GREEN BAY - Donald and I have grown up together. No, I don't mean as kids, because you don't really grow up until you have some of your own. In the last 10 years, Donald I have developed a close relationship. We have both become better people, and for me it was in part because I knew Donald. And it almost didn't happen.
Back in 2002 we were looking for a player to partner with at WLUK. We had been doing weekly segments for the previous few years, going from "Free Speech" with Antonio Freeman, to "Wayne's World" with Nate Wayne. At the time we were hoping to get another player, and it came down to two Packers. The first was an up and coming cornerback named Mike McKenzie, who seemed on his way to a Pro Bowl career. The other was a young wide receiver who had three career touchdowns. That guy was Donald Driver.
When you spend a lot of time in a pro locker room, you learn a lot about the guys you cover. You see not only how they treat you, but how they treat other people, particularly those who the player doesn't think he can get anything from. Donald treated everyone who came across his path with a kind heart and spirit. I decided even if it didn't work out as well as we hoped on the field with Donald, he would at least always treat us well, and wouldn't do anything to embarrass the station. We made the deal.
The segments were successful, and at the end of the season, Donald wanted to do a TV show. He had had a good year, and with his friend Nate Wayne, we put on a show called the "Bump and Quickie" show, a precursor of "Inside the Huddle". We did one show, the day after the Falcons beat the Packers in the playoffs in 2002. Donald did it with a separated shoulder, but was as cheerful as ever, even though the season was over. The show was well received and the next year, even after Nate Wayne had been cut, we partnered with Donald and his new marketing group Lammi Sports Management, and Inside the Huddle was born.
The first show we were to do, we had a little hiccup. In the first game of the season, Donald got caught in the air, and landed on the back of his neck, knocking him out of the game. As a result, our first show had Mark Tauscher and Betina Driver. That is until Donald saw it on TV in the hospital, and feeling the responsibility, called from his hospital bed to get on the air to tell us he was OK! I went to visit him at Bellin after the show, and saw a man beaten up but not broken. He was back on the field within two weeks.
My relationship with Donald has little to do with football. As we did the show together, working for 10 years, we had the opportunity to do a lot away from the stadium. We golfed together (he hits is a mile, but has no idea where it's going), ate meals, worked on charity projects, including the Evening of Elegance for the last 8 years. We shared experiences in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl, in Dallas at the Super Bowl. I've been to his high school in Houston to talk to his coaches, been to his billiard and golf tournaments, but by far the best have been the charity opportunities. I was there when he gave away the foundation's first house, and to see the looks on the faces of the children who went from homelessness to a bedroom of their own was truly priceless. His passion for helping others equaled his passion on the field.
We have also seen each other's family grow up. Every time I see him, he first asks if I'm good, but then gets down to business. How are my wife and two daughters? Are they happy? Our kids grew up together on the show. I was just watching shots of our children, first as babies, then older, wearing Halloween costumes, sitting on laps, hanging on necks on the set. The real craziness came backstage, sometimes with four toddlers running around as we tried to do interviews. We've talked about being dads and husbands, how to live life. He is one of those great men who truly loves his wife, and Betina is every bit his equal, in giving and living. It was her idea to start the Evening of Elegance to help victims of Katrina.
His optimism has always inspired me, no matter what was going on at Lambeau. I remember doing Inside the Huddle in our fourth year when the Packers went 4-12. Every week would say "we just have to win this week to get on a roll", even when they were 2-7. His positivity is infectious. Just three weeks ago I sat at his locker, and he told me how his Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, in and out of the hospital, just a week after his brother's wife had passed away suddenly. Still, even with an emotional voice, he said how blessed he felt, sustained through the tough times.
I'm so fortunate to be able to call Donald my friend. He remains one of the few professional athletes that has never disappointed, and in retirement I hope he is happy. It may be the first time in his career he will make people sad; sad they won't be able to watch him play football, sad they won't be able to come to his
show, sad they won't have number 80 around with his electric grin and eclectic moves. Best of luck, my friend, and remember you will always have a family here in Green Bay, thousands strong.
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