GREEN BAY—Had the doors been open, the warmth that would've escaped Lambeau Field's Atrium would've melted all the snow in Wisconsin.
The love fest that was Donald Driver's retirement party on Wednesday was a first-of-its-kind event, the first time in Packers history a player's retirement was a public event performed in front of fans. Think about that for a moment. Hey, this is a team that's had a lot of popular players. You know the names.
Yet, none of them ever left professional football the way Driver did on Wednesday. Driver's 14-year career was toasted with a one-hour plus tribute that was much more than an announcement, it was an event.
Governor Scott Walker proclaimed Feb. 6, 2013, to be "Donald Driver Day" all over the state. Driver, in his inimitable way that always understood and acknowledged the value and importance of his and the Packers' deep bond with his and the team's fans, made sure he shared the day with them.
"This day is not just for me. This day is for you," he said, and then he gave those fans exactly what they came to hear: "I promise you all I will never wear another uniform. Today we make that official. I have to keep my loyalty to you."
Driver always got it. Most of his peers never get it, but Driver came with it. He always understood and appreciated the importance of the fans, and that's why a thousand of them lined up in the dark and in below-zero temperatures early on Wednesday morning, to make sure they were there to express their love to the man who always expressed his.
That's why his retirement was an event. That's why it's a first of its kind. That's why he takes into retirement something no other Packers player has. No other Packers player's retirement announcement included tickets and tailgating.
This was the fans' day because it was arranged as much for them as it was for Driver. All-time leading receiver in Packers history? That's for the record books. What happened in the Atrium at Lambeau Field on Wednesday was for the heart, and isn't that what always defined Driver's career?
"All-time Lambeau Leaper," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of Driver. McCarthy's eyes then began to moisten. He's admittedly an emotional guy. The same thing happened to him at a press conference a few years ago, when he got tearful as he spoke about the birth of his daughter.
Love was in the air. It's been that way since the Packers announced they would celebrate Driver's great career with an event to which a thousand lucky fans would be able to acquire tickets. They lined up in the cold to get those tickets; some left empty-handed and disappointed.
Those that couldn't attend sent letters of affection. They felt a need to express. Here are a few of those letters that were sent to packers.com's "Ask Vic," but didn't make it into publication because there were simply too many to publish.
Jason from Sheboygan, WI—Donald has always loved being a Packer. I feel this is why fans love him.
Mary from Alma Center, WI—Is there a nicer person than Donald Driver? Thank him for all the memories.
Stuart from Mercer, WI—In an era of big-money contracts (and often times egos to match), it's players like Donald Driver who really make me feel good to be a fan of this great sport I love.
Jimmy from Coralville, IA—Have you ever seen such a gracious, wonderful player as Donald? Here's a player who hasn't forgotten where he came from and, against incredible odds, became one of the all-time greats. I will be wearing my Donald Driver jersey on Wednesday all day at the elementary school where I work.
Susie from Grafton, WI—This world would be a much better place if we gave of ourselves like Donald Driver. I am a 64-year-old, very proud grandmother of five that hopes you will pass along a hug to Donald from me.
John from Wauwatosa, WI—How did Donald Driver at 194 pounds survive for 14 years in the NFL, when he often ran crossing routes, was hit hard, leaped for the ball, hit the ground hard, had heavy guys land on him, etc.?
Jacob from Rockford, IL—I think what I will remember the most about Driver is the reckless abandon he played with. Wide receivers willing to go over the middle are getting few and far between. Donald was always willing to do so, with the biggest smile on his face. That is why I'll always love him.
Rob from Bel Air, MD—I think all football players should act like Donald Driver because he was a true class act. Never have I seen him on the media bad-mouthing, whining or in trouble. To me Donald Driver is the definition of a true sportsman.
Ryan from Saint Paul, MN—When I found out Donald Driver had decided to retire, I posted on Facebook, praising his career as a Packer. To my surprise, many Vikings fans liked it. I think that speaks to what kind of player Driver was. Even rival fans had a soft spot for him.
Douglas from Haddon Heights, NJ—How can I get a ticket to Donald Driver's farewell tribute?
Well, Douglas, look at it this way: For 14 years you had a ticket to a career that was building to this farewell. We all had a ticket, and that ticket bought us memories that we might now replay in our minds any time we feel the need to say goodbye.
The best part is we know Driver will be doing the same, and he'll always hear the cheers. Always, he played for the cheers. He played for the fans. Additional coverage - Driver retirement