Ed. Note—Packers wide receiver Donald Driver needs just 42 yards to break James Lofton’s team record of 9,656 career receiving yards. In anticipation of his third major franchise receiving record – he already holds the marks for most receptions at 698 and consecutive games with a reception at 133 (139 including playoffs) – Driver sat down with Packers.com Staff Writer Mike Spofford for a brief videotaped interview looking back at some of the more memorable catches, plays and moments of his career.
To see the interview, click here. What follows are Donald Driver’s reflections on memorable catches in his career.
Donald Driver calls it his best catch that nobody but him remembers, because people always ask him if he even played during his rookie season.
Driver says he’ll never forget it, and he recalls the details of the 12-year-old play as though it happened last week.
It was Dec. 12, 1999, against Carolina at Lambeau Field. The rookie seventh-round draft choice had yet to catch a pass in his career but, in the third quarter, Antonio Freeman needed a breather, and that meant quarterback Brett Favre needed another red-zone target.
“They’re screaming for me to go in,” Driver said. “Brett was just like, ‘Calm down. Relax.’”
The play was called “flanker drive,” and the rookie was wide open for an 8-yard touchdown, his first NFL catch and score wrapped into one.
“Carolina did not care about me,” Driver said. “They didn’t cover me. They let me go free, and I ended up walking into the end zone.”
He also ended up showing he was a rookie in more ways than one.
“I didn’t know the ‘Lambeau Leap’ was a big thing at that time,” Driver said. “I saw guys do it, but I thought that was their own little celebration, so I started doing my little celebration. I started dancing and going crazy. Everybody kept pointing, ‘Go leap,’ and I never did.”
Rest assured, Driver has done a “Leap” for each of the other 21 touchdowns he has scored at Lambeau Field since then. He also has added 697 catches for 9,607 yards since that initial 8-yarder that no one could have predicted would become as historical as it has.
Even if the catch that started it all isn’t in fans’ memory banks, plenty of other plays are, and perhaps the most remarkable thing about Driver’s career is that many of the 36-year-old’s most memorable plays have come recently.
Just last year he made his most remarkable play, fighting off a half-dozen San Francisco defenders on his way to a 61-yard touchdown at Lambeau Field. Afterward, quarterback Aaron Rodgers called it the most amazing play he’d ever been a part of, and the highlight was especially gratifying to Driver.
Only five weeks prior, Driver’s streak of consecutive games with a reception had ended, mostly because a quadriceps injury limited his snaps. The injury forced him out at halftime the following week, and then he missed an entire game due to injury for the first time since 2003.
After shedding tackle after tackle down the Lambeau Field sideline against the 49ers, the old man still had it, to use Driver’s words at the time.
“I guess when so many people were saying that they felt like I was done, I felt like that moment stood out, not just for myself, not just for the organization, but also for the fans,” Driver said. “Everyone was pretty shocked just to see how a guy that age can continue to play at a high level.
“After that play, everyone kept asking me, ‘Where does that go in your plays in your career?’ That had to be No. 1.”
His most difficult catches weren’t long ago, either. The two he ranks at the top of that list were both in 2009.
In Week 3 at St. Louis, a Rams cornerback was grabbing Driver’s right arm on a sideline go route, so Driver used his free left hand to snag a 46-yard pass, even pinning it against his shoulder pads and helmet a la David Tyree of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Then, just two games later, at home against Detroit, he repeated the impressive one-handed feat for a 37-yard gain, despite interference once again from a defender.
Earlier in that Detroit game, Driver had broken Sterling Sharpe’s franchise record for receptions, which stood at 595 since Sharpe’s abrupt retirement in 1994. Sharpe told Driver before the game to make sure he scored on the record-breaking catch, and he almost pulled it off.
Catching a quick hitch at the Detroit 11-yard line, Driver did his typical bobbing and weaving but was still brought down at the 6.
“You go back and watch that play, I made the first guy miss and I was trying to get in that end zone bad, just to make it special, but unfortunately it didn’t happen,” Driver said.
A touchdown would be the ideal way to break Lofton’s yardage record, of course. Driver keeps the ball from his first touchdown of every season, so if his first touchdown this year comes at the same time he eclipses 42 yards for 2011, he couldn’t ask for anything more.
He’s way beyond that point already, though.
“Coming here in 1999, the milestones I have accomplished, I would have never dreamed of,” Driver said. “When it’s all said and done, to be mentioned in the same breath with all the great receivers that played in this great organization before me, that’s something you have to cherish for a long time.”
To see the complete interview, click here. Additional coverage - Sept. 6