Driver Handled Declining Role with Class

Perhaps nothing spoke of Donald Driver's professionalism more than how he handled his final years. Once one of the league's elite receivers, a fast-improving group of newcomers chipped away at his role and eventually pushed him out of the league.

Donald Driver, with the rare daily double of having made-for-Hollywood stories on and off the field, had grown into a larger-than-life icon for the Green Bay Packers.

First and foremost, he was a terrific player.

His last-on-the-depth chart to top-of-the-record-books story gave him an every-man appeal that resonated with Joe Fan.

He was a man of the people who, unlike so many in the world of professional sports, seemed to genuinely appreciate the fans.

He took the role of being a role model seriously.

He worked. Hard.

He smiled. A lot.

He danced well, too.

So, Driver had built a lot of cache with the fans, should he ever need to use it. And with his role in the offense becoming smaller and smaller as general manager Ted Thompson added more and more talent to the receiver corps, Driver could have complained.

He could have gotten mad.

He could have turned bitter.

He could have sabotaged the locker room or sought a trade.

Instead, Driver acted like a pro. Acted like a role model.

He might not have been happy. In fact, there were times when he probably wasn't happy. But through it all, Driver kept working, staying ready for opportunities that became more and more fleeting.

Early draft picks were used on Greg Jennings in 2006, James Jones in 2007 and Jordy Nelson in 2008. As they matured into potent playmakers, they gained bigger and bigger roles in the offense.

That meant less and less of a role for Driver. Driver's career countdown began April 29, 2011. That's the day the Packers drafted Driver's successor, Randall Cobb, with the final pick of the second round.

For years, Driver did his best work from the slot. Only the toughest and quickest players excel in that role, where they're as likely to get tackled by a cornerback as they are to get sandwiched between a safety and linebacker. Driver, as tough as his childhood and as quick as you'd expect a kid that went by the name of "Quickie" to be, was as good as it got in the slot.

Thompson drafted Cobb to play that role. A couple stalls apart in the locker room and 15 years apart by age, Cobb wasn't sure what to expect when he arrived in Green Bay.

"‘Drive' has been a blessing to me from the moment I walked through the doors of the Lambeau Field facilities," Cobb said in quotes distributed by the team before Wednesday's news conference. "I will cherish the locker- and meeting-room memories I was fortunate enough to have with him. I will always value the lessons he taught me on the field in showing me how and what it takes to become a great receiver. But the things he taught me about life, as far as being a father, son, brother, role model and friend, will carry much more weight in my life both during and after my playing career. I'm thankful that the Lord crossed our paths and I can only hope and pray to have a career that he has had and make a difference in as many lives as he has."

Those words speak volumes.

Driver held off Cobb in 2011 but Cobb blossomed into one of the year's breakout stars in 2012. Outside of possibly New England's Wes Welker, Cobb emerged as the NFL's best slot receiver. Because of Cobb's excellence, Driver caught just eight passes this season. He'd done at least that good in 17 games over his record-setting career.

It takes a unique man to be as competitive and as proud as Driver, yet show that sort of grace in ceding his role to the next generation of players.

That, more than anything, is what I'll remember most about a man with the big stats, big smile and big heart.


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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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