GREEN BAY, Wis. — Donald Driver is retiring from the NFL.
The Green Bay Packers’ all-time leader in receiving yards (10,137) and receptions (743) made the announcement through an official press release from the organization early Thursday morning.
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Driver, who will turn 38 Saturday, will hold an event that is open to fans and media on Feb. 6 in the Lambeau Field Atrium to publicly state his decision to retire after 14 NFL seasons, all with the Packers. Driver will be joined at the ceremony by coach Mike McCarthy, general manager Ted Thompson and Packers president Mark Murphy.
“I played my entire career in Green Bay and have always enjoyed a special bond with the fans,” Driver said in a statement. “I can think of no better way to retire than to celebrate with them and the Packers organization.”
Driver’s career certainly didn’t begin like one that would eventually be commemorated in this manner. He was a seventh-round pick (213rd overall) in 1999 and was at the bottom of the depth chart at wide receiver. Driver made the team as a rookie but played in only six games and caught three passes for 31 yards and one touchdown.
After three relatively forgettable seasons to begin his career, though, Driver broke through as a starter in his fourth year. Continuing to get more comfortable with the team’s quarterback at the time, Brett Favre, Driver started all 16 games in 2002 and finished that season with 1,064 receiving yards. That was more than twice as many yards as in his first three seasons combined.
From 2004-09, Driver eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for six consecutive seasons, and those years included a change from Favre to Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Driver was still starting for the Packers in 2010 and 2011, but his production dwindled considerably as he barely surpassing 1,000 receiving yards in those two seasons combined.
Because he stayed in incredible shape — he has just 3 percent body fat — the drop in production was largely attributed to all the top-level receivers the Packers had put alongside him. This season, though — while his celebrity was never higher after winning “Dancing With the Stars” in the offseason — he dropped to the bottom of the depth chart. He was barely on the field and sometimes a healthy inactive for games, catching only eight passes for 77 yards.
Throughout his entire career, which included four Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring, Driver can’t recall one particular favorite memory.
“I would never say it was just one thing that stood out to me,” Driver said Thursday morning on WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee. “Not too many people get an opportunity to run out of that tunnel, and I got to do it.”
On multiple occasions over the past year, Driver has stated that he had a desire to play until he was at least 40 years old, but that won’t happen. It’s possible Driver could have reached that goal, but it wouldn’t have been with the Packers. It became clear this season that Driver wasn’t in their current or future plans. But earlier this week, there was a report that the Minnesota Vikings had interest in signing Driver if he chose not to retire.
Driver, however, chose to retire as a lifelong member of the Packers rather than attempt to stretch out his career in another city, in another team’s uniform, for an extra couple years.
“It means everything in the world,” Driver said on WTMJ Radio when asked about retiring having only played in Green Bay. “You never expect it to come, but sooner or later it does come. I’ll always wear the green and gold, and that will never change.”
Driver will have plenty of career choices away from the football field. Though he was always a well-known NFL player, his stardom ascended to a new level after he won “Dancing With the Stars.”
“There’s so many things I feel like I can do,” Driver told WTMJ Radio. “Many opportunities will be there; maybe get a movie gig and continue to move forward.”
That’s part of what makes Driver’s decision to retire somewhat more complicated than that of most athletes at the end of their careers. Driver could soon find himself as a Michael Strahan type. Strahan, a recently retired New York Giants defensive end, first was a football analyst and quickly transitioned into a major role as the new co-host on a morning talk show with Kelly Ripa, a spot that had been occupied for years by Regis Philbin.
Driver and Strahan share a similar outgoing personality, with the big, wide smiles to match. Given Driver’s “Dancing with the Stars” credentials, he’ll even have a head start on following a similar career path to Strahan’s, should he choose to do so.
But within the context of Packers history on the field, few will be remembered as fondly as Driver. Always a fan favorite because of that smile and his production, Driver cemented his place in the hearts of Packers fans by deciding not to leave to another team. It’s a choice the man he used to catch passes from, Favre, declined and has paid a price for in Green Bay.
Fans can get tickets to Driver’s retirement event free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis beginning 9 a.m. Friday, with each person limited to four tickets.