NEW ORLEANS (AP) - No other uniform would fit Donald Driver.
The Green Bay Packers all-time leading receiver announced his retirement Thursday morning, with a public ceremony planned for Feb. 6 at the Lambeau Field Atrium.
“I’ve always said I never want to wear another uniform. I’ve always said that I owe it to the fans to retire as a Packer,” Driver said. “I feel like I can still play, but if I can’t play for my organization, then I can’t play for anyone else.”
Driver finishes his 14-year career as Green Bay’s all-time leader in yards receiving (10,137 yards), catches (743) and 1,000-yard seasons (seven), and is third behind Don Hutson and Sterling Sharpe with 61 touchdown receptions. A four-time Pro Bowler, he was Green Bay’s MVP in 2002 and was part of the team that won the Super Bowl following the 2010 season.
“All 14 years. Every day,” Driver said in an interview on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” when asked what his favorite memory is. “That’s a special place to walk out of, and that’s something I’ll never forget.”
Drafted by Green Bay in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, Driver became one of the most popular and prolific Packers. He had six straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2004-09, averaging 14 yards per catch during the stretch. He made at least one catch in 133 straight games from 2002 to 2010, another franchise record.
He’s one of only 18 wide receivers in NFL history with 700-plus career catches and 10,000 or more receiving yards in 200 games.
“It was a pleasure to share the field with you for 4 years! Great player, tremendous person. (hash)retire80,” offensive guard T.J. Lang said on Twitter.
Aaron Rodgers added, “Thanks for the memories quickie, you will be missed (hash)Packer4Life.”
Quickie is Driver’s childhood nickname.
Green Bay fans have a close bond with every Packers player, but they had a particular soft spot for Driver. They loved his bright smile and infectious laugh, and were moved by his story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. Growing up, Driver and his family were so poor that he, his mother and siblings sometimes spent the nights in a U-Haul. He and his brother stole cars to get money, and Driver sold drugs, too.
Packers fans embraced him _ his jersey is a popular sight at Lambeau Field, right up there with Rodgers’ No. 12 and Clay Matthews’ No. 52 _ and he happily returned the love. He’s been active in the community throughout his career and said that won’t change. His annual community softball game will be played June 16.
“That’s my second home,” Driver said. “I’m born and raised in Houston, Texas, but Wisconsin is always going to be a home for me, and I’ll always be back.’
Though Driver had said he hoped to play until he was 40 _ he turns 38 on Saturday _ his retirement was hardly a surprise. He had restructured the final year of his contract to come back this season, but played only a bit role in the offense with Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb ahead of him on the depth chart. Driver’s eight catches for 77 yards were his lowest totals since his rookie season, and he was inactive for four games, including the NFC wild-card, his final game at Lambeau Field.