Donald Driver did it the "right" way.
Increasingly in sports, that matters.
He turns 38 on Saturday, and decided that after 14 years and over 200 regular season games that it was time to hang up the spikes. Driver has long said he wanted to play until he was 40, but rather than move on from the Green Bay Packers and play for another team for the next two seasons, he decided to retire.
So, he goes out as a Green Bay Packer – from start to finish.
It’s a nearly impossible feat to accomplish in professional sports, let alone one as cold-blooded as football where any injury, any slip in production, can lead to your dismissal. Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Emmitt Smith and Peyton Manning weren’t able to do it. Brett Favre certainly wasn't able to do it.
Wearing one jersey matters not only to fans, but to players. It’s a source of pride. You’ll hear Driver talk about that next week during his farewell press conference from Lambeau Field. You’ll hear it again when he’s inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.
It clearly mattered to him, too.
While he didn't catch the Super Bowl clinching touchdown in his final game, his on-field exit will always be remembered. The fact that he volunteered to play on special teams just to get on the field will always be held up as examples of sportsmanship and team play.
Despite being inactive, or unused, for most of the season, he never complained. Sure, he maintained he could contribute, but he was never a distraction.
He had every opportunity to become one, especially when Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb all missed time with injuries.
Yet he’ll be remembered as the 14-year vet who wanted to block on punts just to play.
That matters, too.
Now, some of that is smart business. Look at the damage Brett Favre did (you’ll be hearing that comparison a lot the next week). Don’t think Driver – or Greg Jennings – haven’t learned from that disaster.
Driver can show his face in Green Bay, Milwaukee or anywhere in Wisconsin for that matter, and never buy a meal or drink the rest of his life. He’ll always be cheered, always have his back slapped.
Businesses will want him to pitch their products until he dies. Restaurants will want his name attached.
Favre? There’s still some healing to do.
The other conversation being had at this point is where Driver ranks in the pantheon of all-time Packers greats. This is where it gets difficult.
According to team website, Driver hangs up his spikes with the following Packers records.
- Most receptions (743)
- Most receiving yards (10,137)
- Most 1,000-yard seasons (seven, a record six of them consecutive from 2004-09)
- Most 50-catch seasons (nine, also a consecutive record from 2002-10)
- Most consecutive games with a reception (133)
- Most receptions at Lambeau Field (363)
- Most receiving yards at Lambeau Field (5,000)
Yet I can’t say he was better than Sterling Sharpe, who I grew up watching. Many believe Don Hutson – even James Lofton – were better receivers also.
But in the end, that matters little. He’s in the conversation. And with an organizational history that runs as deep as the Packers’, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
This is where Driver will do it "right" as well. While he may think he’s the best to ever catch a pass in green and gold, he won’t come out like Randy Moss and definitively state it, discounting everyone else.
That humility, that perspective – that’s what matters. That’s what Driver will be remembered for.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.