big Shoulders, the kind of people who show up, do our job and make no excuses. Cold? Rain? Flu? CTA delays? Epic blizzard? That's nice. Get to work. It's no wonder, then, that our favorite athletes are the ones who exemplify that same excuses-be-damned work ethic.