One of the most fun parts of being a Wisconsin sports fan is seeing the crossover support between athletes on the three biggest professional teams in the state — the Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Green Bay Packers. Whether it’s Christian Yelich teaming up with Pat Connaughton in the NBA Dunk Contest, David Bakhtiari chugging beers courtside at Bucks games, or Giannis Antetokounmpo taking in a game at Lambeau, it’s usually a great sign for fans to see an athlete invested in more than just the team that signs his paycheck.
Now, it could be the love that Packers fans have shown to a fifth-round pick out of UTEP, or the four-year, $48 million contract that he signed just a few months ago, but Aaron Jones has embraced all things Wisconsin in his four years as a pro. He’s on a trajectory to pile up career stats that would land him amongst Green Bay legends, and the goodwill that he has engendered along with the on-field performance is reminiscent of the career that Donald Driver had not too long ago.
Driver played his entire 14-year career in Green Bay after being selected in the seventh round of the 1999 NFL Draft. There are a few similarities right off the bat, in that Driver and Jones were both late picks (213rd overall for Driver, 182nd overall for Jones) and neither player exactly came from football powerhouses in college (Driver attended Alcorn State).
It took a little longer for Driver to become a regular contributor for the Packers, with three receptions in his first season and 37 catches overall over his first three seasons. Jones broke out of a muddled backfield in a rookie year that featured a lot of Ty Montgomery in a season that saw Brett Hundley start nine games under center. By his second season, Jones was leading the team in both yards and carries.
Driver put up seven 1,000-yard campaigns in his 14 seasons with Green Bay, including six in a row from 2004 to 2009, earning three Pro Bowl nods in the process. Even after his prime, he was able to hang on and become a role player within a dynamic pass-catching group that included Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, and Jermichael Finley in 2010 and 2011. That production at the tail of his career allowed Driver to retire as the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yards, a scant 481 yards ahead of Hall of Famer James Lofton.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect a 14-year NFL career for Aaron Jones, as the churn on the running back position is much faster than it is at wide receiver. The Packers’ all-time leading rusher, Ahman Green, totaled his 8,322 yards with Green Bay over the course of seven and a half seasons with the team. Jones is already 11th on the team’s all-time leading rushing list with 3,364 yards, and if he can stay as productive as he has been over the last few seasons, he’ll certainly be threatening Green’s all-time Packers mark. If Jones matches the 1,094-yard average he’s had over the past two seasons, he’ll be just 582 yards shy of Driver by the end of his contract. A monster 1,300- or 1,400-yard year for Jones mixed in there, and that franchise record might be his before long.
Outside of the production and longevity, Driver was able to create a permanent bond with the fanbase. Much of it had to do with his on-field performance. But his affable personality, local endorsements, and the fact that he remained a Packers player for his entire career will keep him cemented as a Green Bay legend and a face of the franchise for years to come.
Jones doesn’t seem content limiting himself just to the city of Green Bay. He’s had a busy summer getting hyped at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee during the Bucks’ playoff run and also helping to kick off the NASCAR race at Road America this past weekend.
To add icing to the cake, Jones and Za’Darius Smith have taken over the mantle from Driver, and subsequently Jordy Nelson, as the hosts of the Packers’ charity softball game at the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers’ home field in Appleton.
When Jones signed his extension in March, surprising a number of Packers fans, he spoke earnestly of his affinity for Green Bay and his desire to stay. From Matt Schneidman in The Athletic:
“This is home for me,” Jones told local reporters back in March over Zoom. “This is where my career started and just everything feels right here — the system, I’ve got my home here, I’ve got my teammates, the coaching staff, everything. So it just felt like it was a great fit for me and continue to play where I’ve been playing.
“I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface to enter the prime yet. I feel like I’ve still got a lot of growing to do, and I think it’s going to be scary for a lot of people.”
His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, made sure to let everyone know that Jones left money on the table due to his desire to remain a Packer.
There are plenty of parallels between Jones and Driver, but his joy and sincere love for the Green Bay Packers and the fans seem to be the most enduring common thread. Now, Jones may do it with larger hats and flashier sunglasses than Driver did, but the genuine smiles endear Packers fans just the same.