DALLAS -- Donald Driver turned 36 on Wednesday. No need to ask what he wants for his birthday: a Super Bowl win on Sunday by the Green Bay Packers.
If they get it, Driver will have a major role as the "old man,'' the tutor, the elder statesman of a group of four wide receivers that's probably the best in the NFL and has helped turn Aaron Rodgers into one of the league's best quarterbacks.
Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are a remarkable quartet.
None were first-round choices -- Nelson (2008) and Jennings (2006) were second rounders; Jones a third-rounder in 2007; and Driver, best known as Brett Favre's favorite target, was a late seventh-rounder in 1999, chosen 213th overall in a draft in which two first-round receivers (David Boston, No. 8 overall; Troy Edwards, No. 13) are long gone from the NFL and left little impact when they were in it. And Edwards was taken by, of all teams, Pittsburgh, which Green Bay will face on Sunday.
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Consider the numbers: Jennings, Driver, Jones and Nelson had a combined 222 receptions this season for 3,091 yards and 23 touchdowns -- Nelson was the low man with 45 catches. To put that in context, only two other teams, pass-happy Indianapolis and Cincinnati had four players with 45 or more catches, and each had a tight end in the mix -- the Colts' Jacob Tamme and the Bengals' Jermaine Gresham.
Last season, New Orleans won the Super Bowl with five players hauling in 45 or more catches. But only three of them were wideouts -- tight end Jeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush filled out the group.
That might have been the case with the Packers, too. But tight end Jermichael Finley was lost to a knee injury in October after he appeared on the way to a breakout season, and his replacements, rookie Andrew Quarless and veteran Donald Lee, were not the receivers Finley is.
So the Packers turned to more wide-receiver sets out of necessity. In a season in which they were hurt by injuries at every position, developing wideouts stepped up on a team that, since Favre took over as the starter in 1992, has always relied on tight ends to make big plays.
"I'm blessed to throw to the guys that I get to throw to,'' Rodgers says. "Greg Jennings being the number one, he is as good as they come. After him, Donald, James and Jordy are as good a two through four as anyone in the league.''
The Steelers know it.
"It's not one or two that you have to be worried about,'' says Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh's best cover cornerback. "It's four who play all the time. You look at them on tape and you think there are probably six receivers there who can play on any unit in the league.''
It starts with Driver, who developed during the second half of the Favre era as one of the most reliable receivers ever on a team that produced Don Hutson, Sterling Sharpe, Antonio Freeman, and James Lofton. Driver's 698 receptions are the most ever by a Packer, and his 9,615 yards are second only to Lofton's 9,656.
His work ethic carries over to the others, especially with the four-receiver sets the Packers ran this year in Finley's absence.
"When you get that many guys out there, you want your space,'' Jennings says.
"You'll be telling the other guy, 'slide over, get over some,' because you don't want that extra defender in your space to work. I think what makes us so good when we have all of us out there is that we can all play any position. If somebody goes to the wrong spot, we don't skip a beat. The play goes on, and we know what we are supposed to do because we understand the concepts. You have a very unselfish group of guys that get together off of the field and share, not only their time on the practice field together, but off of the field together. We will go that extra mile for one another."
The three young guys credit Driver. Driver credits them, including Brett Swain, who is No. 5 on the depth charge but who Rodgers and Driver insist could be a two or three on another team.
"This is probably the best group I've played with,'' Driver says.
"All around, everybody brings something different to the table. We always talk about how it goes. You go with Brett Swain, you go with Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Greg Jennings, and then myself. They call me the old man of the group, so I have to lead the group, but we got a bunch of guys ... right now if they left the Green Bay Packers, they could go play anywhere in the National Football League and be starters. I'm just glad they're on my side."
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