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DDThankYouTour: Driver’s thank-you tour takes him to Kenosha

August 14th, 2017

Story by Mike Johnson, courtesy of Kenosha News.

Donald Driver simply wants to say thanks.

Over a legendary 14-year career with the Green Bay Packers that spanned 1999-2012, Driver became the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yards (10,137) and receptions (743) and helped the Packers to a Super Bowl title in 2010.

In addition to his on-field accomplishments, however, Driver established himself as a fan favorite with his infectious smile and a work ethic that propelled him from a seventh-round draft pick to a three-time Pro Bowler.

On July 22, along with cornerback Mark Lee, Driver was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

To celebrate his induction, Driver embarked on a statewide celebration tour this week that will culminate in his charity softball game in Grand Chute on Sunday.

On Thursday afternoon, Driver’s tour made a stop in Kenosha at Jockey International’s World Headquarters. Driver is an ambassador for Jockey Being Family, a corporate initiative which provides post-adoption resources and support to help adoptive families stay together.

Driver took some time during his visit to talk with Kenosha News sports reporter Mike Johnson about a variety of topics:

Kenosha News: So why did you decide to travel around the state, and what’s the goal of your tour?

Donald Driver: “I wanted to do this about four years ago, and once I retired, just to give the fans what they’d given me for 14 years. That’s the love and support. So my goal was to thank them, because every year I’ve always heard someone say, ‘I never get to see a Packer player.’ We never got to the small towns. It’s either Madison or Green Bay or Milwaukee, so what I wanted to do is just go around to different cities in Wisconsin and see how many people I can make smile.

“If you can do that in a week’s time, and you get to enjoy it, then you put smiles on individuals’ faces. It’s appreciation.”

KN: You’ve been an ambassador for Jockey Being Family for a while now. Why did you get involved in the initiative?

DD: “Jockey Being Family is all about, the words speak for themselves. That’s exactly what it is. It’s a family-based corporation, but it’s also a family-based organization that gives back to individuals that are trying to build families. And that’s what it’s all about, is putting smiles on those individuals’ faces. These kids just want to be kids, and they just want someone to love them. And Jockey Being Family’s giving those kids that opportunity now.”

KN: In Kenosha, of course, the most famous Jockey Being Family ambassador is Melvin Gordon. Have you had a chance to meet him?

DD: “Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a while, so we’re good friends. His family, as well. And that’s a good thing, to see a young man go on to have a great career, play at the University of Wisconsin, and then to go on and right now (play for) the L.A. Chargers. He’s had a great career, but the thing that I love about it is he continues to come back and give to the community. He knows that someone gave him an opportunity, and now he’s giving other people the same.”

KN: I assume you enjoy seeing someone as young as Melvin still is have the wherewithal to give back to the community, right?

DD: “I think his mom has raised him right, and that means to start early. I think that’s what he’s starting to learn now. If you start to do it now, you’re going to always have a voice, regardless of what you do.”

KN: What did it mean to you to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame?

DD: “Words couldn’t even express the day that it all unfolded. I really appreciated it, because it was an opportunity for me to honor my inductee with me, Mark Lee. Mark Lee and all the guys before me, those guys paved the way (so) that we can be on that stage and accept that honor. That’s something that we’ll be able to cherish, I’ll be able to cherish, for a long time. I’m hoping my kids, and then hoping my grandkids, will be able to come and see what their grandfather and dad has done for a very long time.”

KN: Do you get to be a Packers fan now? How do you watch games these days?

DD: (Laughs) “I’m a fan of the game. I’ve always been a fan of the game. The good part is I’ve still got so many friends that still play in the National Football League, and you want to support every single one of them. But when the Packers are playing, then I’m cheering for the Packers. I don’t care who’s playing after that. I want them to win against whoever they’re playing, but I want my guy on the (opposing) team to have a good game.”

KN: What do you look for from the Packers with the preseason underway now?

DD: “I think one thing (head coach) Mike (McCarthy) is always focused on is Mike’s always said that preseason counts. We never go into preseason saying, ‘Well, if we go 0-4 in preseason, it’s OK.’ It’s never OK, because you don’t want to start the season off like that, either. So you take every preseason game, even though you don’t play a lot, you take every single game like it’s an actual game situation.”

KN: For late-round draft picks or undrafted rookies, for example, these preseason games mean so much. They’re fighting to make the team. You were a seventh-round draft pick yourself (in 1999 out of Alcorn State). All these years later, you’re in the Packers Hall of Fame, you set franchise records, you won a Super Bowl. Do you still think about what those first preseason games were like? Was that the Super Bowl for you at that time?

DD: “I don’t know if you could call it the Super Bowl. I think it’s more nerve-wracking than anything else, because as a rookie you don’t know what to expect. I remember being a seventh-round draft pick, you think that you’re guaranteed to make the team. You think every draft pick is, until I got set in my ways and found out that someone had to tell me that, just because you’re a seventh-round draft pick and you got drafted doesn’t mean you make the team. And that was Robert Brooks (who) told me that.

“So I realized that, even though I did sign a three-year deal at that time as a rookie, none of it counted. So I had to work hard and put in my time to make it all happen, and I did. At the end of the day, could I ever expect that I would be the all-time Packers’ leading receiver in franchise history? No. So many great guys have played before me that held those titles, and now to surpass them is truly an honor. I know someone one day will surpass me, and I hope that person cherishes it the same as I do.”

KN: I’m sure you feel fortunate to have caught passes from the two quarterbacks you did during your career, right?

DD: “Yeah, both of those guys are true Hall-of-Famers. You have one guy that’s already (been) inducted and one that most likely will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. But to play with those two guys is truly amazing. I think they would say the same, is that they didn’t make my career, and I didn’t make theirs. Together we made a career and made it successful. And I think that’s what makes a team win.

“Aaron and Brett, they would never say that they’re the team. They need linemen, they need the running backs, they need the receivers to make it all work. It’s a plus when you have two great quarterbacks, because not a lot of people get that opportunity.”

KN: With the assumption that winning the Super Bowl is No. 1, is there another moment or two that stands out as the best of your NFL career?

DD: “Oh, wow. I don’t know. There’s so many of them. But I think the one that really sticks out to me that I think I will cherish is when I became the all-time Packers’ leading receiver in franchise history by breaking Sterling Sharpe’s record, and then to go on and break James Lofton. (Sharpe was the team’s career receptions leader before Driver, while Lofton was the team’s career leader in receiving yards.)

“I think that’s when I realized that I had arrived and became something that I guess a lot of people will cherish for a very long time.”

KN: I’ll put you on the spot. Of today’s receivers, is there one or two that you’d call the best?

DD: “No. I think when you make it to that level, we’re all great. Guys put up more yards than others, but that doesn’t make them No. 1, No. 2. People are going to rank who they want to rank, but at the end of the day every single player that’s in the National Football League is (a) great player.”

KN: It’s a good time to be a receiver now too, huh?

DD: “Yeah, it is. Back in our days, if you had 1,000 yards you (were) happy. Now you’re putting up 1,300, 1,400. That’s just unheard of.”

 

Full story with accompanying media can be found here.

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