LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) – Devin Hester sped down the right sideline on his way to another game-breaking special teams touchdown. The Soldier Field crowd was frenzied, his teammates headed toward the end zone to join the celebration.

Oops. That bright yellow flag lying back where the rookie fielded Seattle’s punt meant it was all for naught, and the Chicago Bears wound up needing overtime to beat the Seahawks.

“It was an awesome return on his behalf,” Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is going to the Pro Bowl for his work on kick returns and coverage, said Thursday. “Too bad we had to take it back.”

The play didn’t count – in NFL statistics, it never existed – but the latest example of how Hester can break open a game won’t fade from memory. Not for the Bears and certainly not for the New Orleans Saints, who come to Chicago for Sunday’s NFC championship game.

“We have smart players. They’ll look at the film and watch the threat Hester presents,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “They understand the significance of a returner in a game like this. … The guys blocking for him know if they just find a way to tie their guy up, the results could be significant.”

Hester, the only rookie All-Pro this year, has a dynamic counterpart on the Saints in Reggie Bush. While Bush didn’t come close to being as special on special teams – he had one punt return for a touchdown, while Hester had three, plus two on kickoffs and one on a failed field goal – he remains nearly as dangerous as Hester when the opponent is forced to punt.

Bush averaged 7.7 yards on 28 returns, while Hester was at 12.8 for 47, leading the league with 600 yards. Hester also returned 20 kickoffs for a 26.4 average and had two TDs in one game against the Rams. Plus, he ran back a missed field goal against the Giants 108 yards, trying the league record for longest play.

“These are two sensational rookies going against each other who have had great impact on special teams,” Ayanbadejo said. “And that’s a good story. They’re two guys who will play a big role for their teams for a lot of years.”

The story of Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner from Southern California, is familiar. He was considered a once-in-a-lifetime talent by nearly everyone in the NFL except the Houston Texans, who had the first selection in the draft and took defensive end Mario Williams.

The Saints couldn’t choose Bush quickly enough, and he hasn’t disappointed with a rookie-record 88 receptions, plus 565 yards rushing and nine TDs overall. While his impact has not been nearly as spectacular on kick returns, he did win one game with his 65-yard punt runback for a score against Tampa Bay, and his presence when the opposition has to kick never goes unnoticed.

“That’s the story within the story,” Ayanbadejo said. “We want to prove our guy is the better guy and deserves to be an All-Pro and going to the Pro Bowl.”

Hester was a man without a position heading to the NFL from the University of Miami. He was a special teams dynamo for the Hurricanes, but he struggled at wide receiver, running back and defensive back. When the Bears chose him in the second round, it was uncertain what Hester would do other than run back kicks. He’s played some cornerback this season, but his work on special teams has defined Hester.

One concern has been his ball security, though, and losing a fumble on a runback can be as devastating for the Bears as taking one to the end zone might be to the Saints.

“It’s hard because of the style of running that I have, I’m more of a speedy type guy,” Hester said. “I need my arms to pump a lot. So sometimes I feel like I kind of do tend to have the ball kind of move just because I’m pumping hard and trying to run hard. But I know now that once I get in that traffic, I have to have more ball security.”

Hester handles all the punt returns and is back with Rashied Davis on kickoff returns. Bush hasn’t returned kickoffs this season, although in a pinch he just might join veteran Michael Lewis for them on Sunday.

Bush likes the prospect of special teams potentially deciding who goes to the Super Bowl. But he doesn’t believe being so close to the championship will put any extra stress on himself, on Hester – on anybody.

“Everybody is a pro here,” Bush said, “and that’s just something that comes along with being a pro is just learning how to not allow big games to affect your emotions and playing calmly throughout the game. We’ve all been in big games, and we’re not going to let the hype of this game affect us.”