As an American fan of English soccer, some of its nuances and traditions are new to me.
In May of 2011 I witnessed one of the greatest ways to honor to a former player, the Testimonial game.
Gary Neville played for my favorite English soccer team, Manchester United and retired earlier in the 2011 season. In May, former teammates, Neville’s brother, all flew to Manchester to play in a friendly match against Italian club Juventus. It was a big deal, the Theatre of Dreams – Manchester United’s home pitch – was filled with 42,000 fans, who wanted one last chance to say good bye to Neville.
From a fan’s perspective and the first time seeing such an event, I was mesmerized. David Beckham, who hadn’t played for ManU since 2003, was there. It was an All-Star type game filled with Neville’s closest friends and teammates from his 20 year career. Neville was subbed off of the field with 7 minutes left in regulation. I know some non-soccer fans might think, “They didn’t even let him finish the game?!” but being subbed off allowed Neville one last chance to soak up the fans love.
As it was announced that he was subbed off, he’s the lone player leaving the field and the fans generally take this time to show their appreciation. Standing ovations, sideline of players and coaches ready to embrace, is there a better way to celebrate a great career?
The testimonial game is unique to soccer and friendly games make it easier to execute. Players don’t slide tackle or go “cleats up” when you’re playing a game to honor someone. The NFL doesn’t lend itself to a game for show (see the Pro Bowl), but the Packers Donald Driver situation made me give pause.
I do not think the Packers should keep Driver active on game day just for the sake of being able to say “Donald Driver was active for his last game.” Now, before anyone gets too upset, I love Driver. He’s a great Packer. He is Packer People, has been a great ambassador for the team and for the game.
But I also love the Packers. And I am a firm believer that no player is above the team. While the Packers are playing for a birth in the NFC Championship game, active game day roster decisions should only be made with the idea of winning in mind; not the idea of honoring someone.
But I do agree with a part of the Packers should activate Donald Driver movement. He’s a great Packer, and he should be honored.
How great would it be to have a Driver testimonial at Lambeau Field? Imagine a spring time flag football game, with current and former Packer players. Imagine former coaches or members of Driver’s family on hand, in the game, on the sideline. Now imagine it at Lambeau Field.
The Donald Driver Testimonial game will never happen; I can’t even begin to think of the logistics or CBA/contract issues that would arise. But it would be really freaking cool if it did happen. And, in my opinion, the most fitting tribute to a great Packer player.