Driver has no intention of quitting

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McClatchy Tribune
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
— When Donald Driver and team physician Patrick McKenzie met a few days after the season, their discussion centered on how Driver wanted the remainder of his career to play out.

At issue was the condition of Driver’s left knee, which unknown to reporters, fans and most of his Green Bay Packers teammates had been causing him persistent sharp pain for the past three or four seasons.

“He said, ‘If you can play through it the next couple years, then do it. You don’t have to do it,’ ” Driver said of McKenzie’s advice.

Play a couple years? Uh, not quite.

Driver intends to be going strong for a lot longer than that. So given the fact he was still a month shy of his 35th birthday, the decision was as simple for Driver as pivoting away from a slot defender on third and 4.

“A goal of mine is to play until I’m 40,” Driver said. “I’m like, ’Look, I want to play longer. What’s going to make me play longer?’

“He said, ‘Get ’em done so you won’t have to be in pain.’”

Driver’s problem knee was the left, but he also had arthroscopy done on his right knee in 1996 shortly after competing in the U.S. Olympic Trials as a high jumper from Alcorn State. That had been his only previous surgery.

So Driver let McKenzie operate on both knees on the same day in mid-January.

“I guess you could say it was like cartilage,” said Driver. “It was irritating. More when I planted. It gave you that sharp pain and then it went away.”

In 1999, Driver could have written the book on how to make a National Football League roster as a seventh-round draft choice. One chapter would have been on staying out of the trainer’s room.

Even as an elite player, Driver “stayed away,” in his words, from the medical staff in recent years. About his only allowance for the knee was applying heat occasionally on game days.

Driver didn’t take a snap during May or June. But he was back rockin’ and rollin’ Saturday afternoon, flitting across the field making difficult catches look routine and loving his life in the NFL’s smallest city.

“Now I can go out there with no pain, having fun,” he said Sunday. “I can run. I can cut. I don’t feel it. Now that I’ve gotten them done I’m able to go back and play like I did in 2001, 2002, the early years.”

What can’t Driver do on the field today that he once could?

Pause. Longer pause.

“Nothing,” said Driver. “I hear it all the time. Like, ‘Last year he declined.’ I did not decline last year at the end. I didn’t get the opportunity. Everybody got the ball at the end of the season. I’m still playing the same way I did in ’99.”

Driver is quick to acknowledge that he did drop too many balls in 2009. But his average per catch of 15.2 yards was his best since 2002, evidence that the unwanted tag of “veteran possession receiver” doesn’t apply to his game.

As Driver flashes his million-dollar smile preparing for what would be a seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season, he is dealing with an issue that could become even more troubling than a sore knee. Driver, the ultimate Packer, is in the final year of his contract and has received no indication from management that he’ll be offered another deal.

Last updated: 2:48 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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