GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the alarm begins to sound inside Donald Driver’s college dorm room, his home during training camp, the 37-year-old Packers wide receiver still has the motivation after 13 NFL seasons not to hit the snooze button. That might not seem like much, but to Driver, it means everything.
For Driver, it’s a sign that he still has the energy to show up for a drill-oriented July practice. It’s a sign that he still feels like he has something to prove against defensive backs who are, in some cases, 15 years younger than him.
“That day you don’t want to get out of that bed, then it’s over for you,” Driver said following Tuesday’s practice. “For whatever reason, at 6 o’clock, I still jump out of the bed. The day it’s 6 o’clock and I hit the snooze button, it’s over. It’s over for me.”
That hasn’t happened yet, and if Driver has his way, it won’t happen for quite a while.
“I’ve always said I want to play until I’m 40 (and) I’m not denying that at all,” Driver said.
Back in Green Bay for his 14th season after signing a restructured contract, Driver’s rise from seventh-round pick in 1999 to the Packers’ all-time leading receiver hasn’t concluded yet.
Though his new deal is just a one-year pact, Driver hopes to remain in Green Bay well beyond that.
“If I feel good after the season, I’ll play again,” he said. “If not, then I’ll figure out what I want to do. But I want to play as long as I’m feeling good.
“If that’s 40, if that’s 41, 42, then I’ve got to do whatever I’m going to do. I’m not going to let anything happen where someone else is going to dictate what I plan on doing. Right now, I’m going to continue to play because that’s how I feel.”
During Tuesday’s practice, Driver showed glimpses of looking like the 27-year-old version of himself from back in 2002 when he first crossed 1,000 receiving yards in a season. As the Packers broke into full 11-on-11 situations during the final stages of practice, Driver hauled in three touchdowns from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, getting the best of a couple of the team’s young, promising cornerbacks.
“Just when you don’t hear from him for a little while, then he goes out and makes two or three big plays,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s the all-time pro.”
After his victory on “Dancing with the Stars,” Driver’s popularity with Packers fans has never been higher. With more than 2,000 fans in attendance each day during training camp, they have continued to cheer Driver more than anyone else on the team. When Driver makes even a casual reception, there have been large groups of fans each day who have reacted with wild applause.
But those aren’t the people motivating Driver.
“The people that doubt me, those are the people I want to prove wrong,” Driver said. “It’s about the people outside the locker room. And people outside the locker room are the ones that doubt you, those are the ones you want to prove wrong.
“I’m going to continue to play and prove them wrong.”
Driver’s numbers have declined significantly over the past two years. For six consecutive seasons, Driver finished with at least 1,000 yards receiving. But in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined, Driver barely surpassed that mark with a total of only 1,010 yards.
Despite his age and lesser production as of late, Driver doesn’t believe that his younger teammates doubt his ability. And if they did have their doubts, the show Driver put on with his multiple-touchdown performance on Tuesday should change that.
“I don’t think they ever take me lightly,” Driver said. “I think they know that I’ve played this game a long time and they respect that.”
If Driver is able to realize his goal of playing until he’s 40, he would be only the second wide receiver in NFL history to play at that age. Jerry Rice retired in 2004 at age 42.
“I’m old as dirt, I guess you could say,” Driver said with a smile. “I’m OK with that. I’m OK because I’ve always looked at age as just a number. Just because I’m 37 doesn’t mean I have to feel like I’m 37.”
In addition to the possibility of winning a second Super Bowl ring, Driver has other records to break or further solidify. In the Packers record books, Driver passed Sterling Sharpe three years ago for the most receptions in team history. Last season, he broke James Lofton’s franchise record for most receiving yards.
“I think you want to get your record up there,” Driver said. “You don’t want anyone to ever break them. I think that’s what James thought when he played, Sterling thought when he played. No one wants their records broken. Everything is meant to be broken sooner or later. I’m hoping mine never get broken and just stay up there forever, at least for the next 20-30 years, that’d be great.
“There’s not another record that I feel I have to go get.”
Driver could land in the top 25 in NFL history in receptions and receiving yards with 33 more catches and 1,314 yards.
“Maybe one day that’d get me that phone call to say, ‘Congratulations. You’re going to enter the Hall of Fame,'” Driver said. “But we’ll see.”