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DDThankYouTour: ‘Thank You Tour’ reunites Driver with adoring Green Bay Packers fans

August 18th, 2017

Story by Jen Zettel, courtesy of Appleton Post-Crescent.

GRAND CHUTE – A bright No. 80 emblazoned the pitcher’s mound at Neuroscience Group Field on Sunday, as bright as the smile of the legendary Green Bay Packers wide receiver who wore it.

Yes, Donald Driver returned to Fox Cities Stadium for a sold-out charity softball game as he wrapped up his “Thank You Fans” tour, a three-day event to pay tribute to the Packers’ faithful.

Driver is the team’s all-time leading receiver. He holds team records for receptions with 743 and receiving yards with 10,137. He retired in 2012 and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on July 22.

“It’s always great,” Driver said of being back at Fox Cities Stadium. “It’s always great to be back home, and I think this is the moment I feel like I have to share with my family and my kids. My entire family is here.”

This was the second charity softball game of the summer, after the annual Jordy Nelson game in June. The game was started by legendary quarterback Brett Favre. When Favre retired, Driver took over for several years before he retired. He passed the torch to Nelson.

Fans filled the seats and every inch of lawn space at the stadium on Sunday to catch a glimpse of No. 80, along with other players. Proceeds from the softball game will go to the Donald Driver Foundation.

Returning to Fox Cities Stadium allowed Driver and his family, specifically his children, to be more involved than they were when he hosted the annual charity softball game.

No matter his accomplishments, whether on the field with the Green and Gold or on the dance floor as a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” Driver’s children see him as Dad.

The Thank You Tour has allowed Driver’s children to see the legacy he built in Wisconsin and how much it means to him.

“When I retired, my kids were young. They don’t even remember their dad playing as much, and now to bring them back and show what I’ve done in the state of Wisconsin and what the fans mean to me, I think my kids now appreciate it even more,” he said.

Of course, fans roared for former Green Bay Packers Dorsey Levens, Nick Collins and Craig Nall, and former NFL player Antwaan Randle El — as well as former Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette University player (and current free agent) Steve Novak and Olympic Gold Medalist Bonnie Blair.

Collins, who took part in Driver’s charity softball games during his time with the Packers, said he was happy to come out and support his teammate.

“The fan base here is the best in the world. I’m just appreciative to be a part of something great. They love their Packers. They love football, period,” Collins said.

Basketball fans know Novak from his time at Marquette and his most recent stint with the Milwaukee Bucks.

While he hasn’t played baseball in 20 years, Novak said he had a great time playing with Packers he grew up rooting for.

What made the event even more memorable was having his children there. While Novak said initially they were a little confused when he told them he was playing softball instead of basketball, they didn’t let that stop them. They cheered on their dad every time he stepped to the plate.

“It’s the best especially because you know, you want them to always be old enough to remember you doing cool stuff … so having them watch makes it really special,” he said.

But few players could bring the crowd to their feet like Driver.

David and Kelly Winiecki of Germantown made the trip with their sons, Logan, 11 and Drew, 7. Drew also got to bring his friend Kero Will, 7.

The family had never attended a charity softball game before, but they decided to make the trip because Driver hosted, Kelly said.

“I met him when he was a rookie,” Kelly said. “We heard this was one of the last times he might do this, so we wanted to get the kids here.”

Jemma and Jeannie Graupner and Jenna Strauch, of Menasha attended the game with friend Amanda Senkbeil, of Appleton. The ladies said they love No. 80 because of his attitude, his smile and how humble he is.

April and Nathan Treague, of Appleton, donned their green and gold, along with son, Coleston, 1.

The Treagues first attended the annual softball game after wide receiver Jordy Nelson started hosting, and they’ve since made it a tradition.

Seeing the players on a smaller stage is what keeps them coming back year after year, and that’s what brought them out for a second time this summer for Driver’s game.

“You get to be part of their family that day. You feel more of a personal connection with them,” April said.

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