GREEN BAY – As the 1999 draft wound down to the seventh round, then Packers general manager Ron Wolf saw one player left on his board graded a bit higher than everyone else.
“I think he was up there in the fourth round,” Wolf said of the scouting staff’s evaluation. “The board was wiped out, and we kept staring at Donald Driver, Donald Driver.
“Even though we thought we didn’t need a wide receiver, we finally took one, and look what happened.”
Packers fans are forever grateful Driver’s availability couldn’t be ignored. Green Bay drafted him with its final pick in ’99, No. 213 overall in the seventh round, and over the next 14 years, Driver would go on to become the franchise’s all-time leading receiver.
Driver was immortalized on Saturday night at Lambeau Field with his induction into the Packers Hall of Fame. It’s an honor that was inevitable once his name was splashed all over the team record books but equally improbable given his humble upbringing in Houston, modest college career at Division I-AA Alcorn State, and longshot status in the draft.
Driver caught just 37 passes over his first three years but then developed into a go-to guy. He eventually posted seven seasons with 70-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards, breaking Sterling Sharpe’s franchise mark for receptions and James Lofton’s for receiving yardage.
His career totals of 743 catches and 10,137 yards go along with three Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl title, plenty to be proud of for a guy who started by running around with reckless abandon on special teams just to get noticed in practice.
“I don’t know if it’s one thing specific that I can pick,” Driver said Saturday, regarding what he’s most proud of. “Everything in my career has been truly a blessing. I think God made a way out of no way.”
From living out of the back of a U-Haul truck at one point as a kid, Driver grew to love football from his father, a quarterback who earned a scholarship to Texas A&M and might have turned pro if not for his own father’s death, which forced him to give up his NFL dreams and take care of the family.
Driver simply never let his dream die. Wolf credited Alonzo Highsmith, now the Packers’ senior personnel executive, for scouting Driver at Alcorn State. Then, as a rookie longshot, Driver kept making an acrobatic play almost daily in his first training camp.
“He was just fearless, so you knew right away if we nurture this, we have something really special here,” said Wolf, who presented Driver for induction. “If he doesn’t kill himself first.
“Obviously we didn’t realize the steps this young fellow here would take, but we didn’t draft players to fail. We drafted players we thought would have an opportunity to make our team, and Donald more than did that.”
He even overcame a scary neck injury in 2003 against the Vikings that saw him leave a nearly silent Lambeau Field on a stretcher. Driver said after that, his wife wanted him to hang it up.
“I told her, ‘I don’t think God’s done with us yet. If I can recover from this, let’s just see where God takes us,’” Driver said. “Eleven years later, He took us to places we never thought we would go. It’s been truly amazing.”
A fan favorite who triumphed on “Dancing With The Stars” before his final season in 2012, Driver was involved in countless community endeavors during his time in Green Bay. His post-football life has continued in that vein, with television and book projects oriented toward special, inspirational stories.
None will ever be as big as his own, though.
He admitted the thought of entering the Packers Hall of Fame never crossed his mind until he was approaching Sharpe’s franchise receptions record in 2009. Two years later, he broke Lofton’s yardage mark after missing the second half of the Super Bowl due to a leg injury.
“To be the all-time Packers leading receiver in franchise history, that tells you you’re among some of the greatest icons and legends that have played in green and gold,” Driver said. “To surpass those individuals is something I know I’m going to cherish for a long time.
“And my day will come when somebody will break mine, and I hope they cherish it as much as I cherished it when I broke theirs.”
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