Saturday, October 17, 2009
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Driver set to vault to top of Packers' record book

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[October 17, 2009]  GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Almost a decade later, Donald Driver isn't sure what would have come of his then-fledgling career had he gotten serious about a different sport.

"I don't know," Driver said Friday.

Driver was coming off his rookie season as a wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers in 1999 when he considered trying out for the U.S. track and field team in the high jump for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

He had qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in 1996 with a national-best high jump of 7 feet, 6 1/2 inches but didn't make the Olympic team that year while he was an underclassman at Alcorn State.

"He had incredible leaping ability," said fourth-year Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who was Green Bay's quarterbacks coach in 1999. "That's the thing that just really stuck out."


Fortunately for the Packers, Driver dropped his pursuit of another shot at the Olympics and stuck with football.

From late-round afterthought to a Pro Bowler, Driver has had quite a career.

Driver goes into Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field needing only one reception to become the Packers' career leader for catching passes.

He is tied with Sterling Sharpe with 595 catches.

"I think it's surprising," Driver said. "I never would've expected it to happen, but it's an honor. It's one of those things you get excited about it but you get to a point where you kind of just have to put it behind you."

On the brink of a milestone, Driver said he hasn't been asking the coaches to have the first pass thrown to him Sunday.

"It could be the last ball of the game," Driver said. "It doesn't matter."

McCarthy, who calls the plays for the offense, wouldn't say whether he plans to get the record-breaking catch out of the way early.

"Donald is going to have opportunities to catch the ball in this game. I'm pretty confident in that," McCarthy said.

Driver could do without the hoopla. He said the only family members who will be at the game are his wife Betina and their two young children.

"I'm not making a big deal out of it, and no one else in my family is making a big deal out of it," Driver said. "You're happy to be that close, but once you get that close, you've just got to deal with it."

Driver's ascension to the top of the Packers' receptions list is quite impressive.

The Packers selected him from Alcorn State with the last of their 12 draft picks in 1999 in the seventh round, No. 213 overall.

"We talk about those days," McCarthy said. "He's a lot bigger. That's what I remember, how light he was when he came in, but, boy, was he gifted. The thing I remember about Donald in '99 was his ability to go get the football."

Thankful for then-general manager Ron Wolf for drafting him, Driver said hard work made the difference in being able to stick out among a deep group of 13 receivers and earn a roster spot as a rookie.

"Ron Wolf gave me the opportunity," Driver said. "That's the best thing you can ever ask for. He didn't have to do it, but he did it. He took a gamble on me, and it worked out."

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Driver didn't make his pro debut until late in the 1999 season, and his first home game as a Packer at Lambeau Field was against the Lions.

Driver's first catch a few weeks later was a memorable one. He was summoned from the sideline to replace Antonio Freeman, and Brett Favre proceeded to throw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Driver at home against Carolina.

"It just happened that I was wide open, nobody was covering me," Driver said.

Although Driver didn't become a full-time starter until 2002, when he had the first of his team-record six 1,000-yard seasons and earned the first of three Pro Bowl berths, Wolf was behind him from the beginning.

That helped Driver to pass on competing for a spot in the 2000 Olympics and continue pursuing his NFL career.

"I made that decision to stay here and play football, and I think I made the right decision," Driver said. "I knew I had an opportunity to be here for a long time."

Driver could become the Packers' record holder for receiving yards in 2010. He ranks second with 8,277 yards, behind Hall of Famer James Lofton's 9,656.

Driver is humbled by his accomplishments.

"I feel very blessed," Driver said. "From where I came from, I never expected it. To have these opportunities to do exactly what you dreamed as a kid, it's a blessing."

NOTES: McCarthy thinks LT Chad Clifton and S Atari Bigby will be ready to play Sunday after they missed extended time for ankle and knee injuries, respectively. Both players are probable for the game.

[Associated Press]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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