The Sentimental Favorite

Just a few days shy of his 36th birthday — and after making the team as a seventh-round pick and handling several years of playoff heartbreaks — Donald Driver finally has his shot at a Super Bowl ring

Had there been a decibel meter on hand at Austin Straubel Airport in Green Bay last Sunday night when the Packers returned home from their NFC Championship to thousands of waiting fans, it would have spiked about halfway through a 10-minute processional of team officials, coaches and players through the terminal.

That was about the time Donald Driver made his march through the wildly cheering throngs, not only an audible indicator of his popularity but the magnitude of his moment.

Though Driver did little on the field only hours before — he had just one catch for 9 yards and even mishandled a low pass that ended up as an interception — he heads to Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 in Arlington, Texas, as the sentimental favorite.

Why? Because no other player on the Packers roster has waited longer to get to a Super Bowl.

"To me, it means everything," said Driver on Monday of finally getting his opportunity to play in the ultimate game. "I think when you're playing in this league a long time, that is the ultimate goal to get to the Super Bowl, and then the ultimate goal after that is to win it. I'm excited about it. Like I said before, it hasn't hit me yet, but I know it will hit me soon that now I have the opportunity to go to the dance. The biggest thing for me now is to put that ring on my finger and be part of my legacy that I've been to the Super Bowl and I've also won the Super Bowl."

Only cornerback Charles Woodson has more NFL experience (13 years) than Driver among a relatively young Packers squad. But Woodson, with the Raiders (1998 through 2005), got a chance to play in Super Bowl XXXVII to conclude the 2002 season.

Driver is the longest-tenured Packer, the one only dating to Ray Rhodes in 1999. That season, Driver made the team as a seventh-round pick out of Alcorn State.

Twelve years later, Driver is a sure-fire Packers Hall of Famer. He is the franchise leader in career catches (698) and 1,000-yard receiving seasons (seven) and is just 41 yards behind James Lofton for all-time receiving yards with 9,615.

Driver and Pickett celebrate at Chicago.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
"He means a lot not only to this team but to this organization," said teammate Greg Jennings on Wednesday. "What he brings to the table is unmatched. You can't supplement for a guy like that. You can't take a piece like that out and kind of just plug a piece in. His veteran leadership, his game smarts, his football IQ. I mean, all of those intangibles, they're hard to imitate. They're hard to duplicate. And with a guy like that, I'm just fortunate he's in our room having not been afforded this opportunity to play on this stage. Obviously, emotionally, there's a lot of things running through his mind, but at the same time he understands that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he's trying to come away with a win as we all are."

Driver, who has played in 12 playoff games, never has been this close to a title. The Packers reached the NFC title game in 2007 but were upset by the Giants, even though Driver hauled in a record 90-yard touchdown from Brett Favre.

While the sting of that game remains in some fashion, the doubt of ever getting back that far again had begun to wane over the past couple years.

"I think you get to a point where it's hard to get here, and once you get in, then you just say ‘Hey, I've got to win it all,'" said Driver. "I don't think we had any doubt that we couldn't get here at all. One thing we did do is we believed. We believed that no one could stop us. It started in March, and the crazy part about it is once we got to training camp, I think guys really believed in it. We started putting Super Bowl everywhere, and now we can say we're in it."

Driver, who turns 36 on Feb. 2, needs just four catches in the Super Bowl to surpass Antonio Freeman (47) for the No. 1 spot in team annals for postseason catches. But like other "senior" teammates Chad Clifton and Woodson, he has accomplished just about everything he could want individually.

"You look at Wood's legacy, and Chad's legacy, and mine," said Driver, "the ultimate goal for that legacy is everybody talks about us to get that Super Bowl ring. If you get that, then you've accomplished everything. I think you kind of have everything in order. Make the team, Pro Bowls, Super Bowl, that's it. Then that's like the final chapter of your book."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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