Packers WR Donald Driver calls it a career
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Donald Driver found a way to retire in style.
On Wednesday, the popular Green Bay Packers wide receiver celebrated his 14-year career during an event at Lambeau Field with family, friends, a handful of teammates and 1,500 fans who filled the atrium and lined balconies to get a glimpse of him.
"I told myself I wasn't going to cry today, so I'm going to hold the emotion back as much as possible. I love you all so much," said Driver, who retired after catching 743 passes for 10,137 yards after making the team as a seventh-round draft pick out of Alcorn State in 1999.
"It was a tough decision, but my family and I felt it was time for the next chapter in our life."
Driver praised the fans who stood in line in subzero temperatures last week for a chance to get tickets to the event, which drew more than 10,000 viewers to the Packers.com online stream and was also carried live on television stations across the state.
Team president Mark Murphy said it was the first time in franchise history that a player had held a public retirement news conference.
If there is another, that player will have a hard time topping Driver, who is the franchise's all-time leading receiver.
"To the fans, I want to thank you all for the love, the joy, the cheers, the ups and though we haven't given you too many downs," Driver said. "This day is not just for me, this day is for you.
"Twelve years ago, I signed my first big contract for the Green Bay Packers and I promised you all that I would never wear another uniform. So today, we make that official. I keep my promise to you. The loyalty you all have instilled in me and my family, I have to keep my loyalty to you and not play for another team and to retire in the green and gold."
He said Wednesday that he'll be guest-hosting Katie Couric's talk show and appearing on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition with Chris Powell", among other off-the-field endeavors.
Governor Scott Walker announced Wednesday was "Donald Driver Day" in the state of Wisconsin, and Mayor Jim Schmitt announced that a downtown Green Bay street will be renamed "Donald Driver Way." In addition, the statue, "The Receiver," will be repainted to represent Driver, replacing the generic player wearing No. 88 it now depicts.
"I was the same guy who walked in 1999 and I'm the same guy who walks out in 2013," Driver said. "Sometimes people say that sometimes success changes who you are -- success has not changed me. I'm the same skinny little kid who walked in 1999. I'll be the same skinny kid -- well, grown man -- who walked out in 2013. Nothing changes for me. I'm the same person and never will change."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Driver's 61-yard touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the 2010 season embodied the player he was. Driver caught the ball at the San Francisco 39-yard line and broke several tackles en route to the end zone.
"My picture of Donald, the memory I'll have is the touchdown against the 49ers -- with the throwback jersey and (where he) breaks Lord knows how many tackles," McCarthy said. "If you're looking for a picture of what Donald Driver means to your football team, what he means as a player, that's the picture. That's the one I'll always remember."
Driver finished his career as one of the most popular players in franchise history, alongside Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, who was among those who appeared in a video tribute to Driver.
"When I walked in here in 1999, I felt like I could do anything if I believed that anything was possible," Driver said. "All the great guys who played before me, it was truly an honor to stand up there and play with those guys. I had the work ethic and I wasn't going to let it slip away. Look at me now, I'm the all-time Packers' receiver in history."
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Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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