After 14 Seasons, Donald Driver Retires As A Green Bay Packer
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: February 06, 2013
If a long-tenured receiver on your favorite football team announces an appearance on ABC's Dancing with the Stars this spring, you might want to brace yourself for imminent retirement. Following in the footsteps of Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, who won DWTS in 2011 and retired at the end of the subsequent season, Green Bay's Donald Driver earned the Spring 2012 Mirrorball Trophy and played one final season with the Packers before announcing his retirement. Both were fan favorites; each a tenacious slot receiver who popped up from every bone-crushing hit with a smile on his face. Both were team leaders who served as coach and mentor to young receivers as they arrived: is it any coincidence that the Steelers and Packers have had such well-rounded, high-performing first- and second-year receivers in recent years?
Neither team could financially keep its longest-tenured, highly respected receiver. Ward made public offers of a massive salary cut before Pittsburgh released him, at which point he considered playing elsewhere before announcing his retirement as a Steeler. Driver got ahead of the storm and took the high road, announcing his retirement shortly after the Packers' devastating Divisional loss in San Francisco. It saved the Packers organization from having to publicly cut ties with him and gave the fourteen year veteran an opportunity to bring an end to his career on his own terms. The Packers celebrated his career Wednesday morning with a press conference at the team facility. Over 1,000 Packers fans were in attendance to say goodbye to one of their favorite Lambeau Leapers.
Driver, in an occasion-appropriate gold suit, sat with his wife Betina as head coach Mike McCarthy deemed him the all-time greatest Lambeau Leaper, Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt presented Driver with a key to the city and announced the addition of Donald Driver Way in front of a downtown Green Bay restaurant called Titletown Brewery (which will also now feature a Donald Driver #80 statue) and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker deemed Wednesday "Donald Driver Day" across the state of Wisconsin. A video was shown of various celebrities offering warm wishes, ranging from DWTS host Tom Bergeron to R&B singer (and Driver's apparent golfing buddy) Brian McKnight and Packers legend Bart Starr. Driver's best and brightest plays from his fourteen year career were also compiled in an outstanding highlight reel.
Finally, Driver himself took the microphone, immediately expressing his love for the fans present. He announced that he would be doing anything he could to prevent an emotional outburst, but there were several moments in his speech that rendered the Packer in near-tears. He thanked Ron Wolf, Green Bay's general manager at the time Driver was drafted (but retired in 2001), McCarthy, current general manager Ted Thompson and a number of team officials before moving on to his family. Addressing in turn his mother-in-law, his mother, his children and Betina, Driver repeatedly choked back tears while expressing his love and appreciation for those closest to him. He finally thanked all Packers fans and credited his loyalty and promise to "never wear another team's colors" as his way of showing appreciation to a fanbase that had always cheered for and supported him.
Driver will retire with a team-record number of receptions (743) and receiving yards (10,137) and a third-best number of touchdown receptions (61). Though his 77 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns this season were the least productive since his rookie year, Driver's leadership and presence will be undoubtedly missed in the Packers locker room. He was the consummate team player and an exemplary model of professionalism and positivity. His toughness and desire were constantly at the forefront of his qualities as a player; Driver was widely respected among teammates and opponents alike. It's safe to say, though Packers fans will miss him the most, all true fans of the game of football are sorry to see him go.
Kim O'Hara is the Associate Editor of TheFootballGirl.com. She is an avid fan of sports in general, but the NFL in particular. She has also been a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @KimOHaraTFG
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