Sailing the Seas of Cheese: Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happened
Before he ever played chicken with a train on national television, before he went down with an injury in his one and only Super Bowl, before the last Packers legend had an emotional retirement, and even before the number 80 was synonymous with a 200 tooth smile and the famous one-handed catch, Donald Driver a rookie who briefly wore the number 13. He was the kid from little-known Alcorn State that could have easily have been an Olympic high jumper. But he was drafted in the seventh round of the 1999 draft. He didn’t come from a big name college. He outlasted all of the picks the Packers took that year and is one of the last–if not the very last–member of the 1999 draft class left in the entire NFL.
For many it is hard to remember the Green Bay Packers without Donald Driver. He has been one the favored targets for two of the league’s greatest quarterbacks and he truly did straddle two eras. Like the great James Lofton before him that also wore the Green and Gold’s number 80 jersey, he was an All Pro. And this year Lofton’s long-standing record of all-time receiving yardage finally fell. Quite fitting the other guy who made 80 famous was the one to do it.
A family man known for his lack of drama, Driver is not leaving under the cloud of scandal like Lofton did back in the 80′s (For those too young to remember, Lofton was accused of sexual assault twice–one accusation of sexual assault in Milwaukee that never went to trial and a second accusation in Green Bay for which he was aquitted.) Small markets don’t tend to tolerate such bad PR, especially back then. Even if a court declared you were not guilty, it was still enough to send you packing for tarnishing the corporate image.
No, Quickie wasn’t pushed out because he was a smudge to the organizations reputation. On the contrary, he has been nothing short of an embassador for the Packers and the NFL as a whole. His role diminished significantly this past year. And like he had done his entire career, he put his team first and saw the writing on the proverbial wall. His number was up and it was time to step aside and let the younger guys make those circus catches.
The NFL is league for young men, and Driver was one of the grand old ones. His time had come, and he likely leaves after fourteen years with little to regret.
In the end, Donald held his head high, made an understated announcment on ESPN’s Mike and Mike radio show and then issued statements via social media on both Twitter and Facebook:
After 14 years of playing football for the Green Bay Packers, I have decided to retire. I could never had made it this long without the love and support of the fans, which is why I want to share this moment with you all at an official retirement celebration in the Lambeau Field Atrium on February 6th.
Of course, in a very predictable move from the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Vikings once again are sniffing around for sloppy seconds. I swear you could set a clock to these guys! They are vultures.
Quickie is one of the few that bridged both the Favre and the Rodgers era. He was there when his QB retired (the first time for those keep score at home.) I’m sure he cried with Brett when Favre said he was hanging it up for good. He saw the fans’ reactions. But he was also one of the voices of reason during that very ugly summer 2008. He saw first hand how Favre’s divisive behavior did to the Packers fan base. He’s heard the deafening chorus of boos when Favre returned as a Viking during his revenge tour. I doubt Donald will make the same mistakes that Brett did in the name of ego. Unlike Brett Favre, when Donald Driver says that he is finally hanging his cleats up and is retiring, I tend to believe him. February 6, 2013 will be that bit of closure and Donald Driver will become a former NFL player.
In this day and age, very few professional athletes begin and finish their careers in one location. With Donald, the Packers reaped the benefits of fourteen years of unwavering loyalty. But these days, Driver is the exception to the norm. Many are seeking either more money (as we will likely see with Greg Jennings) or they are merely trying to eke out one final year with whomever will take them. After all, someone is always offering a nominal salary to sign a seasoned veteran before he is finally put out to pasture once and for all.
Should he have retired last year? That will be a debate that will probably never find resolution. Aaron Rodgers referred to the Pro Bowl last year when he said that players are often recognized a year too late into their career and are rewarded a year past their prime as well. Perhaps Driver should have retired before the 2012 season. He would have been on top of the world at that time–the media darling on ABC. Had he done that, we would have never had to endure the sad face on the sideline as the game continued without him.
But Donald Driver still managed to go out on top–loved and respected by peers and fans alike. Last year he said he wanted to play until he could play no more. And this was the year that the wild ride came to an end. I doubt we’ve seen the last of Quickie. With is million watt smile and even more charming persona will likely fit in well with the other former athletes and coaches we see every game day either behind a desk or in a booth. He will, no doubt, continue to be an embassador for the sport. His philanthropic efforts will continue.
Of course I will be nostalgic and a little sad when a new fresh face dons the #80 jersey next year in training camp. That loyalty thing goes both ways.
Thank you, Donald. For everything.
Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.