Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Driver, Kampman say aloha to Pro Bowl

December 20, 2006


GREEN BAY — Given where they came from, it’s apropos that defensive end Aaron Kampman and wide receiver Donald Driver will be traveling to Hawaii together. After all, the Green Bay Packers’ two Pro Bowl selections followed similar paths to their berths in the NFL’s all-star game Feb. 10.

Neither Driver, a seventh-round pick from Alcorn State in 1999, nor Kampman, a fifth-round pick from Iowa in 2002, was invited to the NFL scouting combine before the draft. Both used remarkable work ethics to go from being second-day selections as rookies to starters not long after. And each of them responded to receiving his biggest financial payday this offseason by being even more productive.

“I guess it says that hard work does pay off,” Kampman said.

Both players were voted in for the first time, although Driver will be making his second appearance, having gone in 2002 as an alternate. Cornerback Al Harris, linebacker Nick Barnett and quarterback Brett Favre were the Packers’ only alternates.

Driver, who enters Thursday night’s game against Minnesota at Lambeau Field tied for third in the NFC with 80 catches and leading the NFC in receiving yards with 1,173, said the selection validates his status as one of the league’s premier wideouts after he was passed over in favor of then-teammate Javon Walker in 2004, when Driver caught 84 passes for 1,208 yards and nine touchdowns, and he wasn’t even an alternate last year, when he set career highs in receptions (86) and yards (1,221).

“The last two years I felt like I should have gone,” said Driver, who joins fellow backup Anquan Boldin of Arizona and starters Torry Holt of St. Louis and Steve Smith of Carolina as the wide receivers on the NFC squad. “I think (in terms of) national attention, I haven’t earned it yet. I still have a ways to go. And I think that’s why I play with a grudge on my shoulder.”

What’s most impressive is Driver, who signed a four-year, $17 million extension in May, and Kampman, who signed a four-year, $21 million deal in March, elevated their games after getting paid. Driver is on pace for 91 catches for 1,340 yards this year, while Kampman’s NFC-leading 12½ sacks have already shattered his previous best of 6½, set last year.

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