Donald Driver Day
Driver: 'It's time for the next chapter'
GREEN BAY - "I told myself I wasn't going to cry today," said a teary-eyed, but ever joyful Donald Driver as he said goodbye to his career as a record-breaking wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers, and his fans were there to thank him.
"I love you all so much."
Driver spoke to teammates, coaches, Packers officials and untold numbers of fans at the Atrium at Lambeau Field.
Among his comments were loads of gratitude, to his God.
"First I would like to thank God for allowing me to be here...a blessing to have the ability to play this game, to see the love, joy, dedication."
Then, to his wife, not just for directing him toward his next calling in life...
"My wife made it clear the first thing in retirement is getting the squirrels out of our attic."
...but for their incredible togetherness.
"You're the backbone of our family...life without you in my life is nothing. I love you."
He directed comments towards his teammates, coaches and those in the Packers organization who believed in him and chose him in the 7th round of the 1999 draft.
"The man that came down to Alcorn State and said this guy is something special...Alonzo Highsmith...I love you, I really do...the man that don't talk to much and plays the poker face...the great Ted Thompson...I've got to thank one of my good friends...it's an honor to play for Coach Mike McCarthy."
Then, came the fans.
"You stood out in the cold to get tickets to share this moment with me. You all are crazy!" he quipped, before giving a more heartfelt batch of thanks.
"To the fans. I want to thank you for the love, joy, the cheers, the ups, and though we didn't give you too many downs. This day is for you...I promised I would never wear another uniform. I keep my promise to you. I have to keep my loyalty to you and not play for another team."
He even recounted one of the darkest moments of his life, one that led to him taking the amazing road he has to help his family, and impact his team and community.
"Laying in bed, 24 years ago w/my brother. I told my brother I would take our family out of the struggles."
He fulfilled that promise, becoming the Packers' all-time leading receiver.
Accolades, love came from dignitaries, coaches and fans
"We love him for the player he was, and we love him for the man he is," said Packers Radio Network color voice Larry McCarren, emceeing the event.
The verbal accolades rained down on Driver during the ceremony.
"He represents the very best of the Packers and has been a great ambassador for the organization," said Packers President Mark Murphy. "More meaningful was the impact he made off the field...one of the greatest stories in Packers history when you look at the humble beginnings Donald came from."
"A skinny wide receiver from Alcorn (State)...you could see the joy Donald had in playing," explained Ted Thompson, the Packers' general manager. "It doesn't really matter (your draft pick) when you have character, quality and confidence...he's been a great addition to the Green Bay Packers and we were lucky to have him."
"The word special...that describes Donald," said Packers Coach Mike McCarthy before quipping, "In my humble opinion, he's the all-time leading Lambeau Leaper."
While describing Driver off the field, "To spend time with (Driver's) family..." McCarthy then teared up.
"Your contribution to the history of the Green Bay Packers has been extraordinary." said Bart Starr on video.
Governor Scott Walker declared today Donald Driver Day, and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt said the city would change a statue of a wide receiver in Downtown Green Bay into a statue of Driver while naming the street by the statue "Donald Driver Way."
"There couldn't be anyone more proud to be a role model on or off the field than Donald Driver," said Walker.
"You have lifted so many lives in this community," added Schmitt. "You will always be a friend of this city."
A full crowd gathered inside the Atrium at Lambeau Field for the event.
Fans arrived as late as 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night to get the best seats for the event.
"It's pretty exciting to be part of it experience it with him. It's going to be sad, but it's going to be fun while we're here," said one fan who talked with TODAY'S TMJ4's Rod Burks on Wednesday morning.
Some fans even had portable heaters as they waited, but one fan said her heater ran out during the night.
It didn't stop their enthusiasm for the event.
One fan told TODAY'S TMJ4's Cody Holyoke through tears, "We just love him so much."
Driver owns team records for
- Most receptions
- Most seasons with 50-plus receptions
- Most consecutive games with a reception
- Most receiving yards
- Most seasons with 1,000-plus receiving yards
He has three Pro Bowl appearances to his resume as well, in 2002, 2006 and 2007.
His best seasons came during that six year stretch, when for five of those six years, he gained more than 1,000 yards receiving.
Driver's best season came in 2004, when he caught 84 passes for 1,208 yards and nine touchdowns.
When asked about particular memories, Driver responded, "Just running through that tunnel means more to me than anything else. Not too many people can get that opportunity, and I was blessed to be able to do it."
However, he says his greatest moments came when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV.
"The greatest milestone is to make it to the Super Bowl as an NFL player. I'm blessed to have a Super Bowl ring," explained Driver.
Perhaps one of his hardest came in the 2012 finale, when the Packers lost in the NFC divisional playoff to San Francisco.
"It was tough. You sit on the sideline, and you think 'What can you do to help?' There was nothing I could do at that time. You know this could be the last game in that uniform. I gave the guys hugs and told them 'It was great playing with you guys. I'll miss you guys.' "
At the time of his retirement, he stood 10th among all active players for most receptions, eighth for most receiving yards and ninth for most touchdowns receiving.
Driver was also known for his charitable works and winning the reality competition "Dancing with the Stars" in 2012.
He kidded about the idea of returning to the show when discussing his future plans.
"I've got my life story, my book coming out in September." Then, he joked, "Maybe I'll get back on 'Dancing With The Stars.' "
"Whatever God has in store for me, I want to follow that road. The opportunities will be there...God has made my life so special, especially with my wife and kids. I'll be a husband and father for a while, and then eye what's next for me."
Driver made sure, however, that he would keep his ties to Green Bay strong.
"I'm not going anywhere. Believe that."