Editor's note: This story was originally published March 31, 2012.
Donald Driver is taking this dancing thing seriously — right down to the buttons on his shirt. When his pro partner Peta Murgatroyd told him she wanted him sexy for his “Dancing With the Stars” debut, the Green Bay Packers all-time leading receiver was willing to show some skin in the name of his cha-cha.
“The good thing about it is we didn’t have to take the whole shirt off,” Driver said by phone from Los Angeles, where the popular ABC dancing competition is shot. “But we unbuttoned it as much as we could before I decided, ‘No, I’m not gong anymore than that until I’m sure the wife is OK with it.’
(For the record: No. 80 says he does have veto power over wardrobe choices on the show.)
“And she was fine with it. She said, ‘You could’ve taken it off if you wanted to.’ ”
But, hey, unless you’re Maksim Chmerkovsky, you have to save a little something for Week 6, right? And make no mistake, Team Driving Miss Peta plans to be in this 12-couple ballroom blitz for the long haul.
Heading into Week 3 of the competition, the 37-year-old Driver and the Australian-born Murgatroyd have racked up a first-night standing ovation for their ballroom-igniting cha-cha, scored 8s across the board for this week’s smooth quickstep and done the nearly unthinkable in the world of “DWTS” — received a rare apology from technical stickler Len Goodman on Monday for not scoring their first performance higher. That puts them seventh in the standings, with the rumba awaiting them next week.
Not one to get nervous, Driver admits that after weeks of rehearsals and media interviews, it was nice to get that initial cha-cha under his belt.
“I think once you get the first one out of the way, you kind of know what to expect with the crowd being there ... At first, I think it was a little nerve-racking, because you never knew what was going to happen. But once everything just kind of went, it made it so easy,” Driver said. “For whatever reason, when the cameras come on, it’s time to have fun. It’s game time. It seemed like I was playing a football game.”
And when the unofficial Twitter reviews came back proclaiming that he and Murgatroyd were “hot” during their cha-cha, Driver got a kick out of it. So did his wife, Betina.
“The wife is fine with it. She knows I’m a hot guy,” he said in a tone that implied his signature smile was undoubtedly full beam on the other end of the phone. “I think she married me for a reason, and that was part of it.”
As much as “DWTS” is about the ability to master the foxtrot one week and the jive the next, the competition, now in its 14th season, is also a chance for TV viewers to see a different side to the stars as they soldier through demanding rehearsals, react to judges’ comments and goof around with their partners backstage. After 13 seasons with the Packers, three “Quickie” children’s book and his Donald Driver Foundation charity work, there isn’t much about him that Wisconsin fans don’t know, he said. But for viewers outside the state, Driver hopes they get to see who he is.
“What I want people to know is not just that I’m a great football player, but also I can ballroom dance. And not even that, but I’m compassionate, a great husband, a great father and a great Christian man. I think outside of that, that’s all that matters to me,” he said.
Betina and their three children, Cristian, Christina and Charity, have been in L.A. with him since before “DWTS” premiered on March 19. His daily routine of doing his football workout early in the morning followed by five hours of dance rehearsals at 11 a.m. offers him a perk that a typical 6:30 a.m.-to-4:30 p.m. training camp day doesn’t: time with his family. They often come to the studio to watch he and Murgatroyd rehearse. For his kids, it’s a whole new experience to see Dad dancing.
“As kids growing up, they always watched me play football ... Now they see a different side of me as well. ‘Oh, my dad can dance.’ And now they’re picking up me and Peta’s routines. They’re watching us at practice, and they’re copying it. That’s funny to see how they copy the routines back and forth. Now I just told Peta we should bring them in and let them do the routine, and we just watch them.”
Going forward in what has been called “the most competitive season” of the show, Driver is depending on not just his feet, but the voting power of Packers fans, to help carry him through.
“They are my secret weapon,” he said. “The love they have for you day in and day out, it’s amazing. You normally don’t get that from other teams, but you do get that from the Packers fans. I’m just glad I can say I’ve been a Packer my whole career, and the fans have supported me, not just on the field, but also off.
“Tell the Packer Nation to keep voting to make sure we’re on this show for a long time. We want to bring the Mirror Ball Trophy back to the state of Wisconsin.”