Thursday, August 26, 2010

Donald Driver's Odds for Post-Career Honors

After wrapping last night's episode of Cheesehead Radio, Jersey Al and Holly were doing a post-show chat with me.  And, Holly went on a rant about one of the few topics that can get Packer fans feeling like they are getting the short end of the stick:  the importance of Donald Driver and the respect he receives from the rest of the NFL.

Now mind you, as the Packers prepare the play the Colts tonight, we are talking about one of the few quarterbacks and receiving corps that can have a legitimate challenge to the Packers' supremacy this upcoming year.  Dallas Clark, when asked about the receivers as a group earlier this month, "They're the best in the NFL."

Naturally, I would take umbridge to any such claim, but Payton Manning vs. Aaron Rodgers is still far from a clear-cut victory at this point in A-Rodge's career.  However, the explosive potential of Jennings, Driver, Jones, and Finley would match up very closely to the Colts' package of Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, and Clark.

Let's put it this way:  the passing game is not a critical concern for either team.

But what got Holly's goat was the attention paid to Reggie Wayne, the Colts' venerable receiver. Now, I don't know about you, but being an avid fantasy football player for some time now, it was somewhat surprising to learn that Wayne is 32 years old.... I still tend to remember him as the young wide receiver playing next to Marvin Harrison.   But at his age and production, he's reached the point of some gaudy statistics that people are beginning to fawn over.

For example, Wayne is on the verge of compiling his seventh straight 1,000 yard season, which is a record among active players...and people are talking about it.   But, can you guess what NFL player he shares this honor with?  None other than our own Donald Driver.  But often, Driver gets lost in the shuffle when discussions revolve around the better receivers in the NFL, and his prominence is certainly hampered by the presence of Greg Jennings.  

But Driver's leadership and team-record breaking performances should garner him as many post-season honors as Wayne or any other of his contemporary peers, like Torry Holt, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Chad Johnson...players who've had perennial strong seasons since the early 1990's and are now reaching the twilight of their careers.

A question I posed a few weeks ago was whether or not Donald Driver's career had earned him the post-career honors that might be awaiting other prominent Packers, and whether the national oversights that have been a trademark of his career will continue after his playing days are over.

In order, I will address if Donald Driver's career earned him 1) The Packer Hall of Fame  2) The NFL Hall of Fame 3) His name on the Lambeau Field Ring of Honor, and 4) #80 to be retired.

1)  The Packer Hall of Fame (chances: 100%):  When you go back in time and think of the Packers' greatest wide receivers over the course of their long and storied history, three names come to mind:  Don Hutson, James Lofton, and Sterling Sharpe.  Hutson and Lofton are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Sharpe remains eligible. But 34-year old Donald Driver has surpassed these true legends in many statistical categories, and the fact that it doesn't appear his career is over for at least another two years means he's just going to be even more superlative.

Driver now ranks #1 in Packer history in total receptions (647), #2 in total yards (9,050, just 606 behind Sharpe), and #5 in receiving touchdowns (49, tied with Lofton, needs 1 TD to tie Max McGee, 8 to tie Antonio Freeman, and 16 to tie Sterling Sharpe for 2nd overall).  It's nice to know that Hutson's 99 TD receptions is likely safe for a long time.

Regardless, Donald Driver has not only statistical significance, but he's been arguably the most popular, charity-minded, and charismatic Packer player of the post-Holmgren era.  When popular players like Don Majkowski and Mark Chmura make the Packer Hall of Fame, there's no way Donald Driver misses out.

2)  Pro Football Hall of Fame (20%)  Making the Pro Hall is a much harder task, not only because of wider competition, but because name recognition and national attention pays off...and that is something, as Holly begrudged, that Driver hasn't always had.

Looking at Driver's base career numbers  (647 rec., 9050 yards, 49 touchdowns), we can pretty safely say that if he plays another healthy two seasons, he will be in the 10,000 yard club.  That is a mark only achieved 32 times in the history of the NFL, although it is likely that Chad Johnson (9,952) and Reggie Wayne (9,393) will get there before Driver.

But getting 10,000 yard receiving is far from a ticket into the Hall of Fame.  Of the 32 players in the 10,000 Yard Club, 15 are still playing or are not HOF-eligible yet.  Another two (Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez) are tight ends.  That leaves 15 players who have 10,000 yards receiving and are eligible for the Hall, and of those, only eight are in....guys like Rice, Irvin, Lofton, Monk, Largent, and Joiner.  Guys who you can picture in their uniform, and even still remember their number.  The question is whether or not Driver fits that mold.

Or, does he fit the mold of the guys who have 10,000 and haven't made it?  Guys like Jimmy Smith, Andre Reed, Cris Carter, and Irving Fryar...guys who quietly put up yards for teams, yet didn't come away with Super Bowl rings.  And that may be a big mark against Driver if the Packers don't end up winning one in the next couple of years.

The other thing working against Driver is, quite simply, the number of wide receivers that he will be competing against in his years of eligibility.  Issac Bruce, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Randy Moss, Tory Holt, Mushin Muhammad...all will be on the ballot with Driver, and many have that name recognition that Driver sometimes does not get on the national stage.

And since Driver is buried on the receiving touchdown lists (at #104, he presently trails Larry Fitzgerald), the chances that Driver will be looked at as a prolific WR becomes even smaller.  

Again, the chances of Driver getting national attention and respect will go up wildly if the Packers secure a Super Bowl in his career, and then the talk of being a consistent go-to guy for two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks can get some play.

3)  The Lambeau Field Ring of Honor (40%)  At present, twenty Packers have their names circling the facade at Lambeau Field, a way to give a slightly higher honor than the Packer Hall of Fame.  The names include more than just players, as Lombardi and Ron Wolf find their names emblazoned for all time for anyone attending a game at Lambeau Field.

The question is, does Donald Driver have the "honor" to join this illustrious group?  Most of the names on the wall are still reach back to the historical days, names that when being considered were already etched in the minds of many Packer fans as legends.

Unfortunately, the biggest criteria for being on the Wall of Honor is being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  When Ron Wolf was placed on the Lambeau walls in 2006, he had the "honor" of being the first and only Packer there who was not in the Hall of Fame (and still holds as the HOF has not come calling for him yet).

That may be one of the keys to Driver making this honor, as Wolf's "induction" onto the wall almost seemed in response to the failure of Wolf to make the cut in the Hall of Fame voting.  Driver, who may also suffer from this fate, may get a reprieve from the Packers, who wish to place an honor on a long-serving and civic-minded team leader.

One of the other concerns brought up when I posed this question was Driver's childhood, when he was homeless and selling drugs out of the back of the van he lived in.  One commenter said, "No drug dealer is going to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame."  And he may well be right.

But, Driver's childhood wasn't anything he had control over.  He was raised by a single mother, and all the children in Donald's family resorted to selling drugs and stealing cars in order to support the family.  "Quickie" wasn't just a nickname he earned for his running speed, but his driving-away speed. One day, a U-Haul pulled up to the house, with Driver believing that his family was finally out of trouble and were moving to a better place, only to find out the U-Haul was their new home.  He slept on the streets, in hotels, and in cars, and worried day-to-day on how he was going to make it to the next.

His mother made the ultimate sacrifice, splitting up her children and sending them to live with relatives far and wide.  Donald vowed to his brothers and family he would pull them out of poverty, and set his mind to achieving those goals with the best gifts God gave him.  He was a track and field star at Alcorn State, but chose to go with the Packers when selected as only a sixth-round draft pick in 1999, passing up a chance to qualify for the Sydney Olympics the next year.

He lived up to his word, being a model player, a model teammate, a model husband and father, and a model community member.  He supported his brothers and mother, and crated the Donald Driver Foundation, dedicated to helping homeless families.  Most of all, he never takes a day of his life or his career for granted, and that is evident in his approach to the game and in how he takes care of his body as he thrives past the warranty for NFL players.

When I used to argue with Viking fans about Randy Moss, they often used the argument that Moss's criminal behavior and negative impacts on and off the field were all due to the difficult childhood he had, that he was a man to be pitied, not held accountable for his behavior.  In response, I first used the example of LeRoy Butler, a Packer who conquered not only a tough upbringing but physical limitations to become a team leader, and then the example of Donald Driver, a man whose bleak upbringing dwarfed the excuses Viking fans made for Moss.  Moss acted like a self-absorbed, me-first player who "played when Randy wanted to play", while Driver took every opportunity he could get and fought his way into the starting lineup and became Brett Favre's favorite target.

To use someone's childhood as an excuse for adult transgressions has some merit, but it still comes down to the choices the adult makes...not the choices that were made for him as a child.  Likewise, you shouldn't hold Driver's childhood and the decisions that were made for him against him when it comes to considering the body of work he's accomplished as an adult.  He could easily have made destructive choices that could have been explained as "nurtured" from his role models as a child.  The point is, he did not.

Donald Driver may not make the Hall of Fame, but if there is a man who has defined "Packer People" over the course of his career, it's Driver.  And perhaps that is what will define the new Ring of Honor at Lambeau Field.

4)  #80 Retired (10%)   Can you see it up by the scoreboard?  #14, #3, #15, #66, #92...#80?  We all know there's probably another single-digit number that will eventually find its way up there, too, but that is a long ways away.   If they chose to consider Driver's #80, though, it would be an uphill battle.

However, look at the numbers that are up there.  Don Hutson, Tony Canadeo, Bart Starr, and Ray Nitschke were all lifetime Packers, as it is highly likely Driver will be.  In the grand scheme of things, I think playing most of your career with the Packers (if not all of it) should be a primary consideration for having your number retired.  I was actually quite critical of the decision to add #92 to the list, a decision made on emotion following Reggie White's tragic death, without taking into account that White had actually spent more years with the Eagles than with the Packers.  Arguably, his more statistically impressive years were with Philadephia.

Taking nothing away from White, who I think played a critical role in the resurgence of the Packers, but it did "lower the bar" in some ways for consideration of having your number retired.  With perhaps the exception of Canadeo, the other players with numbers retired dominated the NFL at their position during their playing days, if not revolutionizing the position itself....and all as Green Bay Packers.  Adding White to the list, who played less than half his career in Green Bay, closes the door on many of the arguments that can be made to exclude Brett Favre from a similar honor.  

Which, in a way, also opens the door for Favre's favorite receiver in Green Bay, Donald Driver.   He will finish as a lifelong Packer and has been a great receiver and team leader.  However, it would be more difficult to prove the case that Driver dominated his position over the course of his career, much less revolutionized it. 

He does perhaps fit the mold of Tony Canadeo, a popular and productive player in a time span where success was sparce, in the twilight of Lambeau's divorce from the team.  He was the first Packer to ever run for 1,000 yards, just as Driver can make the case he may be the first Packer player to have 1,000 yard receiving for seven (or eight) seasons in a row.

Again, not having a ring on his finger may hinder his slim chances for seeing #80 up on the scoreboard, but it's perhaps all the more reason to root for the Packers' success this year.  

If anyone deserves to be cheered for, it is indeed Donald Driver.


holly said...

First of all, you're welcome.

Secondly, chance of 80% being retired for him? 0%. If James Lofton couldn't do it, I'm sorry, but Donald Driver sure can't. I love him, but I think that Packers will be wearing #80 for many years to come.

Robert Greenfield said...

Great article and a lot of good points. Of those categories, the only thing where I totally agree is the Driver not nec. making the NFL HOF because of the crowded class. Driver did make the Pro Bowl last year, so he may finally be getting the attention he deserves (although perhaps too little too late). I have this dream of Driver getting the Super Bowl MVP this year (knock on wood), which would be awesome for a million and one reasons.

I think he gets the Packer HOF and the number retired for sure (sorry Holly). Lifelong Packer. All-time WR leader. Character guy. Fan favorite. To me it's a no-brainer.

P.S. I also was not convinced about #92 being retired, but hey, that's not worth arguing over.

BigSnakeMan said...

Driver's inclusion in the Packer HOF is so assured it's not even worth speculation. But, as much as I love '80', I believe inclusion in the ring of honor and having his number retired should be honors reserved for those inducted at Canton (Wolf notwithstanding).

As usual, a fine and thoughtful post.

IPB said...

Good write-up C.D., real good.

My biggest fear for Donald Driver isn't his talent, or his chances at achieving the 10,000 mark.

'Course, MAC cuold certainly kill those chances much like Tony Dungy ruined chances for someone else awhile back, here in INDY. I would hate to se it, but it certainly is something to be vigilant about.

Driver's real nemesis is the national hangup the mainstream sports media has for Green Bay, overall. Our Club Membership is very acutely aware of the Media, and the Announcers, constantly highlighting the opposing Team the Packers play each Sunday... and alot of it, over nothing whatsoever to get worked up about.

Yet, when the Packers do it one better, they barely even acknowledge it. It isn't Packer-Bias talking. It's a fact of reality. The worst offenders seem to be Troy Aikman and his kid-sidekick, Joe Buck (a baseball announcer). Course, there are some close second's in that line-up.

In the end, Donald Driver should be allowed to at least make the attempt at the 10,000 yard mark. The Packers should NOT be investing any tactics that interfere with that option. they should, instead, support his every opportunity. I know the Players are on his side. It's the Offensive Coaching Assistants I have always found to be suspect.

Let's just hope for the best. No hindrances, no injuries, and a wide open playing field.


PackersRS said...

IPB, are you actually saying that the coaches are purposedly trying to hurt DD?

And are you seriously lobbying for the Packers' #1 goal to be achieving record marks, and not winning the SB?

John Rehor said...

Excellent read C.D. As much as I would love to see Driver in the NFL HOF I don't think he will ever get there because he was never considered one of the best 2-3 receivers in the game. He is consistent if not splashy, and consistent does not necessarily equal a ticket to Canton.

He deserves to be "home" in the Packer Hall of Fame. That is where I look forward to seeing all of the accolades of 80 for years to come.

Basile said...

That's crap

Donald driver definitively deserves to be inducted into the Packers HOF,he doesn't come close from the NFL HOF,he's not good enough,period.
As for his number being retired,sorry but that's just laughable.Do you realize the kind of players who have their number retired?I understand that today's fans have a soft spot for the most beloved players of their era but that would be devaluing the honor a retired # is.

Anonymous said...

I disagree to the disagreement that Driver has an 80% chance of number retirement (with Loftom as the example). Lofton played 7 seasons with other teams (nearly 50% of his career) where Driver has played every snap as a Packer. Also if I remember correctly, lofton never had much of a connection with Green Bay or the fans (booed on multiple occasions, once Lofton flipped the fans off). Those moments do not disappear from the minds of Packer fans. Driver has had exactly zero incidences and has been the model of professionalism and leadership - especially when Favre lost his mind. Driver also has a Super Bowl ring in GB on his resume and has had MANY more playoff appearances in green and gold than Lofton. Nothing against Lofton's amazing career and numbers, but jersey retirement is less about numbers and more about character and representation. And nobody tops Driver in that area.