Donald Driver quickly turned emotional when discussing his selection to the Packers Hall of Fame.
“In 1999, when I got drafted by the Packers, I could not have ever imagined myself going into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame,” Driver said, pausing and clearing his throat. “It’s a true testimony to my journey on and off the field. It’s something I can always look back and be able to tell my kids that their dad, he accomplished something great. Sometimes words can’t even express how you feel but it’s truly been a blessing to now be among the greatest players (in Packers history). To be among those great icons and legends is truly special.”
Driver will be joined by former Packers cornerback Mark Lee in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017. They will be inducted on July 22.
Driver, selected in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, was a four-time Pro Bowler and part of the team’s Super Bowl XVL championship team in 2010. Driver played in 205 games during his 14-year Packers career, the second-most in franchise history behind only quarterback Brett Favre. He is the Packers’ all-time leader in receptions (743) and receiving yards (10,137), and his 62 career touchdowns ranks fifth in team history. He played in 133 consecutive games and was incredibly consistent with nine consecutive seasons of 50-plus receptions.
For a six-year stretch, he was among the best receivers in the NFL. He had 84 catches in 2004, 86 in 2005, 92 in 2006, 82 in 2007, 74 in 2008 and 70 in 2009. He topped 1,000 yards in each of those seasons.
As one of the team’s best and most-beloved players, Driver’s Hall of Fame selection was to be expected. So why so emotional?
“It’s just because ... man ...” Driver said, pausing again, “just because of all the things that I’ve accomplished, from a child growing up to being the first one in my family to graduate from college, to be drafted and have a successful career. To achieve all the success with three beautiful kids, an amazing wife, these things you can’t take for granted. They’re priceless.”
Driver’s final season was 2012. He said he could have played elsewhere but wouldn’t even consider putting on another team’s jersey.
“I’ve always said, the fans are what make me go,” Driver said. “They are the heart and soul. When I’m out there on that field, my heart beats for them. Every catch is for them, every block. Everything I do is for the fans. When I got done playing, I wasn’t ready to retire but I owed it to the fans to put my cleats on the shelf because I promised them I would never wear another uniform.”
Lee was a second-round draft pick in 1980 out of Washington who played 11 seasons for the Packers.
“I actually didn’t even know where Green Bay was, so I had to go to a map to find out,” Lee said.
His forte was bump-and-run coverage, with his physicality vs. the pass and against the run being well-suited for today’s NFL. He intercepted 31 passes during his career, which ranks second all-time among Packers cornerbacks behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Herb Adderley and eighth overall. Lee’s biggest seasons came in 1981, his first year as a starter, when he had six interceptions, and a career-high nine thefts in 1986. Lee added 104 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.
Lee’s career ended with a combined eight games for the Saints and 49ers in 1991. Now, 25 years later, he’s finally being honored by the Packers Hall of Fame.
“You never know when you’re going to get that call,” Lee said. “I was one of those guys that got the call pretty late after I retired. I was stunned, to tell you the truth. I always wanted to be in it. You don’t really think about it as you’re playing. Even after you’ve retired for a few years, you still don’t think about it but you sit back and look at the work that you’ve done. You always kind of play it in your mind, ‘Did I do enough to get that honor?’ It’s always in the back of your head. I was just so excited — kind of speechless at the time. Every player wants to get that call and a lot of them don’t. I’m very honored and blessed to receive that.”
Like Driver, Lee was incredibly durable, having missed only eight games during his Packers career while starting 139 of 157 contests. The team wasn’t very good during Lee’s tenure, though he did have a pick-six against Dallas in the 1982 playoffs.
“Just that game alone right there and being in the playoffs — we didn’t get there much in my career — that was probably one of the most memorable games,” Lee said.
He’s retired but active in the Seattle community, where he works with kids, including Pop Warner football. “I spend my time giving back to some of the kids that would like to do some of the things that me and Donald had done over the years. Just trying to keep their head in the right perspective because every little kid looks on TV and says, ‘I want to just like that,’ but we know it don’t happen like that and you have to have some instrumental people in your lives to lead you in those directions and keep your head on your shoulders.”
Driver and Lee are the 158th and 159th players to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.