Hall of Fame or Not, Driver Beyond Compare

The incomparable Donald Driver talked about his dream of being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While only a fool would bet against Driver, that seems like the longest of long shots. That's OK. With what he's done on and off the field, Driver is a Packers legend.

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. — I learned long, long ago to never doubt Donald Driver.

I remember the 2003 opener against Minnesota, when Driver was hit, landed on his head and suffered a sprained neck. He wound up missing just one game but never looked like the same player. He finished the season with just 52 catches, 621 yards and two touchdowns after hauling in 70 balls for 1,064 yards and nine touchdowns during a breakout 2002, his first year as a starter.

In one of my more brilliant columns for the old Green Bay News-Chronicle, I wrote that the injury perhaps had ruined Driver's promising career and the Packers had better look long and hard to find another receiver to pair with Javon Walker in the starting lineup.

Yeah, I got that one wrong. Walker, the Packers' first-round pick in 2002, is out of the league. Driver, a seventh-round pick in 1999, outlasted Walker in Green Bay by five years (and counting) and is on the verge of owning the Packers' career records for receptions (broke James Lofton's record in 2009) and receiving yards (needs 42 yards to break Lofton's record).

Driver, just like fellow elderstatesman Charles Woodson, is one of the most driven men I've ever met. Driver is coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued 12th season in the league. I'm not about to say Driver is done — I try to limit stupid mistakes to once a decade — but, let's face facts.

Father Time always wins. He's the undisputed champion, regardless of sport.

A normal 36-year-old man, finally in possession of that elusive Super Bowl ring, might succumb to Father Time's unrelenting pursuit without a fight. A normal man might hang on for the record, then drift off into the sunset, content that his accomplishments will last forever.

Driver, of course, is no normal man. That much became apparent long, long ago.

"I have the Super Bowl ring now, I have the Pro Bowls, I've played for 10 years. Now, it's just trying to put the final stamp on it," Driver told Packer Report before Sunday's softball game. "And that's just to make sure that no one ever breaks my records. That's what James wanted. That's what Sterling (Sharpe) wanted. Records are meant to be broken, and I want mine to never be broken. If I can play two to three more years and put a nice little stamp on it, those records will stand there forever.

Donald Driver signs autographs after the game.
Bill Huber/Packer Report
"When it's all said and done, maybe one day I can stand in Canton, Ohio, saying, 'I made it.' And my number gets retired. You dream about all that. Unfortunately, I never thought about that early in my career. I was just trying to make the team. And now that I'm there, that's kind of my goal, to make sure that if that number can ever get retired, it'd be great. If my name can ever get up in the ring in Lambeau, that'd be great. And one day be in Canton, Ohio. I think that's everybody's dream once they accomplish all their other goals."

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is about as realistic for Driver as this piece winning me a Pulitzer. That's not meant to disparage anything Driver has done. Cris Carter is the third-leading receiver in NFL history, Tim Brown the fourth-leading receiver and Andre Reed the 10th-leading receiver. All dwarf Driver in terms of touchdowns, too. None of them are in the Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame isn't for the very good. It's for the great — the best of the best. Put together what Driver is doing on the field with what he's doing off of it, and his career is practically beyond compare. He holds franchise records for receptions and consecutive games with a reception, and soon he'll hold the record for receiving yards. That he's a beloved player in Packers history speaks volumes to the power of work, a killer smile and a heart of gold.

"I was talking to Tim Brown when he was a finalist for the Hall of Fame," Driver said. "I talked to him the Friday night before the Super Bowl. I told him, ‘Congratulations.' He said, ‘Drive, you know something, if you win the Super Bowl, they will have to look at you as being a candidate for the Hall of Fame.' For him to say that, that was something that made me dream about it even more. For a guy that's been playing as long as he's played it and accomplished so many goals and dreams, when Tim Brown told me they'll have to look at me as a candidate, I shook my head that night and said, ‘All I have to do is win the Super Bowl and I'll get an opportunity to maybe one day be there.' Will that dream ever come true? I don't know. I hope it will. For me, that's a goal. If it happens, it's going to be truly an honor because it was never a goal of mine early in my career."

Hall of Fame is just a title, of course. In the end, it's the full scope of a man's life that counts. Being a Super Bowl champion is great — he got to read his "Quickie Makes the Team" in front of first lady Michelle Obama at the Library of Congress in March. It might not get him into the Hall of Fame, but that's OK. He's in an untold number of kids' personals halls of fame.

"Everywhere you go now, people recognize you as the Super Bowl champ," Driver said. "It's not, 'There goes Donald Driver' anymore. It's 'There goes The Champ.' And that right there is the big ticket for me, because now when it's all said and done, that's the first thing that they'll say on my resume is 'Donald Driver, Super Bowl XLV champ' and everything else after that. That's a big stamp on your legacy, and that's kind of where I want to be. I want to be at a point where I can always walk back in Wisconsin and the fans continue to love me for the person that I am."

Mission accomplished. And that's something that not even Father Time can take away.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.

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