I was on one knee at the 25-yard line on the west side of Lambeau Field on this chilly Dec. 5, 2010 – the Green Bay Packers offense lined up against the San Francisco 49ers for the snap of the ball at their own 39 yard line – it was just another play, but not for Donald Driver.
What he said he remembered about the play was that the defense didn’t care about him – he was old – and they left him alone … they certainly did. And what the defense discovered was that Driver was far from old.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass with time to throw and time to let the play develop. What he saw downfield was a wide open Donald Driver … and I mean WIDE open. Heaving the ball 30 yards in the air, Rodgers hit Driver in stride crossing
the middle of the field left to right.
As I watched the play unfold in front of me, I couldn’t believe what was happening. Not only was this going to be a huge play for Driver and the Packers who were locked in a 14-13 battle with the Niners up to that point, but it was coming right at me.
Just before Driver caught the ball, I swung my camera into position and started shooting. Driver turned upfield and started charging toward me and down the right sideline while being chased by what seemed like the entire Niners defensive backfield.
As I continued to shoot, my heart was pumping as the roar of the Lambeau Field faithful increased with each step the Packers veteran took. I kept shooting and watching the play develop through the lens of my 70-200mm Nikkor lens. I watched along with 70,000 others in the stadium bowl that day as Driver juked, stiff-armed and bulled his way further down the field.
As he reached the 30 near where I was positioned, there was a blur of action – bodies flying in and out of my field of vision. For a moment I was frightened the entire mass of players would come flying out of bounds and into me – but that was only for a moment.
That blur of bodies? That was the moment when Packers tight end Andrew Quarless dove over the top of Driver to block the San Francisco would-be tackler and free the Packer veteran for more yards.
I kept shooting.
Driver bulled his way past me, stopped on a dime as a Frisco play flew by him and out of the play. As quickly as “Quickie” stopped to let the defender fly by, he was off again toward the end zone. He got hit by three or four players inside the 10 and dragged all of them toward the goal line and into the end zone for the touchdown catch and run of his career.
The din that was the crowd reaction was ear-piercing as the fans had been worked into a frenzy that lasted for minutes. Driver, out of breath and not really sure what had just happened, was mobbed by his teammates. Wobbly-legged, Driver slowly made his way back toward the Packers’ bench as his teammates continued their celebration.
Driver didn’t do a Lambeau Leap – he was too exhausted and dazed. Slowly, but surely he regained his senses as he made his way back to the bench. What fans were watching on the jumbo-tron at the stadium and on their television screens brought about gasps of incredulous joy. Nobody could believe what they had just seen.
Neither could I. As I reviewed what I had captured on my camera, my heart jumped out at me. We had all witnessed history and I had the proof.
When Driver addressed the fans at his retirement celebration today, Wednesday, Feb. 6, he said the play had been the best of his career. We had no doubt it was – and that’s saying something considering all of the amazing plays he was involved in throughout his career.
Not only was that play an incredible feat of human effort, it was the play that propelled the Packers toward their drive through December and January and their Super Bowl XLV Championship. His effort was the turning point of that season – it inspired an entire team toward the pinnacle that has been one of the most incredible in Packers history.
It’s how I will always remember Donald Driver – the Packers’ all-time leading receiver – the champion. His greatness and humility could be summed up within that 20-second span of pure NFL ecstasy.
Thank you, Donald, for the opportunity to document your greatness. We will miss those opportunities to see you shine.
We will miss you.
Videos of the play follow:
The video quality of this video isn’t great, but the enthusiasm of the crowd is what drew me to it. It captures the crowd enjoyment …