Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver celebrates with Matt Klein, the team's football administration coordinator, after the Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 21-14 in the NFC Championship game at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
CHICAGO – Willie Davis won five world championships with the Green Bay Packers, including the first two Super Bowls ever played. The look on his face then couldn’t have been much different from the skin-stretching smile he had on his way out of the locker room on Sunday.
Seated in a wheelchair, the 76-year-old Davis -- the Packers' honorary captain on this day -- shook almost every hand and accepted and passed out congratulations as media members and other supporters poured into the visitors' locker room after Green Bay's 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game at Soldier Field.
Running back Brandon Jackson occupied the first locker in front of the door and hadn’t removed his new gray hat and shirt that read “Conference Champions 2010.”
“Next to the birth of my kids, pretty much nothing (compares),” Jackson said. “It’s amazing how we can come in here, play as a team, go on the road three games in a row and just best them up.
“It’s amazing. It’s fun. We’re blessed.”
Donald Driver, the most senior player on the roster with 12 seasons in Green Bay, was the king of the postgame celebration. Questions came in waves and teammates gazed proudly from across the room.
They wanted a trip to the Super Bowl. But they also wanted it for “Drive.”
“I think I’m still dreaming,” Driver said. “When I came in in ’99, I was just trying to make the team. Once you start accomplishing all these types of dreams, the biggest dream is to win the Super Bowl. Now I’m there. Now I just have to win it all.
“The final chapter of everything is to win a Super Bowl and put that ring on your finger.”
The Packers last went to the Super Bowl in 1998 – one year before Driver played his first season. Drivers has become the team’s all-time leading receiver and ranks No. 2 in receiving yardage. Driver is No. 4 in touchdown receptions.
But that resume is still incomplete.
“You get to a point in your career where that’s all you think about – your legacy,” Driver said. “Me and (Charles Woodson), we always talk about our legacy and where does it stand among all the other great players. They say all the great players win a Super Bowl. “That’s what we have to do now to put that final chapter in the book. … Putting that ring on my finger means more than anything.”
Linebacker Erik Walden is on the opposite end of the spectrum and was downright giddy after the game.
Walden has been a journeyman over the first three years of his career, playing in Kansas City and Miami, before signing with the Packers on Oct. 27. He moved into the starting lineup when Frank Zombo went down with a knee injury and has been a key component in this playoff run.
“I’m still in shock. I’m shocked!” Walden said. “I’m speechless. I really don’t know what to say. My goal was to just contribute. … I’m a confident player and I always feel like I’ve got something to offer. At, the same time, I didn’t know it would end up like this.
“It was crazy in here. A typhoon in here Cutting up. … All the hard work. All the preparation. Hours in the weight room. Hours in the training room. Hours in the film room. It’s paid off.”
Safety Charlie Peprah was born in Fort Worth, Texas and went to high school at Plano East. He couldn’t stop talking about going home.
“I appreciate everybody taking me home,” Peprah said. “I can’t wait. I ain’t worried about (buying tickets) right now. We in the Super Bowl, baby! We in the Super Bowl.
“People play for years and years and never make it to the Super Bowl. Let alone go and win it. So, that’s the goal. I don’t want to take this opportunity for granted. We’ve been counting down the quarters. We’ve got four more quarters to go.”
The postgame celebration had a special feel with so many contributors involved. The Packers have 15 players on injured reserve and starters or key reserves missed 162 combined games due to injury.
Guys like Walden, Peprah and Desmond Bishop got their opportunity when starters went down. Rookies like Bryan Bulaga, Sam Shields (two interceptions, one sack) and James Starks (74 rushing yards, one touchdown) have made as much an impact as the veterans.
“We always said, even when people were saying we might not make the playoffs, we said what a story we’re going to make when we make it to the Super Bowl and win,” said defensive end Ryan Pickett, who could barely speak because his voice was so hoarse.
General Manager Ted Thompson leaned against a wall in the locker room and looked over the party like an architect watching the final touches being put on his masterpiece.
He explained 2010 with a calm simplicity.
“Injuries are injuries, they come up,” Thompson said. “We’ve not used them as an excuse this year and we’re not now. We’re proud of the new guys that came in and helped this team out. We’re proud of the leaders and veterans on this team that took them in. I’m very proud of the coaching staff for coaching them up and getting them ready to play.
“These guys, they don’t know any better. They’re just playing.”
And now they’re playing for the title of world champions.