Horror of horrors, the Packers gave somebody else the number 80.
You, Justin Perillo, through no fault of your own, have committed a mortal sin. You have besmirched the number of Donald Driver…somehow. At least, that’s the impression I get from the people I hear from on the internet. Somehow, a sizable chunk of people have decided that Mr. Driver deserves the ultimate honor of having his number retired. Their passion is admirable, but I’m afraid it’s misguided.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Donald Driver was a great player for the Packers and he certainly deserves all the credit in the world for the career he made for himself. He’ll be a slam dunk induction for the Packers Hall of Fame.
But don’t retire his jersey.
I think there are three criteria by which players should be evaluated in terms of having their numbers retired, and Driver doesn’t meet any of them.
First, the player should be considered an all-time great at their position and should be noticeably better than their peers in their era. Think about the numbers the Packers have retired: Tony Canadeo, Don Hutson, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, and Reggie White are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All are in the conversation about the best players of their era. Canadeo was one of the NFL’s first great back. Don Hutson was the first great receiver. Bart Starr is a five time NFL champ. Ray Nitschke was the anchor of Lombardi’s defense. Reggie White is one of the great pass rushers ever.
Driver? In his best season, he ranked fifth in the NFL in receiving yards, fifth in receptions, and tied for tenth in touchdowns. Very good, but hardly one of the best of his era.
Second, a player should have altered the course of the franchise such that had he not been a part of the team, the team’s history would be significantly different. This may be the strongest evidence against retiring Driver’s number. While he was certainly a nice story during his time in Green Bay, he was hardly a franchise altering player by any stretch of the imagination. His role could have been filled, for better or worse, by a variety of similar players over the years.
Thirdly, I think a player whose number is up for retirement should set a standard for his position in such a way that subsequent players are measured by his performance. For example, when you talk about Packers’ defensive ends, it’s always in light of the impact of Reggie White (or, to a lesser degree and from a purely statistical standpoint, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila). When future Packers fans talk about quarterbacks, they’ll say “he’s the best since Aaron Rodgers.” Do people speak of Driver the same way? Will they? I don’t think so.
This is not intended as any dig against Driver. His career accomplishments speak for themselves. A seventh round pick rising to become a three time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion is hardly anything to sneeze at. But this is about establishing a pantheon of all-time greats, and I’m not sure Driver meets that criteria.