I realize that there's no room for great off-field stories on athletes in the post-Manti Te'o era, but all the same, Donald Driver provided one.
If you want a feel-good story to latch onto (and yes, we take it all back if we find out Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was behind any of it), you could do worse than Driver, who came from very little, made himself into the Green Bay Packers' all-time leading receiver and seemed to appreciate and enjoy every moment of his unlikely NFL career. There's something for just about everyone in the story of Driver's career.
With Driver's retirement announcement, let's look back on one of the most unlikely and uplifting NFL tales, mostly because it has been relatively unappreciated:
• Driver really overcame a lot growing up
Driver has been very open about his childhood, spending parts of his youth homeless living in a U-Haul trailer. He didn't allow that to drag him down, and overcome tremendous odds to be a NFL success. While we really don't know what or who to believe when it comes to sports tales anymore, this type of story certainly can't be bad if it gives someone else hope.
• Driver gambled on himself as a football player
(USA Today Sports Images)Driver, by all accounts, could have made a run at the 2000 Summer Olympics as a high jumper. Instead, he believed in himself and went the football route, even though he was the Packers' last pick of the 1999 draft, in the seventh round. The Packers picked another receiver in that draft, Dee Miller from Ohio State, and then made two more picks before finally taking Driver. He believed he could make it, however, and worked hard to make it happen.
• Driver handled himself like a professional
I covered Driver for a couple years very early in his (and my) career, and he always was accommodating and handled himself as all NFL players should. A true pro in every sense. That was a long time ago, so Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is a better source on the matter.
"In two decades of sports writing, no one has ever treated me any kinder or with more respect," Nickel said. "Fans will miss that 28-tooth smile, but I'll miss the laughs and knowing I could always count on (Driver) in the locker room."
• Driver was a heck of a player
Go watch that touchdown on the top of the post. That's Garrison Hearst against the Jets or Marshawn Lynch against the Saints. And Driver is listed at 194 pounds and was 34 years old when he made that play. He had 743 catches, 10,137 yards and 61 touchdowns, an unbelievable run for a seventh-round pick. Or most anyone for that matter.
• Driver went on "Dancing With The Stars"
And he won! Cue the video:
• Driver played his entire career in one place
It's not fair to criticize players who want to continue their careers on another team after becoming synonymous with one franchise, but it's always nice when a player spends a long career entirely in one place. Surely the people of Wisconsin appreciate him ending it now rather than going to the Vikings. It's a great show of loyalty through the years, by the player and team.
Driver isn't going to go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his story is as unique and compelling as anyone there.