Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Packers all-time leading receiver Driver to retire

NEW ORLEANS — No other uniform would fit Donald Driver.

The Green Bay Packers all-time leading receiver announced his retirement Thursday morning, with a public ceremony planned for Feb. 6 at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

“I’ve always said I never want to wear another uniform. I’ve always said that I owe it to the fans to retire as a Packer,” Driver said. “I feel like I can still play, but if I can’t play for my organization, then I can’t play for anyone else.”

Driver finishes his 14-year career as Green Bay’s all-time leader in yards receiving (10,137 yards), catches (743) and 1,000-yard seasons (seven), and is third behind Don Hutson and Sterling Sharpe with 61 touchdown receptions. A four-time Pro Bowler, he was Green Bay’s MVP in 2002 and was part of the team that won the Super Bowl following the 2010 season.

Only Brett Favre played more games in a Packers uniform.

“All 14 years. Every day,” Driver said in an interview on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” when asked what his favorite memory is. “That’s a special place to walk out of, and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Drafted by Green Bay in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, Driver became one of the most popular and prolific Packers. He had six straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2004-09, averaging 14 yards per catch during the stretch. He made at least one catch in 133 straight games from 2002 to 2010, another franchise record.

He’s one of only 18 wide receivers in NFL history with 700-plus career catches and 10,000 or more receiving yards in 200 games.

“It was a pleasure to share the field with you for 4 years! Great player, tremendous person. (hash)retire80,” offensive guard T.J. Lang said on Twitter.

Aaron Rodgers added, “Thanks for the memories quickie, you will be missed (hash)Packer4Life.”

Quickie is Driver’s childhood nickname.

Green Bay fans have a close bond with every Packers player, but they had a particular soft spot for Driver. They loved his bright smile and infectious laugh, and were moved by his story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. Growing up, Driver and his family were so poor that he, his mother and siblings sometimes spent the nights in a U-Haul. He and his brother stole cars to get money, and Driver sold drugs, too.

Packers fans embraced him — his jersey is a popular sight at Lambeau Field, right up there with Rodgers’ No. 12 and Clay Matthews’ No. 52 — and he happily returned the love. He’s been active in the community throughout his career and said that won’t change. His annual community softball game will be played June 16.

“That’s my second home,” Driver said. “I’m born and raised in Houston, Texas, but Wisconsin is always going to be a home for me, and I’ll always be back.’

Though Driver had said he hoped to play until he was 40 — he turns 38 on Saturday — his retirement was hardly a surprise. He had restructured the final year of his contract to come back this season, but played only a bit role in the offense with Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb ahead of him on the depth chart. Driver’s eight catches for 77 yards were his lowest totals since his rookie season, and he was inactive for four games, including the NFC wild-card, his final game at Lambeau Field.

Though coach Mike McCarthy didn’t say as much during their postseason meeting, Driver knew he wasn’t in the Packers plans for next season.

“I just kind of knew in his eyes,” Driver said. “When you’ve known a guy for so long and you’re friends, it’s hard for him to tell you that they’re not going to bring me back. I just kind of looked at him and I just kind of knew that that’s what they were going to do.”

And that made his decision easy.

Minnesota reportedly had interest in Driver, and he said he thinks there would have been other teams that wanted him, too. But he wasn’t going to play for anyone besides the Packers, a decision supported by his wife Bettina and their three children.

“Do I feel like I can still play? Yes,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I owe it to the fans to put the cleats up. I promised them years ago that I would never wear nothing but green and gold, so I owe it to them to walk away.”

Driver also didn’t want to put the Packers in a tough spot, having watched them go through their messy divorce with Brett Favre.

“I just wanted to make it easy on the organization, not put any pressure on them,” Driver said. “Just be able to walk away on my own terms and not have them say, ‘We’re not going to bring you back.’”

Instead, the Packers are hosting his retirement party next week. Driver’s formal announcement will be made in the Lambeau Field Atrium, and there are a limited number of free tickets for fans available on a first-come, first-served basis.

“I’m happy with the decision I made,” Driver said. “It will be a little tougher on Feb. 6. I’m going to get emotional. I’m trying not to get too emotional today, but Feb. 6 I know will be emotional.”

While Driver may be retiring, there will still be plenty to keep him busy. He’s got a book coming out in September, and will appear on “Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition.” The “Dancing with the Stars” champion is also exploring possibilities in broadcasting, and would be open to a hybrid of sports and entertainment, similar to what former New York Giants linebacker Michael Strahan has done.

But no matter what he does, he’ll always be part of the Packers.

“It means the world. Not too many guys get to play for one organization,” Driver said. “What I feel like I’ve done on and off the field has truly been a blessing.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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