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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It's No Time to Let Driver Waltz Away

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Who says the Packers didn't win a championship this year? Last week Donald Driver, with help from Packer Backers around the country, was voted to the title in "Dancing With the Stars." But grabbing the Mirror Ball doesn't mean the beloved but 37-year-old receiver will still be catching a more familiar object at Lambeau Field this fall.

Frank
: Just by luck I caught the country-western dance that probably won it for Driver. I dropped by my brother's place on Long Island and my sister-in-law loves the show.

Artie
: I lucked out too, in a different way. I was switching between the show and the Celtics-76ers game. Somehow I was able to figure out the timing of ABC's endless commercials and worthless stretches of blather.

Frank
: I'm kind of surprised you were paying attention in the first place.

Artie
: Hey, Driver is a good guy and a great Packer, so why not? Besides, my mother is a huge Packer fan, so she was heavily invested in the show. It was fun to talk about it with her.

Frank
: But didn't it disturb you to see a Packer performing as a Cowboy?

Artie
: He was in Packer colors anyway. Maybe the subliminal message was that Dallas is where he'll go if he and Ted Thompson can't agree on a new contract. Or maybe he'll become a Texan, as in Houston, where he grew up—although he can't have many fond memories of that place, ain'a?

Frank
: Periods of homelessness and doing things on the wrong side of the law—yeah, he had to overcome a lot, and that's one of the great things about his success. It was also nice that after the victory he said that as a Super Bowl winner, he was glad to help his partner, Peta Murgatroyd, reach the same level in her field.

Artie
: You know where I would have loved to watch their big dance? In some redneck honky-tonk in the depths of Mississippi or Alabama. To see a black guy dancing with a white lady like that—I can just imagine some of the comments.

Frank
: Driver was really flingin' her around there! During their practice sessions he even caught her in the chops with an elbow or something, drawing a little blood. He's obviously in great shape, but there was a moment when she dived from above him and he was holding her up, backpedaling like a cornerback, that I thought I saw his legs buckle. I thought, "Uh-oh, this would be the worst drop of his career."

Artie
: Anyone who's been jousting with defensive backs and just staying alive on NFL fields for 13 seasons is one strong guy. But here's what surprised me: They've had fourteen versions of "Dancing With the Stars." Isn't it time for some other kind of competition for celebs, maybe a little more serious?

Frank
: Um, such as?

Artie
: How about "Nuclear Arms Talks With the Stars"?

Frank
: So they'd be paired up with world leaders? Whoever drew Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or that North Korean blubber boy would have quite a challenge.

Artie
: Or how about "Mars Expeditions With the Stars"?

Frank
: The team whose radio transmissions last the longest would win? It would be tough to present the Mirror Tang Jar. But back to the real world: It's nice that Driver won, but is Ted Thompson enough of a dance fan to bring him back?

Artie
: Not for that reason only. Remember, this game is a business! But however the conversation goes, it'll have to happen soon. Driver is due a $1.5 million bonus if he's on the roster in July.

Frank
: I've seen on the Web that his base salary was about $2.6 million. Is he worth a total of $4 million to the team?

Artie
: Negative, at least from their point of view. But Driver has indicated he's willing to negotiate.

Frank
: In cold, hard numbers, what was his contribution on the field last season?

Artie
: Only 37 catches for 445 yards, down from 51 and 565 two years ago. But his per-catch average was better, 12.0 yards to 11.1, and he had six touchdowns last season to only four in 2010. In the playoff game against the Giants he had three catches for 45 yards and scored one of the Pack's two TDs.

Frank
: In his best seasons his per-catch average was in the 15-yard range, so it's not like he's fallen off a cliff in that category. And like an earlier "Dancing With the Stars" winner, Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, Driver seems fearless in going over the middle as a slot receiver.

Artie
: I don't think his age is an issue; look at the shape he keeps himself in. I really think he can still play well.

Frank
: Whether he'll want to take the money Thompson offers is another question.

Artie
: Ted might want to go with young guys like Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, whom he had on the practice squad last season. Gurley was almost signed away by a couple of teams but chose to stay in Green Bay.

Frank
: Still, you'd think there'd be a spot for Driver, at least in training camp as an insurance policy and a mentor.

Artie
: Who knows? Thompson might work out a trade for one of the younger guys and keep Driver, as long as the money's "right." But those talks need to happen soon.

Look to the West

Frank: Looks like LeBron & Co. will get to the NBA Finals again. I can't see the Celtics knocking them off for the Eastern crown.

Artie
: Agreed, although I'd like nothing better than to see the Heat bounced. But Boston is just worn out; Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are banged up, on top of being old.

Frank
: Besides, Miami just looked so good in the final two games against Indiana, even with Chris Bosh sidelined by injury.

Artie
: Boy, is Dwyane Wade playing great! He seems to have shaken off the nagging injuries and returned to the D-Wade of Marquette and the 2003 Final Four.

Frank
: But as a guy who predicted Oklahoma City for the Finals, you must think the Thunder can beat the Heat, right?

Artie
: Absolutely, but so can San Antonio. They've blended in some young guys, like rookie Kawhi Leonard out of San Diego State, so they're not the relatively boring, predictable, hard-to-watch Spurs of a few years back. They're running a lot, and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili seem rejuvenated like Wade.

Frank
: But in OKC the Spurs are facing a tremendous young team, and not just because of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Artie
: Absolutely. For me, Thunder-Spurs is the real NBA Finals.

The Gods Are Fickle

Frank: For sheer agony, there's nothing like watching an NHL playoff game if you're rooting for one of the teams.

Artie
: It would be agony for me anyway, because I can never see the dang puck.

Frank
: Not a problem, with high-def and wide screen, but the game is so fast and so fluky that you never know when your team will be the victim—or the beneficiary—of a crazy bounce or carom or ill-placed skate that decides the game. Last week I spent three nights at my brother's house watching the Rangers, the top-seeded team in the East, get toyed with by the hockey gods and ousted by the Devils.

Artie
: Three games, three losses. That kind of makes you The Cooler!

Frank
: I'm hoping my brother didn't notice that. Anyway, the whimsies of the sport and the fact that more than half the league's teams make the playoffs mean that the Stanley Cup will go to either sixth-seeded New Jersey—coached by Peter DeBoer, who played for the Milwaukee Admirals from 1989-'91— or No. 8 Los Angeles.

Artie
: Seedings, schmeedings. It's the two biggest TV markets, so I'm sure the league is giddy.

Frank
: Hah! No one east of the Hudson with any self-respect will be watching. Especially my bro.

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