The guest of honor shed a few tears and at times found himself choked up, but for most of the hour receiver Donald Driver flashed his signature megawatt smile as the Green Bay Packers celebrated his career at his retirement party Wednesday. Head coach Mike McCarthy, general manager Ted Thompson, CEO Mark Murphy, teammates and Packers staff were all on hand to pay tribute to Driver, who finishes his playing career as the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions (743) and receiving yards (10,137).
“I felt that this was an opportunity to walk away from the game, knowing that I have given it all that I can.”
Driver went from a seventh round draft pick out of Alcorn State in 1999 to one of the most consistent receivers that the Packers have ever had. He ranks second in team history in games played (205), first in 1,000 yard seasons (seven), and holds the franchise record for consecutive games with a reception (133) and seasons with 50-plus catches (nine).
“When I walked in here in 1999, I felt like I could do anything if I believed that anything was possible. I had the work ethic and I wasn’t going to let it slip away. Look at me now, I’m the all-time leading receiver in Packers history.”
During his career, Driver became one of the most beloved players in Packers history, so it was only fitting that for the first time in team history a player’s retirement ceremony was opened up to the public. 1,500 fans crammed into the Lambeau Field Atrium to show their admiration for Driver. He thanked not only those in attendance, but all Packer fans.
“I want to thank you all for the love, the joy, the cheers, the ups and though we haven’t given you too many downs. This day is not just for me, this day is for you.”
When trying to boil down Driver’s career, three highlights come to mind. An 85-yard touchdown reception against the Bears in 2002, a 90-yard touchdown catch against the Giants in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, and his 61-yard touchdown against the 49ers in 2010. But it was playing in and winning the Super Bowl in 2010 that was Driver’s favorite highlight.
“If you had to pick one (memory), I would probably say the moment when I ran out the tunnel at the Super Bowl. That was a moment I’ll never forget. I think as an NFL player, we always say that’s the greatest milestone. To make it to the National Football League and win a Super Bowl ring. I’ll never forget that moment, running out of that tunnel and holding that trophy up at the end of the game.”
There had been rumors that Driver was thinking about continuing his career with another team. The receiver drew loud cheers and applause when he assured those in the Lambeau Field Atrium that that would not be the case.
“Twelve years ago, I signed my first big contract with the Green Bay Packers and I promised you all that I would not wear another uniform. So today, we make that official. I keep my promise to you. The loyalty you have all instilled in me and my family, I have to keep my loyalty to you and not play for another team and retire in the green and gold.”
The ceremony included a video tribute to Driver, which had well-wishes from Bob Harlan, James Lofton, Bart Starr and many of his “Dancing With The Stars” co-stars. Governor Scott Walker declared Wednesday as “Donald Driver Day” in Wisconsin and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt presented Driver with the key to the city. It was also announced that Driver would have a street named in his honor (Donald Driver Way) and a generic Packers receiver statue on that street would be refurbished to represent Driver.
Driver’s post-football plans include co-hosting “The Katie Couric Show” within the next week, hosting “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition” with Chris Powell, and the release of a book about his life in September.