Green Bay Packers: Donald Driver and the Intangibles

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 16: Donald Driver
GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 16: Donald Driver /

I remember Donald Driver’s arrival in Green Bay, back in 1999. The “Donald D” beginning to his name made me think of Donald Duck. “I wonder if this guy quacks when he talks?” I asked myself.

And then the college where Ted Thompson discovered him was mentioned. “Acorn State? What, is that, a school for chipmunks, or what? Never heard of it! … Oh, Elkhorn State. That could be almost anywhere. Wait a minute, it’s Alcorn State. If this guy’s any good, why did he play for such a dinky, no-name school?”

So went my silly soliloquy.

For the record, Alcorn State is located in rural Mississippi, and is not a no-name school. That was my ignorance on display, thinking that it was. Alcorn actually has a very interesting history. And Civil Rights martyr Medgar Evers was an alumni.

But back to the Donald:

Born and raised in Houston, Driver had a little rougher childhood than his permasmile might lead you to assume.

Without getting into specifics, Driver had to scratch and claw to even get a chance to survive in the NFL.

His story, the path he took to win over the scouts, the coaches, and the fans was a long and arduous one.

Driver’s example shows that a prospect scarcely if at all noticed by the majority of scouts and talent evaluators — one who few expect to survive, let alone thrive in the league — can sometimes be that “diamond in the rough” that “overachieves” and makes the scout who discovered him look like a genius.

How is a scout to know?

By definition, you can’t measure intangibles.

Scouts can measure the raw numbers, such as height, weight, speed, vertical leap and such (on a given day or time) and even intelligence to a certain extent.

But they cannot know what is in a prospect’s heart (although they might get at least an inkling of it by talking with them and observing them).

Yet, people are complex, and what you think you’re seeing, as to a person’s character, can sometimes prove to be way off the mark of who they truly are – or will ultimately become.

After all, the men we are discussing in this context are still quite young, sometimes immature, and often still “finding themselves.” They will likely change in the coming years.

How bad do they want it? How hard will they work at it? How will they handle adversity? Will they play through pain (provided they are not risking further injury by doing so)? Are they all about themselves, or are they team players?

A prospect may look great, but have no heart, grit, or tenacity. They may lack the “Eye of the Tiger” and/or be of low character.

These intangibles cannot be measured. Heart. Maturity. Dedication. Motivation. Degree of selfishness.

If success could be predicted based on height, weight, speed, etc. (the “tangibles”), there would be no need for GMs – everybody would just plug all the data and vital statistics about a guy into a computer program, and they would all end up with the same assessment of that individual’s worth as a player.

It’s not that easy. Hence the saying, “Million dollar arm with a 5 cent head” (used in baseball, but applies here, too). 

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More directly applicable to the football world, perhaps, is the assessment, “Looks like Tarzan. Plays like Jane.”

Driver proves his worth

Most scouts sure got their evaluation of Driver wrong. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, the 213th overall pick.

Every team passed on him multiple times. Even Green Bay passed on him several times before selecting him, but that could have been because they were highly confident he would still be available at that point in the draft.

Driver didn’t just make the team. He didn’t just have a decent career in the NFL. He was a standout, a star, a record-setter, four-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion.

And, last but not least, as of last year, a member of the Packers Hall of Fame.

In his 14 years in Green Bay, Driver set new franchise records for receptions (743) and receiving yards (10,137).

That’s an average of 53 catches per season for 724 yards. Every year, for 14 years.

That’s longevity. That’s production. Reliability. Tenacity. Toughness. Heart. Character. The “Eye of the Tiger.”

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Not too shabby for a seventh-round pick who was passed over by every team several times in the draft.

Oh, and the man can dance, too!