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He’s a sick returner: Ailing Hester sparkles

Bears punt returner DevHester leaves Lions defenders dust as he scores punt return second quarter Chicago Bears 37-13 victory over

Bears punt returner Devin Hester leaves Lions defenders in the dust as he scores on a punt return in the second quarter of the Chicago Bears 37-13 victory over the Detroit Lions Sunday November 13, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 18, 2011 5:24PM

The legend of Devin Hester continues to grow.

The Bears receiver and returner didn’t practice last week because of an ankle injury but returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

On Wednesday, Hester revealed he also was sick with swollen tonsils, strep throat and a fever.

In a few days, news might emerge that Hester also slew a dragon.

“It was one of them games where we had to win,” Hester said.

“We needed all our key players. I felt I had a little juice to go, and I just gave it a shot.”

He provided one of the key plays, as the Bears raced out to a 20-0 lead en route to a 37-13 rout.

After the Bears’ defense forced a three-and-out against the Lions’ explosive offense, Hester zigzagged across the field, then tiptoed along the Lions’ sideline on the way to his 12th punt-return touchdown.

But he wasn’t sure how he’d feel heading into the game.

Hester said his status was a game-time decision.

Thanks to some antibiotics, he felt strong enough to play.

“I kind of woke up feeling better that Sunday, so I gave it a shot,” Hester said.

He was flattered when told it was reminiscent of Michael Jordan and Walter Payton having brilliant performances despite being ill.

“It was a thought in the back of my mind,” he said.

“It’s an honor. Those guys are elite players. I’m just working my way to get mentioned in that category.”

Hester, though, didn’t return any balls in the second half. That’s because Major Wright and Charles Tillman returned interceptions for touchdowns, so the coaches decided not to field Hester again.

Hester practiced Wednesday, and he’ll prepare for the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers have struggled on special teams, but punter Mike Scifres is one of the league’s best this season. He’s fourth with a net average of 41.9.

Chargers coach Norv Turner, though, wouldn’t divulge how his team would handle Hester.

“That’s a problem that people have been trying to solve for a number of years now,’’ Turner said. ‘‘We have an outstanding punter, and we have come a long way. We have improved a great deal in our coverage teams.

‘‘We have to have a plan, and we do have a plan. That plan has to be flexible because we’re aware that we’re in a stadium where the elements will be a big part of it.”

Just don’t expect one thing.

“I’m not anxious to give him a nice softball down the middle, let him catch it between the hashes and let’s see how we can cover,” Turner said.

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