In his final appearance as a Green Bay Packer, wide receiver Donald Driver bid the Green Bay Packers farewell for a final time in front of more than 1,000 of his closest supporters, family, friends, coaches and teammates.
After Packers Nation sat outside for hours in negative degree weather last week hoping to get the “golden ticket” to Donald Driver’s retirement party, they once again showed up in full force to show their support.
The Lambeau Field Atrium was packed the moment the doors opened at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. Fans, Lambeau employees, media, and everyone between nudged, clawed and fought their way to the front of the barricade-separating Driver from his fanatics.
The ceremony kicked off at 11 a.m. with host and former Packers great Larry McCarren, who introduced the first speaker, president Mark Murphy. Murphy congratulated Driver and praised Driver’s wife, Betina Driver. He then continued to praise Driver in a short three-minute speech. Next up was the man of very few words Ted Thompson. In an awkward fashion, as only Thompson can pull off himself, he also congratulated Driver and reminisced about being in the draft room in 1999 when the Packers selected Driver in round seven of the NFL Draft. Thompson kept his speech short, but was effective in driving home his personal feelings for Driver, which was evident to the crowd.
Finally head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Mike McCarthy, took to the podium. McCarthy, like Murphy and Thompson, praised Driver for his “work ethic” and for being “a great person on and off the field.” McCarthy’s speech had more sentimental value than the previous speeches. McCarthy actually broke down and started crying toward the end of his speech claiming, “man, I told myself I wasn’t going to cry.” McCarthy and Driver shared a special hug at the end of the McCarthy’s speech that pulled on the heartstrings of everyone in the crowd.
Perhaps the highlight of the event came when McCarren directed everyone to the jumbo screen that filled the Lambeau Atrium as a “career tribute” to Driver played. Celebrities such as, Gavin DeGraw, Jaleel White, Peta Murgatryod (Driver’s Dancing With The Stars partner), former Packers great quarterback Bart Starr, former Packers wide receiver James Lofton and former Packers’ president Bob Harlan, all shared their congratulations for Driver and stated how lucky they have been to know him.
After the personal videos finished, a highlight reel of Driver played. With commentary by the voice of the Packers Wayne Larrivee, Driver’s greatest moments played out. Included in the video was his memorable touchdown against the 49ers in 2010 in which he broke a slew of tackles on his way to a touchdown. Also, his first touchdown of his career in 1999, off the arm of Brett Favre, was shown. The video ended to a loud applause by the fans that packed the Atrium.
In the final segment of the ceremony McCarren asked for Driver to approach the podium for his retirement speech.
An emotional Driver took the microphone teary-eyed and began his farewell to the Green Bay Packers. Driver thanked former manager Ron Wolf, who was responsible for bringing Driver to Green Bay, all of his former position coaches, McCarthy, his teammates and finally the fans.
Driver thanked his wife and his family as tears rolled down his cheeks. Driver stated that his career wouldn’t have been possible without his “soul mate” Betina. Driver than directed his attention to the fans. “I signed my first major deal with the Packers 12 years ago.” Driver said. “I vowed then and there that I would not put on another jersey in my career.” The fans erupted in a loud ovation for Driver’s impeccable show of devotion for the organization that took a chance on him more than 14 years ago.
The ceremony ended in a media question and answer session. One media member asked Driver, “how have you changed since the first time you walked into that Packers locker room over 14 years ago until last week when you cleaned out your locker for one final time?” Driver simply smiled showing his supporters his trademarked ear-to-ear smile that has lit up every room he has walked into over the past 14 years and said, “ I haven’t; I am the same man, the same skinny kid that walked into that locker room 14 years ago. Success has never changed me.”
Driver walks away arguably the Packers greatest receiver of all time holding the record for most receptions in a career (743) and most receiving yards (10,137).
On and off the field Driver was the perfect symbol of what it means to be a Green Bay Packer. He went out on his own terms, retiring with the team that took a chance on him rather than playing somewhere else.
Driver’s impact on the city of Green Bay has been profound and will never be duplicated.
Today we said goodbye to an all-time great Green Bay Packer.