APPLETON, Wis. — Four months into retirement, Donald Driver is still on the minds of at least a few NFL teams. Phone calls have been coming in to try to get the Green Bay Packers’ all-time leading receiver to continue his career elsewhere, but Driver has refused.
Speaking at a press conference before his sixth-annual charity softball game, Driver didn’t specify which teams have inquired about him, but he did make it clear that he wasn’t interested.
“I think the thing is, if you have the itch to continue to play, then it doesn’t matter who you play for, because that’s what you want to do,” Driver said. “You just want to play the game. I love the game, but I only love one team. When you love the game, you’ll play for anybody. Anybody who offers you something, you’re willing to step on the field and play for them.
“I decided that I love one team. But I do love the game. At the end of the day, if I get that itch, it would only be for the green and gold.”
Driver repeated that he would, in fact, return for a 15th season. But only if it was in Green Bay.
“If the Packers called me and said, ‘Drive, come back to training camp,’ I’d be back for training camp,” he said. “But until then, I’ll be sitting at home and just watching football.”
Driver’s role declined significantly over the past three seasons. From 2004-2009, Driver surpassed 1,000 receiving yards every year and was a go-to target for both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Though Driver was still technically a 15-game starter in 2010 and 2011, he barely had 1,000 receiving yards combined in those two seasons. Last season, Driver only had eight catches for 77 yards.
Driver, 38, could’ve added to his career numbers for other NFL teams this upcoming season, but as he spoke with other retired players, it made his decision easier. Driver was specifically asked about the end of Favre’s career, which concluded with one season for the New York Jets and two with the Minnesota Vikings after spending 16 years in Green Bay.
“I talked to so many different guys and every guy that I’ve talked to said they wish they never went to another team,” Driver said. “They always wished they would’ve retired with that team that they played 10, 11, 12 years for.
“When I asked them, ‘Should I go back?,’ they say, ‘If you don’t have that love for another team, don’t go back. You’re not going to get the same love, you’re not going to get the same respect that you got from them that you got from Green Bay.’ ”
Driver certainly got plenty of love from the Packers. The team held a public retirement ceremony for him in February and has given him his own statue. Driver also got a key to the city of Green Bay and had a street named after him.
That’s all part of the reason that Driver is happy that he decided to call it a career after playing all 14 seasons with the Packers.
“I thought it would get to a point where sooner or later they would say, ‘He’s tired, let’s send him somewhere else,’” Driver said. “But they believed in me and I believed in them. When you have an organization that believes in you like that and supports you, then you want to be with them.
“At the end of the day, when it’s time to hang it up, you can walk upstairs and meet with the GM and meet with the head coach and you can make a decision. My wife said, ‘I only want you to be in Green Bay.’ My kids said the same thing. When they said that, it made it easy for me to say I can walk away. If they would’ve said, ‘Keep playing,’ I would’ve kept playing. They were happy with just being settled.”
Green Bay’s offseason training activities and minicamp practices didn’t have No. 80 on the field for the first time since 1999, but it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet for Driver. However, it will soon.
“I miss it a little bit; not much,” Driver said. “I think the training camp part of it, and minicamps and OTAs, I’d never miss that. I think once September hits and I know it’s kicked off, I think that’s when it will really hit me that I’m not playing football anymore.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s been a lot of fun.”