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Friday, November 1, 2013

Donald Driver reflects on lifelong career with the Green Bay Packers

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 Wide receiver Donald Driver spent his entire 14-year career playing for the Green Bay Packers.

My career in Green Bay got off to a rather inauspicious start.
I still remember the phone call, or at least the call that my Dad said was coming from the Green Bay Packers. I had already given up on the NFL draft, and I was upset that all of the NFL teams had passed on me through six rounds. The San Francisco 49ers had called earlier to tell me that they would take me in the fourth round, but they took Tai Streets instead. Other NFL teams took 24 wide receivers before me, and I just knew that I was better than a number of the players being picked instead of me.
Playing catch in the front yard, I was at least relieved that I had earned my degree from Alcorn State so I could go find a real job as an accountant. Until I heard, "Quickie (my nickname and what everyone in my family called me), the Packers are on the phone". I yelled back, "yeah, right". After some back and forth, I picked up the phone and heard from Mr. Ron Wolf. He told me that the Packers were choosing me with the second of their consecutive 7th round draft picks, and I would be going at pick 213. I asked Ron who they were picking with the 212th pick, and he said "a defensive back you competed against, Chris Akins." I said "Mr. Wolf, I am much better than that guy, at least pick me ahead of him." That's when I heard Chris on the phone, they had called us at the same time! Welcome to the NFL.
My entire life had been spent in Houston and Mississippi. I did not know where Green Bay was, so I boarded my flight to Wisconsin wearing only shorts and a T-shirt. I learned quickly that Green Bay is a little colder than what I was used to.
I also soon discovered that Green Bay fans are the most loyal, die-hard fans in the NFL. They will support you and treat you like family. My first jersey number was No. 13, and I was literally 13th on the depth chart at wide receiver. But that didn't matter to Green Bay fans, who would still cheer for me and for other Packers at practice. It was amazing to see that our fans would fill up Lambeau Field to watch our Family Night Scrimmage. Seeing that many fans for a glorified practice was pretty heady stuff for a skinny kid from the SWAC.
I almost left Green Bay a couple of times. I had competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials for the high jump in college, and I considered another attempt during my Packers career. Thankfully, Ron Wolf offered me his typical, frank advice on that possibility. One year in free agency, I even sat down with the Minnesota Vikings about a possible offer, but it never felt right.
That's why when I retired in February, I wanted the fans to share in the moment by having them attend the retirement ceremony. I was honored that the Packers, for the first time in franchise history, allowed the fans to be a part of the announcement. And I was humbled that Packers fans camped out in freezing temperatures to snap up all of the tickets in about 15 minutes. That's why I promised our amazing fans at my retirement that I would never play for another franchise.
It's not lost on me that getting to spend your entire career with one franchise is not a given. Even some of the best athletes in the world -- Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, LeBron James and Jerry Rice, just to name a few -- for one reason or another, didn't get that opportunity. Other NFL teams have called me about coming out of retirement, but after building a 14-year relationship with the organization, the fans, and Green Bay Nation, I am at peace with my career.
It never ceases to amaze me that the Green Bay Packers have fans and entire fan clubs across the world. Our franchise's history resonates with people because we are owned by the fans, and we thrive in the smallest media market in all of professional sports. I have seen kids wearing Packers jerseys in Africa, and I have even met celebrity Packers fans from London to Japan.
I understand the love affair, because I will be a Green Bay Packers fan for life as well. I will always remember the goose bumps running through the tunnel. My conversations and friendships with Bart Starr, Willie Davis, Jerry Kramer, James Lofton, Reggie White and other Packer Legends will be memories that last a lifetime. And playing with Brett Favre, Charles Woodson, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and all of the other incredible teammates, coaches, leaders and friends will be memories that I will forever cherish. Being able to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Lombardi Avenue, and adding the first Mirror Ball trophy from Dancing with the Stars (thanks to Packers fans) will be some of the most special moments of my life. But the best moments in Green Bay will always be marrying my wife, having three beautiful children, and growing as a man, father and husband in a community that I will always consider home.

Donald Driver's official memoir, Driven, shares the inspiring story of his rise from living in a U-Haul trailer as a child to becoming a Super Bowl champion and one of the most beloved players in Green Bay Packers history. Driven goes on sale Oct. 22 and is available wherever books are sold.

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