GREEN BAY—With his playing career over, all that’s left of Donald Driver in a Packers uniform are memories, and plenty of them were shared on Wednesday.
Driver’s retirement ceremony in the Lambeau Field Atrium in front of a few thousand fans reflected, in a roundabout way, on everything in his spectacular 14-year career.
General Manager Ted Thompson recalled the 1999 draft meetings, when all the team’s scouts kept saying, “Can you run that back?” as they watched videotape of a receiver from Alcorn State. One of those scouts was undoubtedly Alonzo Highsmith, whom Driver thanked for working him out during the pre-draft process. That receiver a few months later would be “this skinny, skinny, skinny kid,” as Thompson told it, on whom he kept his eye during the first spring minicamp.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy, who was the Packers quarterbacks coach in Driver’s rookie year, remembered a Brett Favre rocket throw that looked headed over the Clarke Hinkle Field fence in a training camp red-zone drill. Out of nowhere came No. 13 – Driver’s uniform number as a seventh-round pick before he got No. 80 – who leaped to snag it, and everyone took notice.
“You could see right away that this young man definitely belonged,” McCarthy said. “That was a tremendous first impression that I’ll never forget.”
Before he got a little choked up talking about Driver and his family, McCarthy went on to celebrate – if not canonize – Driver’s 61-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against San Francisco on Dec. 5, 2010, at Lambeau Field.
That play, along with Driver’s first career reception and his record-breaking catches, was shown in a video for all to re-live again. He broke at least a half dozen tackles as he finally plowed through four 49ers defenders to get over the goal line.
“If you’re looking for a picture of what Donald Driver means to your football team, what he means as a player, that’s the picture,” McCarthy said. “That’s the one I’ll always remember.”
So will Driver, who has always pointed to that play to prove that age is just a number. It occurred in his 12th season, when he was 35, and it was only fitting he was wearing a throwback jersey at the time.
“What I remember about the play is the defense didn’t care about me, because I was old,” he said. “It kind of worked out in my favor. They jumped Greg Jennings and they left me wide open, and then after that I just said I wasn’t going to be denied.
“I have to say if I have to look at one play in my career that stands alone, that one. That’s the best of my career.”
The play happened two months and one day before Driver would reach what he called his “greatest milestone,” walking out of the tunnel at the Super Bowl and eventually hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
That moment was as good a capper as any to a story Driver has told many times and reflected upon again Wednesday, of when he was 14 years old, lying in bed and telling his brother he would lift his family out of all its struggles, which included being forced to live out of a U-Haul truck at one time.
“The road that I was going down as a kid, God found a way for me to get out of it,” said Driver, after several emotional moments thanking all the family members, coaches and others who have been a part of his journey. “I’m just blessed to be able to stand up here today and say I’ve reached all the milestones that I can reach.”
The honors kept coming Wednesday, as Governor Scott Walker declared it “Donald Driver Day” and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt presented Driver with a key to the city.
More significantly, Schmitt also announced that the famous receiver statue that used to reside in front of the old Packers Hall of Fame and is now in front of the downtown Titletown Brewing Co. restaurant will be refurbished, with the receiver wearing a No. 80 Driver jersey. The street leading to the statue and restaurant will also be renamed “Donald Driver Way.”
More honors are sure to come, as the Packers Hall of Fame will no doubt induct Driver as soon as he’s eligible. In the meantime, the “Dancing With The Stars” champion is off to co-host a TV show with Katie Couric and finish production of a book due out in September.
“Success has not changed me,” Driver said. “I’m the same skinny little kid that walked in here in 1999. I’m going to be the same little skinny kid, … well, grown man, … that walks out in 2013.
“I felt this was the opportunity to walk away from the game knowing that I’ve given it all that I can.”
He’s given plenty of memories, too. Additional coverage - Driver retirement