Skip to main content

Driver's Career In Good Company



Donald Driver often has told the story of entering his rookie training camp in 1999 somewhere around 12th on the depth chart at wide receiver, and he still recalls the names of some of his long-since-forgotten competition for a precious roster spot.

There was Dee Miller out of Ohio State, drafted in the sixth round, one round ahead of Driver, who came from Alcorn State. There was Jahine Arnold, a fourth-year veteran acquired in a trade from Pittsburgh, and Tyrone Goodson, a non-drafted rookie with an accomplished career at Auburn.

"Then they brought in Zola Davis from South Carolina, and everybody compared him to Sterling Sharpe," said Driver, well aware Davis had nearly topped Sharpe's school record for receptions as a Gamecock. "So I'm like, OK, this may not be the opportunity for me."

Fast forward 11 seasons and suddenly it's Driver being compared to Sharpe as he approaches statistical milestones not touched in franchise annals since Sharpe retired 15 years ago.

With 587 career catches, Driver needs just nine more to surpass Sharpe (595) as Green Bay's all-time leader in pass receptions. With 8,127 yards, he already passed Don Hutson (7,991) this year and resides just eight yards shy of topping Sharpe's career yardage total (8,134), which ranks second in team history to James Lofton (9,656).

Among other stats on the immediate radar, last week Driver came up one yard shy of his 21st career 100-yard game, which would have broken a tie with Antonio Freeman for fourth place on Green Bay's all-time list. He also caught his 44th career TD pass, breaking a tie for sixth place all-time with Billy Howton.

All this from a guy who was taken as a seventh-round flier by then-general manager Ron Wolf, as much for his athletic ability as a world-class high jumper than for anything he had accomplished on the football field.

First camp and first catch

Driver put that athletic ability on display every opportunity he could during his first training camp. It seemed every day he made a highlight-reel reception, leaping over somebody or running fearlessly across the middle.

Despite his initial perception about where he stood on the depth chart, Driver had a legitimate opportunity to make the team. Freeman, Bill Schroeder and Corey Bradford were expected to form the heart of the receiving corps that year, but depth wasn't plentiful after Robert Brooks retired early in training camp following multiple back surgeries. Veteran Derrick Mayes also was traded near the end of camp.

Sad to see an early mentor of his in Brooks leave the team and the game, Driver listened to every encouraging word or piece of advice Brooks had for him. He also got some inspiration from the executive who drafted him, and from then on any doubts about his chances never entered his mind.

"I remember Ron pulling me aside and saying, 'Hey look, I've got everything riding on you, and I need you to make this team,'" Driver said. "And when Ron said that, I went out there every day and battled."

Driver kept turning heads throughout camp, making plays against the first-string defense all the way up until the final week before roster cuts.

"Going into our last preseason game, I remember I caught a ball down the sideline," Driver said. "I went outside on (cornerback) Craig Newsome and caught it over his head on a go-route, and (safety Darren) Sharper smashed me. And I just did a spin move and ran into the end zone and passed out, fell onto the ground. I think after that play, they were like, 'OK, this guy is special,' and after that they kept me."

Driver didn't take the NFL by storm, of course, but after 11 seasons and nearly 600 receptions, he still considers his first catch the most memorable.

Inactive for the first eight games of his rookie year, Driver played in six contests over the second half of the season. His first reception came in Game No. 13, at home against the Carolina Panthers.

It was a simple 8-yard slant pass for a touchdown from Brett Favre, but for the wide-eyed rookie from a well-documented, difficult upbringing, it meant the world.

"Antonio comes out and he's breathing real hard and he tells me that he needs a break, so they threw me in the fire," Driver said. "Brett throws me a nice little flanker drive across the middle, and I walk in untouched.

"At that time it was a moment I'd never forget, because I didn't know what to do. Everybody was like, 'Do the Lambeau Leap!' I'm like, 'What?' I'm just dancing, and I danced the next couple minutes on the sideline."

The big smile Driver is known for has been planted on his face ever since, and he's done his share of Lambeau Leaps too. But he wasn't naïve enough to think he already had "arrived" as a pro at that moment, a wherewithal and understanding of the big picture that has served him well over time.

"My head was still spinning, that whole game," he said. "I was happy just to be there. I think you don't know you've arrived until you get an opportunity to play more, and I think once I got the opportunity to become a starter, and play in the National Football League and prove to everyone I could play on this level, then I think that's when you hit your peak. All you can do is climb the ladder after that."

Dedication to his craft

Driver has climbed that ladder since then with a meticulous dedication to everything that goes into being an NFL receiver. He takes tremendous care of his body, 365 days a year. He studies film of himself and his opponents. He practices hard, every single snap.

"He doesn't slow down and take things easy," said receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, who has been Driver's position coach since 2006. "He's durable. He practices when he's banged up. If he's got a little something on his shoulder or his knee or his thigh or ankle, whatever it is, he just keeps on keeping on."

That, among other things, sets an example for his receiving mates. More than a decade into his career, with a team-record six 1,000-yard seasons to his credit, Driver also still takes notes in meetings, an attention to detail passed down from accomplished Packers receivers before him.

"Over my career, I saw Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks just jotting down notes, and I'm like, these are veteran guys who have played eight, nine years in the game, what are they doing over there writing down stuff?" Driver said. "Robert always said to never leave for a meeting without a pen and piece of paper, and I took that to heart.

"Now when I go to meetings, I always have something. Even if I don't have my own piece of paper, I go to the back and grab one. When Mike (McCarthy) says something or Jimmy says something, I write that down because I want to make sure the next time I run that play in practice or a game that I run it the exact same way they want me to run it, and not the way I ran it the first time, because it must not be right."

In an era famous for a select few diva wide receivers who put their skills and accomplishments above all else, Driver's approach is not only refreshing but a key reason at age 34 his streak of five straight 1,000-yard seasons doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

"He doesn't take for granted that he doesn't have to work as hard any longer because he's been here so long and knows how to do it," Robinson said. "He tries to do it right, and if he doesn't do it exactly right, he takes the feedback and the input about it and takes that to the field."

On the verge of history

Driver hasn't spoken much, if at all, publicly about approaching the franchise's all-time receptions record, nor did he say a whole lot last year when he broke Sharpe's team mark for consecutive games with a reception, which is still going at 113 (118 including postseason).

{sportsad300}But the truth is, he hasn't given it much thought. He's spent more time in the past two weeks talking about the two passes he dropped in the season opener against Chicago than about his career numbers, a true reflection of the perfection he strives for.

"Over my whole career, I've always had faith that I could play on this level, and that I'd be able to do things that not too many people would be able to do," he said. "It's an honor (to be closing in on a team record) and I think it will be special when the moment comes."

If the receptions record falls this weekend in St. Louis, it would mark just Driver's second nine-catch game over the last three seasons (10 catches, Thanksgiving at Detroit, 2007). It more likely could come in Week 4 at Minnesota, which would be fitting on a couple of different levels.

Driver's career-high for receiving yards in a game came at the Metrodome (191 on Nov. 12, 2006) and he tied his career-best for receptions there as well (11 on Dec. 24, 2004). If he catches No. 596 next week, he'll also likely get a congratulatory post-game handshake and hug from his longtime friend and quarterback, Favre.

To project a little further, should Driver maintain his statistical pace of the last couple of seasons, Lofton's franchise yardage record will be in his sights around mid-season 2010. That will take continued good health and good fortune, but Driver has said before he plans to play until he's 40, and he's given no one reason to question him.

However it plays out, Driver will take it all in stride. After all, it is rather humbling to begin your pro career lumped in with names like Dee Miller, Jahine Arnold, Tyrone Goodson and Zola Davis, and to now be keeping company in the record books with Freeman, Hutson, Lofton and Sharpe.

"I would never have expected it, being a seventh-round draft pick, and a lot of people telling you that you weren't going to make the team," he said. "To get that opportunity to pass all the greats that have played before me, it's an honor just to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content