Driver's Big Night Lost in Shuffle

Donald Driver tied a big franchise record and made a key recovery of an onside kick on Thursday night against New Orleans. But the scene at his locker after the game told a different story.

Quietly, unassumingly and beneath the notice of most around him, Donald Driver walked up to his locker and began to get dressed. First shorts, a tank, those sparkling diamond earrings and his watch. A throng of reporters surrounded Greg Jennings to his left. Even more lights, cameras and microphones circled rookie Randall Cobb on his right.

Tucked in between the team's No. 1 receiver and a player drafted to one day replace him was the guy who had just tied the record for the most receiving yards in the storied history of the Green Bay Packers, matching James Lofton's 9,656 yards. On his way to 41 yards on four catches, Driver became the first Packer and 33rd player in NFL history to hit the 700-receptions mark.

And in a wild 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints to kick off the season, Driver went airborne to recover an onside kick with 2:15 remaining in the game. It didn't seal the win, but it kept the Saints from getting a short field to work with. Green Bay would end up punting and New Orleans would drive 79 yards, getting stuffed from the 1-yard line on the game's final play.

It easily ranks as one of the most exciting games ever played at Lambeau Field, and came on the heels of an all-day kickoff celebration that featured concerts by Maroon 5, Kid Rock and Lady Antebellum.

Still, as the 13-year vet put his headphones and personal items into a backpack, you'd never know anything of historical significance had just taken place. Jennings led the team with seven catches for 89 yards and snared the first of three first-quarter touchdowns by Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile Cobb, the second-round draft pick out of Kentucky, hauled in a 32-yarder that put Green Bay up 21-7. That seemed impressive on its own until the third quarter, when the Cobb busted out the moves like Jagger on his way to a franchise-record, 108-yard kickoff return that put the Packers up 35-20.

Just 1 more yard would've put Driver in sole position of the record. They would've stopped the game and handed him the ball. The home crowd would've responded with a thunderous ovation and the Jumbotron would've flashed 9,657.

Instead, Driver flashed his signature smile as he grabbed his shirt and turned from his locker.

"I'm not thinking about it no more, it's over," Driver said. "Can't do anything about it now. I'm glad I got it."

The night before the opener, his wife gave birth to a baby girl — 7-pound, 3-ounce Charity Danette Driver — the couple's third child. And on Thursday, Driver tied a mark no one ever saw coming back when he was picked in the seventh round of the 1999 draft out of Alcorn State. Not a bad 24-hour stretch. But the charismatic veteran's quick exit seemed to indicate that 1 more yard might have been nice. He's played host to plenty of media entourages over the years, but on this night, as a reigning world champion, in front of the home crowd, it would've been a nice fit.

"I was hoping we'd get him another catch," Rodgers said. "I knew we were close. When I hit him on that pass (when) we were going in (for a fourth-quarter touchdown), I knew that he was in the 30s and we had to get 42 (yards) to break it. I threw it to him and he looked up at the scoreboard — I think he was seeing how many yards we got — and his expression kind of said that he was a little short. We were trying to get him the ball again, just didn't have the opportunity."

The pass Rodgers' was referring to was on Green Bay 's final scoring drive and it was vintage Driver. On first-and-10 from the Saints' 23-yard line, Rodgers took the shotgun snap, stepped up, pumped twice and looked for someone to come open. Driver was lined up in the slot on Rodgers' right in a three-receiver set. Coming across the middle, he reached out with both hands and snatched the ball out of the air as linebacker Jonathan Vilma ran him over from behind.

That's where Driver makes his living and earned most of those 9,000-plus yards. He's an anti-diva. He thrives on the dirty work. He moves the chains. And in 13 seasons, Driver's never lost the work ethic of that small-school long-shot trying to make the team. Not after becoming a starter in his fourth season, not after three Pro Bowl selections, not after winning a Super Bowl.

The record he shares with Lofton, a Packers and Pro Football Hall of Famer, is one of persistence and longevity. Of performance and passion. It comes with memories of shimmies after a big play, of busted fingers, and being hoisted up on a former quarterback's shoulders. Quietly, and unassumingly, all those yards added up.

Now he'll wait one more week for 1 more yard.


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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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