Today as the last song plays and the glare of the lights dim one last time on the football career of Donald Jerome Driver, we the fans get to celebrate and honor a man that we can call our own. So often in sports we elevate the players to lofty heights only to see them fall from grace. Yet today we get to look back on a 14-season career that ironically enough started with the number thirteen (just a hint of foreshadowing back in 1999)
In 1999, when Donald Driver was a seventh round pick out of Alcorn State, the Milwaukee Journal had him writing a rookie diary, detailing his thoughts and feelings about being in his first camp. What amazed me as I read his entries was that neither time nor success has changed the man.
On Sunday, Sept. 5, 1999, Donald wrote, “I came in today and I saw that my locker was moved. When I went back there, I saw all the names were gone. I was like, (his eyes widen), Oh my God, they cut me. Then I came back over here. And I had to look around and find out where my new locker was. I did, but when I went to one of the coaches outside and I said, hey this No. 80, that’s Derrick Mayes’ number. That’s not mine. And they were like, “No, that’s your new number.” And I was like, “So I made it?”
Yes Donald, you made it that day.
You began a journey that had you play with two MVP quarterbacks, go to numerous Pro Bowls, win a Super Bowl and became one of the greatest receivers in Packer history.
But even then you were setting yourself up to succeed, to be more than just a wideout, that was clearly evident when you wrote, “I was worried, I had butterflies, every day. But the thing was I knew I had to work hard and put it all in God’s hands, whatever was going to happen would happen. I knew I made the team, but you never know what can happen. That’s the thing that I had to keep focusing on. I had to keep practicing and do the things I can do best and then let everything else fall into place.”
You put your faith in God’s hands, practiced and worked hard and did what you could and look to where it brought you. Fame, not the fame that goes hand-in-hand with guys like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, or even Chad Ochocinco. You have a type of fame that was earned through hard work. You endeared yourself to the Packers Nation because of what you stood for and what you accomplished, not by selfish actions on and off the field.
This day is about you and what you have done over such an amazing career, but what was amazing was that from the first day you were drafted, it has always been about others; your family, your teammates, and your community. In the same diary entry from sept. 5, 1999, you finished your thoughts by saying, “I’m happy. I can tell my fiancé, who is over in the hotel, that everything is over, you don’t have to sit at home, at school, worrying about “is my baby going to make the roster?” I’m here now. I feel like I did everything God wanted me to to make this team. Now we don’t have any worries. Now we can live the way we want to live.”
Well now today, you can tell your wife that though this chapter may be over, a new path has opened up. Now you can live the way you want to live and do all the things that you want to do. Nobody back in 1999 would ever have thought that the 213th pick in the NFL draft would become the number one receiver in Packer history, become a Super Bowl champion, a fan favorite and cross over into the national spotlight and win the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing with the Stars.
Well, nobody except you.
Maybe you did not know it then but you clearly foretold your future back in that rookie year. In an April 28, 1999, interview with the Milwaukee Journal’s Bud Lea you were quoted as saying, “ What really excites me is catching the ball and running to the end zone. Then I can dance. That’s what I want to do.”
Yes Donald Jerome Driver, you can dance (as you have the trophy to prove it). You have danced your way into our hearts and now that this song has ended, we will be there to celebrate with you. We will celebrate a career that started out as a longshot in the eyes of many except you; a career that has allowed you to become so much more than a player, to become a role model, a community leader and an inspiration to thousands; a career of which others can only dream.
Today we will celebrate with you and for you because you deserve to see the love, respect and admiration that you have earned with your play on the field and your dedication to your fans and family off of it.