Janesville85°

Driver reaches for elusive Super Bowl trip

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McClatchy-Tribune
January 22, 2011
— It has been a 12-year quest for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver.

A remarkable career that started as an unheralded seventh-round draft pick out of Alcorn State and has exceeded all expectations still has one glaring hole.


"It has always been a dream of mine to get to the Super Bowl," Driver said. "It's right in front of me right now."


It's right at his fingertips, like an Aaron Rodgers pass, waiting to be snatched from the air. The Packers are one step from the Super Bowl, needing to defeat the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field in the NFC championship game to make Driver's career complete.


But he's been in this spot before. The Packers lost 23-20 in overtime at Lambeau Field to the New York Giants in the 2007 NFC title game.


No wonder Driver said, "I don't take anything for granted," when asked about the prospects of getting past the Bears.


If Driver is haunted by the loss to the Giants, he isn't saying.


"You can't talk about the past. You've got to talk about the future," he said. "The past is gone. This is a new day. I'm happy to be in the NFC championship once again."


Driver has been on other good teams, too, such as in 2003 when the Packers lost 20-17 in overtime in the divisional playoffs in the infamous "Fourth-and-26" game against the Philadelphia Eagles. But he believes this is his best chance yet.


"I can say this is the best team I've played on because everybody believes," he said. "I talked about the '07 game, I don't think everybody believed (then). I think guys knew we had an opportunity maybe (the) next year. These guys know, we've got it right now."


The Packers have only four players on their active roster with at least 10 years of NFL experience. In addition to Driver, left tackle Chad Clifton is in his 11th season, cornerback Charles Woodson is in his 13th and defensive end Ryan Pickett is in his 10th.


Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he can sense the urgency coming from that group, from "Donald all the way down," and the coach has leaned on those players in the playoffs.


Driver and Clifton have spent their entire careers with the Packers. Woodson and Pickett arrived as free agents in 2006 and are the only players on the team to have played in a Super Bowl.


Woodson made it during the 2002 season with the Oakland Raiders, who lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pickett made it as a rookie with St. Louis in 2001, when the Rams lost to the New England Patriots.


"They come up to me and Woodson and ask us about the Super Bowl," Pickett said of his teammates. "We just tell them, 'It's the greatest experience you can ever have.' ... We try to get them to keep their focus. It's so hard to get to the NFC championship game, so we have to finish this opportunity."


Woodson, 34, has said the only reason he's still playing is to win a Super Bowl.


"For every player in the NFL, these are the moments that you play for, to have an opportunity," he said. "I've been (to the Super Bowl) once, and it was an incredible experience. It's been a long time ago, though, now. The thing is you never know when you'll get back. You never know if you'll get there."


Driver's production slipped a bit this season with 51 receptions for 565 yards in the regular season. It was the first time he caught fewer than 70 passes and had less than 1,000 receiving yards since catching 52 passes for 621 yards in 2003.


Still, he leads the team after two playoff games with 11 catches for 132 yards. He turns 36 next month and has said he plans to return next season. His 9,615 career receiving yards trail only James Lofton (9,656) in team history. Driver already is the franchise's all-time leader with 698 career catches.


No one is saying this is Driver's last chance to reach the Super Bowl, but the wide receivers are treating it as such.


"The window of opportunity isn't getting any bigger (for Driver)," said Greg Jennings, who is in his fifth year. "We're afforded the chance to get there this year and we have to make the best of it. Obviously, Donald has been around for a while and he's been in this position once and we didn't get it done. Now we have a second chance. You're not afforded too many second chances in this game, so we have to make the best of it."


Not that the receivers need any added motivation, but they are united behind the idea of getting Driver to the Super Bowl.


"Every time we break out there (on the practice field) as wideouts, we say we're playing for him, because who knows how long he's going to play?" wide receiver James Jones said. "We're trying to get him a Super Bowl ring."


Driver appreciates the sentiment, although it's not necessarily new. The top four receivers - Jennings, Driver, Jones and Jordy Nelson - have been together for three years and have talked all that time about getting Driver to the Super Bowl.


"As bad as they want to get me to the Super Bowl, I want to get them to the Super Bowl," Driver said.



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