Driver's Legacy: Popularity to Match Talent
;

Driver's Legacy: Popularity to Match Talent

Tears, cheers and quite possibly a few beers. Donald Driver's retirement ceremony at the Lambeau Field Atrium provided a one-of-a-kind day for a one-of-a-kind player. Our Matt Tevsh was there and offers his thoughts on the legacy Driver leaves after 14 years in Green Bay.

It was a ceremony fit for a dignitary – a dedication, a key to the city, a street sign, video tributes and well wishes.

More than anything, though, it was about a connection between Green Bay Packers fans and a player they so admired.

Donald Driver's official retirement announcement on Wednesday closed the book on his remarkable football career with the Green Bay Packers (1999-2012). Between the tears, choked-up words and touching moments were cheers and an energy that could only be matched by a game-day atmosphere.

"This is the first time in Packers' history that we've had a public retirement of one of our players in front of the fans," Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy told those in attendance at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

In a unique forum for this type of announcement, media, Packers players and staff, local politicians, and Driver's family and friends joined more than 1,000 fans who were granted access to the hour-long event. Free tickets, made available to the public last week, were gone in 15 minutes. Some waited in subfreezing temperatures hours before the 11 a.m. start just to get a good spot inside, a good view of their Titletown hero.

On this day, for these fans, Driver would want it no other way.

"I told myself that I wasn't going to cry today so I'm going to try to hold all the emotions back as much as possible," Driver said in his opening comments. "But I have to say this, that I love you all so much. You guys stood out in the cold to get tickets to share this moment with me. You all are crazy. But now you know why Packer fans are so special because they show the loyalty. They show the respect. So now, I give you all the respect."

Driver's rise to stardom has been well-documented. From a tough childhood growing up in Texas to a long-shot seventh-round draft pick of the Packers to becoming a four-time Pro Bowler, he made a name for himself on the football field. Off the field, his charitable work and generosity endeared him to the local community like few other Packers before him.

This past offseason, Driver was part of the winning tandem on ABC's hit show "Dancing With the Stars." That publicity garnered him another level of popularity and a wider fan base. Moms and grandmas who might not have known as much about the Packers before would soon be wondering why Driver was on the sideline for so much of his last season in Green Bay.

One of the best illustrations of Driver's respect for the fans came during the middle part of his career, in 2003, just a year after establishing himself as a starter. In a game at San Diego that season, he celebrated a touchdown with teammate Robert Ferguson by pretending to take pictures of Ferguson in almost a paparazzi-type fashion in the end zone. It was perceived by some as an orchestrated, over-the-top act. Soon after, he received a letter from a fan saying how inappropriate the display was, and in a manner of speaking, that he was much better than what he showed.

Driver took it to heart and admitted the act was wrong. He apologized and said he would never do anything like it again. He never did.

From there on out, the focus was more on Lambeau Leaps as a mode of celebration. His 30 touchdown catches (including the playoffs) at Lambeau Field were second only to Antonio Freeman. When it was all said and done, the wiggly wide receiver would become the franchise's all-time leader in receptions (743) and receiving yards (10,137) among an elite group that includes Sterling Sharpe, James Lofton and Don Hutson.

Some players pave their legacy with statistics. But records, even Driver's, are made to be broken.

Some players pave their legacy with longevity. But years, even Driver's incredible 14 with the Packers, could well be eclipsed by another.

And some players pave their legacy with championships. But titles, even Driver's storied Super Bowl triumph, will be won by others.

No one, however, will ever claim more popularity as a Packer. That was clearly evident on Wednesday.

"This day is not just for me, this day is for you," said Driver in his closing remarks to the fans. "Twelve years ago, I signed my first big contract for the Green Bay Packers and I promised you all that I would never wear another uniform. So today, we make that official. I keep my promise to you. The loyalty you all have instilled in me and my family, I have to keep my loyalty to you and not play for another team and to retire in the green and gold. I love you all, take care and God bless."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com