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Donald Driver scores with Thank You Fans Tour

Photo: Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Photo: Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

GREEN BAY – Donald Driver swept into the Boys & Girls Club the same way he cut across the middle of a football field: with energy, optimism and a clear purpose.

Driver, in fact, is sweeping across all of Wisconsin as part of his Thank You Fans Tour, which began Thursday and wraps up Sunday with his charity celebrity softball game at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.

His message for the boys and girls was that they can be anything they want to be if they work at it and their parents support them; "Even the next Green Bay Packer. Just don't break my records," he said, flashing his trademark smile.

He knows what it is to overcome long odds. Growing up in Houston, Driver was homeless for a time in his early teens and admits to stealing cars and selling drugs to support his family. Moving in with his grandmother and athletics allowed him go a different, better direction. He was a four-sport star in high school and excelled at track and football at Alcorn State in Mississippi, where the Packers found him.

Driver, who retired in 2012, is the Packers' all-time leading receiver, with team records for receptions (743) and receiving yards (10,137). He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on July 22 at Lambeau Field.

It was a loud, rambunctious group at the club, as you'd expect from a room full of pre-teens, but when Driver told them, gently, to shush, they shushed and listened to his message.

The west-side Boys & Girls Club of Greater Green Bay was his seventh stop of the day, several of them unannounced. He dropped in at restaurants where people nudged each other and wondered if it was really him, until he smiled. Then they knew.

Photo: Richard Ryman/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Photo: Richard Ryman/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

"It's been a great lesson for myself. It kind of brings you back to reality," Driver said. "It makes you appreciate the fans so much more now. We even stopped in these little towns and see individuals that never get a chance to see us at all.

"Every stop we've had since Thursday morning has been remarkable."

Proceeds from Sunday's charity celebrity softball game and from corporate sponsorship of the tour go to the Donald Driver Foundation. Supporting the tour are Kohl's, Jockey International, Associated Bank and Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin.

"We've helped so many organizations and programs continue to grow. We've supported the Boys & Girls Club right here in Green Bay," he said. "We just left the Miracle League (in Manitowoc). We helped build a playground and baseball field for those individuals who just want to play the sport that they love."

Acoya Hernandez, 12, of Green Bay, was thrilled to present Driver with a drawing made by club members and to help him draw tickets for a raffle, even though one of the tickets she pulled out of the bucket belonged to her sister, Haylie, 13, and she admitted that she's at least half a Dallas Cowboys fan.

Photo: Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Photo: Sarah Kloepping/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Kaeden Harris, 10, more than balanced Hernandez's fandom. Wearing a Driver jersey, he stepped up to the microphone and explained they had a drawing "for his guy here," before reading a poem that was part of the artwork, his smile equaling that of Driver.

"You wonder why we do the things that we do? This is why we do this, because of kids like this," Driver said. 

Other tour highlights included giving three families back-to-school shopping sprees, making cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair, dropping in at Leinenkugel's 150th anniversary celebration Saturday in Eau Claire and more.

"I give to the state of Wisconsin because you all have given me so much for 14 amazing years of playing," he said. "This is why we've done this tour. This is why we continue to support the local community. To give this support back."

Story by Richard Ryman, courtesy of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

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Donald Driver softball game lineup includes former Packers, celebrities

GRAND CHUTE - When the Donald Driver thank you tour makes its way to Fox Cities Stadium on Sunday, a handful of former Green Bay Packers will share the field with a mix of celebrities from the entertainment world.

Driver, who has embarked on a thank you tour following his induction into the Packers Hall of Fame, will host a softball game at 1:05 p.m. Sunday on the field usually occupied by the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Joining Driver and his family will be former Packers James Jones, Dorsey Levens, Andre Rison, Nick Collins, Aaron Kampman, Robert Ferguson, Craig Nall and Tony Fisher.

Other athletes in the lineup include five-time Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair, former UFC Lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, former Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette basketball player Steve Novak and former Wisconsin Badgers basketball player Josh Gasser.

The entertainment world — which Driver has dabbled in since winning ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" in 2012 — will be represented by Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw, "Gossip Girl" actress Jessica Szhor, "General Hospital" actress Emily Wilson, "Rules of Engagement" actor Adhir Kalyan, "The Voice" contestants Andi and Alex Peot and NBC’s "The Biggest Loser" host Jen Widerstrom.

“We will have a great group of Packers legends and celebrity friends battling it out this Sunday,” Driver said in a released statement. 

Fox Cities Stadium is familiar territory for Driver. During his playing days, he hosted the annual charity game that features current Packers players. Jordy Nelson is now in that role.

General admission tickets for Sunday's game are $10 and available at 920-733-4152, in person at the stadium box office or through timberrattlers.com.

The parking lot opens at 9:30 a.m. Parking is $10 for cars and $20 for buses and RVs.

The gates to the stadium will open at 10:30 a.m. There is a sponsor game scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. The featured game will start at 1:05 p.m.

Story by Ed Berthiaume, courtesy of postcrescent.com.

 

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Donald Driver will make cream puffs at State Fair on his "Thank You Fans" Tour

As if Donald Driver could get any more popular around here, the beloved former Packers wide receiver, as part of his "Thank You Fans" tour, will help make cream puffs at Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 11.

The tour, believed to be the first of its kind for a professional athlete to travel around and formally recognize his supporters, will help benefit the Donald Driver Foundation and also give fans an opportunity to interact with the charismatic and ever-active retired player, who still looks as fit as he was in his playing days.

"I am excited to make some cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair, and maybe eat a few too," Donald Driver said in a statement. "A great Wisconsin tradition, plus I get to share a treat with some awesome fans."

Kathleen O'Leary, Wisconsin State Fair Park CEO, said cream puffs and Donald Driver, both cherished and smile-inducing, are a natural local pairing.

"As iconic as Original Cream Puffs are to the Wisconsin State Fair, and Donald Driver is to the Green Bay Packers, we are excited to bring them together," O'Leary said.

Click here to watch a video of Driver talking about the upcoming tour stop.

Also on Wednesday, it was announced that Driver will attend the Miracle League of the Lakeshore's All-Star Game in Manitowoc on the evening of Aug. 11. He will participate as a coach, and might even put on a glove and play too. The annual Donald Driver Softball Game in Appleton will be held on Aug. 13.

These stops, as well as others yet to be announced, are part of Driver's much-anticipated Aug. 10-13 tour through Wisconsin. Driver, who was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame on July 22, retired from the NFL in 2012, following a 14-year career and as the franchise's all-time leader in receiving yards.

"I have wanted to do this tour since I first announced my retirement from the Packers, and now is a perfect time to say thank you for all of the support," Driver said. "My wife Betina and I raised three beautiful children here, and we remain ingrained in our support for the state of Wisconsin, because of the incredible, lifelong friendships and relationships that have been built over 20 years."

Driver's adversity-overcoming story from homeless kid in Houston to seventh-round draft pick in Green Bay to four-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl champion, "Dancing with the Stars" winner and New York Times bestselling author is well-documented and inspiring. Inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016, he has returned to the state many times for charity events and public appearances. He spoke to OnMilwaukee in February on a range of topics, including his extensive post-career work, love of Green Bay fans and Aaron Rodgers vs. Brett Favre.

On Aug. 11 at the State Fair, you won't want to miss a chance to see Driver and perhaps even eat a cream puff prepared by the Packers legend.

Story by Jimmy Carlton, courtesy of onmilwaukee.com

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Donald Driver's 'amazing' story never gets old

Franchise's all-time leading receiver cherishes Packers Hall of Fame induction

Photo: Victoria McBryde / packers.com

Photo: Victoria McBryde / packers.com


GREEN BAY – As the 1999 draft wound down to the seventh round, then Packers general manager Ron Wolf saw one player left on his board graded a bit higher than everyone else.

“I think he was up there in the fourth round,” Wolf said of the scouting staff’s evaluation. “The board was wiped out, and we kept staring at Donald Driver, Donald Driver.

“Even though we thought we didn’t need a wide receiver, we finally took one, and look what happened.”

Packers fans are forever grateful Driver’s availability couldn’t be ignored. Green Bay drafted him with its final pick in ’99, No. 213 overall in the seventh round, and over the next 14 years, Driver would go on to become the franchise’s all-time leading receiver.

Driver was immortalized on Saturday night at Lambeau Field with his induction into the Packers Hall of Fame. It’s an honor that was inevitable once his name was splashed all over the team record books but equally improbable given his humble upbringing in Houston, modest college career at Division I-AA Alcorn State, and longshot status in the draft.

Driver caught just 37 passes over his first three years but then developed into a go-to guy. He eventually posted seven seasons with 70-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards, breaking Sterling Sharpe’s franchise mark for receptions and James Lofton’s for receiving yardage.

His career totals of 743 catches and 10,137 yards go along with three Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl title, plenty to be proud of for a guy who started by running around with reckless abandon on special teams just to get noticed in practice.

“I don’t know if it’s one thing specific that I can pick,” Driver said Saturday, regarding what he’s most proud of. “Everything in my career has been truly a blessing. I think God made a way out of no way.”

From living out of the back of a U-Haul truck at one point as a kid, Driver grew to love football from his father, a quarterback who earned a scholarship to Texas A&M and might have turned pro if not for his own father’s death, which forced him to give up his NFL dreams and take care of the family.

Driver simply never let his dream die. Wolf credited Alonzo Highsmith, now the Packers’ senior personnel executive, for scouting Driver at Alcorn State. Then, as a rookie longshot, Driver kept making an acrobatic play almost daily in his first training camp.

“He was just fearless, so you knew right away if we nurture this, we have something really special here,” said Wolf, who presented Driver for induction. “If he doesn’t kill himself first.

“Obviously we didn’t realize the steps this young fellow here would take, but we didn’t draft players to fail. We drafted players we thought would have an opportunity to make our team, and Donald more than did that.”

He even overcame a scary neck injury in 2003 against the Vikings that saw him leave a nearly silent Lambeau Field on a stretcher. Driver said after that, his wife wanted him to hang it up.

“I told her, ‘I don’t think God’s done with us yet. If I can recover from this, let’s just see where God takes us,’” Driver said. “Eleven years later, He took us to places we never thought we would go. It’s been truly amazing.”

A fan favorite who triumphed on “Dancing With The Stars” before his final season in 2012, Driver was involved in countless community endeavors during his time in Green Bay. His post-football life has continued in that vein, with television and book projects oriented toward special, inspirational stories.

None will ever be as big as his own, though.

He admitted the thought of entering the Packers Hall of Fame never crossed his mind until he was approaching Sharpe’s franchise receptions record in 2009. Two years later, he broke Lofton’s yardage mark after missing the second half of the Super Bowl due to a leg injury.

 “To be the all-time Packers leading receiver in franchise history, that tells you you’re among some of the greatest icons and legends that have played in green and gold,” Driver said. “To surpass those individuals is something I know I’m going to cherish for a long time.

“And my day will come when somebody will break mine, and I hope they cherish it as much as I cherished it when I broke theirs.”

Story by Mike Spofford, Courtesy of the Green Bay Packers.

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