Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series dedicated to longtime Green Bay Packers’ players who are likely to depart this offseason. The first post, a toast to Greg Jennings, can be found here. A tribute to Charles Woodson will follow by the end of the week.
What can you say about Donald Driver? I mean, this dude, his actions on and off the field, is set to go down in Packers’ lore, if he hasn’t already. A pro’s pro, Driver’s been the one constant, from the post-Mike Holmgren recovery years, to the Mike Sherman early playoff exits, through the Favre retirement (and unretirement) fiasco and into the Aaron Rodgers’ era.
Driver is far from the most talented wide receiver to don green and gold — and that’s not a rip on Driver, who’s, through all the years, kept himself in great shape — but I would put his drive (no pun intended) up against anyone’s. Remember his 61-yard catch-and-run TD against the 49ers’ defense, a unit coached by legendary Chicago Bears’ linebacker Mike Singletary, in 2010. Well, the video below should remind you.
I count at least five broken tackles there … and that he, you know, carried four San Francisco defenders into the endzone. And he did this all battling a bad case of food poisoning from some chicken wings he ate the night before. At age 35, in his twelfth NFL season.
If the NFL is a young man’s game, you wouldn’t know from Driver. A model of consistency, between 2002 and 2009, Driver only missed the 1,000-yard receiving plateau once. Driver never grabbed the number of TD catches that you might expect, leaving those catches for guys like Bubba Franks, Javon Walker, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and, most recently, James Jones; but he had two 9-TD seasons and another 8-TD campaign.
If you ever needed a 3rd-and-5 catch to milk the clock up 3 in the final five minutes, Driver was your guy. He’s as tough as nails, never shying away from a safety or linebacker across the middle. And you could always count on DD being there on Sunday; between 2000, his sophomore year, and 2011, he missed a combined six games. (And a lot of those were meaningless, Week 17 we-have-everything-all-wrapped-up contests.)
Yes, Driver’s production has dipped over the past three years, but I’d argue that’s more an effect of a deeper core of younger, more explosive playmakers than a particularly sharp decline in Driver’s production level. I’m more than confident in saying that if Driver was called upon to be the No. 1 guy in a game next weekend, he could give me 8 catches, 110 yards and a TD.
Donald’s contract is up, and it’s unlikely the Packers will go out of their way to sign him to even a 1-year deal, even with Greg Jennings, who assumed the #1 mantle from Driver years ago, also likely to depart. The Packers already have Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and some promising youngsters in Jeremy Ross and Jarrett Boykin to handle the pass-catching responsibilities. There’s just no room for Driver on the depth chart.
Obviously Packers fans would like to see Donald, 37 now and 38 in February, call it quits in Green Bay and proceed to a comfortable front office position. But if Driver still thinks he can play — and I don’t doubt he can — we shouldn’t hold any hard feelings if he decides to go elsewhere.
Driver has blessed the Packers with 14 great years, amounting 743 receptions, 10,137 yards (both tops in franchise history) and 61 touchdowns, just in the regular season. (Remember his 90-yard TD catch in an otherwise forgettable 2008 NFC Championship Game? Now that was a thing of beauty!)
That’s, of course, not even mentioning his community involvement, which I couldn’t even begin to give justice to in a 700-word blog post. He did receive the Packers’ Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2002, received a JB (named after CBS host James Brown) Award for community service and was referenced by Sporting News as one of the NFL’s “good guys” in 2004. Hell, he’s written three best-selling children’s books.
Donald’s given everything he could possibly give to the Packers and the Green Bay community since 1999. For a 7th-round pick (No. 213 overall in ’99) out of Alcorn State, I’d say we got a bargain. And, Packers fans, it’s time to say thanks to Double-D, maybe the best wide receiver this organization has ever seen.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.