GREEN BAY—Dee Miller, Jahine Arnold and Zola Davis: Those are three names above or next to Donald Driver's on the Packers' 1999 pre-training camp depth chart at wide receiver. He still remembers them.
Don Hutson, James Lofton and Sterling Sharpe: Those are three names alongside or surpassed by Driver in the franchise record books as he wraps up his career following 14 memorable seasons. His legacy is secure.
"I would never have expected it, being a seventh-round pick, and a lot of people telling you that you weren't going to make the team," Driver told packers.com a few short years ago, when he rattled off the long-since-forgotten players he was competing with as a young, wide-eyed rookie. "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."
Driver has announced that his against-all-odds career has come to an end, with an official retirement ceremony slated for next Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the Lambeau Field Atrium.
He retires as one of the most beloved players in franchise history, for a number of reasons – his infectious smile, his humble upbringing and his countless contributions to the community, to name just a few.
He also retires as one of the best receivers ever to don a Packers uniform. Here's an unofficial list of the franchise records he holds:
Most receptions (743)
Most receiving yards (10,137)
Most 1,000-yard seasons (seven, a record six of them consecutive from 2004-09)
Most 50-catch seasons (nine, also a consecutive record from 2002-10)
Most consecutive games with a reception (133)
Most receptions at Lambeau Field (363)
Most receiving yards at Lambeau Field (5,000)
Considering his career began with little action or fanfare – just 37 receptions for 520 yards over his first three seasons – it's worth pondering the statistics he might have compiled had he begun more highly regarded than a seventh-round draft pick simply fighting for a roster spot.
Or whether he might have finished higher than third on the franchise list for TD receptions with 61 (behind only Hutson, 99, and Sharpe, 65), or if he would have made a stronger push for Ahman Green's franchise record for total yards from scrimmage (11,048) instead of coming in second at 10,354 (including 217 rushing).
Then again, Driver was never shy about stating that his motivation came from the doubters. He was always out to prove conventional wisdom wrong. He didn't care that he wasn't highly regarded. Instead, he enjoyed building a career on being lowly regarded.
An Olympic-caliber high jumper coming out of college wasn't supposed to have the physique or stamina to survive in the NFL, yet, Driver played in all 16 regular-season games eight times in his career and missed only one game in three other years. One of his one-game absences came on the heels of a horrific-looking neck injury in 2003, but it hardly slowed him down.
No, Driver would be the first to admit it was fitting his football career began just as his life did, humbly. The circumstances drove him to accomplish what he did. The more disadvantageous, the better.
Those names on that '99 depth chart are as etched in his memory as the ones he has eclipsed in the record book. That's the best way to understand Driver's incredible career.
All those names provided the context and created the legacy. They all mattered in one way or another, but it is Driver's name that is unforgettable.