For Driver and Lee, it was worth the wait
GREEN BAY - Donald Driver had to wait seven rounds to be drafted by the Green Bay Packers. Mark Lee knows the feeling. He had to wait 26 years to join Driver as the newest members of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.
"As a player, you have a lot of other things to worry about," Lee said before Saturday's induction ceremony at Lambeau Field. "After you retire, you reflect on your career. You can get that (Hall of Fame) call after five or 10 years. It took a little longer for me. It validates my career."
Driver's wait for the hall was four years, but he sweated out the 1999 NFL draft, to the point that he didn't believe it when his father told him the Packers were on the phone.
Former general manager Ron Wolf, Driver's presenter, said the Packers had Driver as a fourth-round pick on their draft board and there he was available in the seventh.
"We kept thinking, Donald Driver, Donald Driver," he said. "That makes certain people look very smart."
Driver went on to become the Packers' all-time leading receiver, while Lee was a good player on mediocre teams.
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Driver is the Packers’ all-time leader in receptions with 743. His 205 games played for the Packers over 14 seasons (1999-2012) is second-most in franchise history behind Brett Favre’s 255. Driver compiled a franchise-best 10,137 receiving yards and scored 62 touchdowns. The four-time Pro Bowl selection caught a pass in 133 consecutive games and had nine straight seasons with 50 or more receptions.
Lee ranks second among Packers cornerbacks and eighth overall in team history with 31 career interceptions. During his 11 seasons in Green Bay (1980-'90) he had 104 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries in 157 games. He was the team's leading kick and punt returner early in his career, during which the Packers had two winning seasons (one strike-shortened) and four .500 years.
A highlight of Lee's career was the strike-shortened 1982 season, when the Packers made the playoffs for the only time during his years with the team. They defeated St. Louis 41-16 and lost to Dallas 37-26. Lee intercepted a pass and scored a touchdown against Dallas.
"As a high school athlete, I never saw one better," said Bob Jimenez, who coached Lee in track and football in high school. "He was tough, durable and versatile."
Jimenez, Lee's presenter, met Lee when he was a 15-year-old freshman. He was a young coach and Lee was entering adolescence, "which on its best day is a form of insanity," and they grew close.
"He (weighed) about a buck-ten as a freshman. I watched his first game and I remember how aggressive he was. I said I couldn't wait to get my hands on him," Jimenez said.
Wolf said a similar attitude on Driver's part impressed the Packers.
"He was just fearless. We knew right away, if you nurture this guy, you have something special here ... if he doesn't kill himself first," Wolf said.
Driver, whose post-football career includes a winning turn on "Dancing with the Stars" and a variety of charity work, remains competitive, but centered. He said the only three people he has to prove himself to now are his children – Christian, Christina and Charity – and he includes God in his decision-making.
Driver said he couldn't remember a particular career highlight, but he remembered injuring his neck in 2003 and his wife suggesting that his career was over.
"I said I didn't think God is done with us yet," he said.
Driver missed one game and led the team in receptions.
Also Saturday, former Packers defensive back Johnnie Gray received the Bart and Cherry Starr Recognition Award for his contributions to the Hall of Fame and the community.