IRVING, Texas – Donald Driver's 36th birthday celebration the other day was a relatively reserved affair, just some cake with his wife and kids. At a certain age, he jokes, it's better not to remind people you're getting older.
Besides, the Green Bay Packers wide receiver hopes he's in for a much bigger celebration come Sunday.
When the Packers face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium, it will be Driver's first Super Bowl — the culmination of a 12-year wait.
"I don't think it's really going to hit me until Sunday when I walk out that tunnel, knowing that this is the biggest stage that I'm going to play on in my career," Driver said. "And I have to win it all."
For Driver, winning would be the ultimate payoff for years of hard yards and crunching hits.
Driver has made a living doing the dirty work some wide receivers won't — going over the middle, exposing himself to big hits and holding onto the ball. And now that he's finally made it to the big game, all that punishment will be worth it with a win over the Steelers at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.
Those bumps and bruises have added up. The Packers put him on the injury report Thursday after he was limited in practice with a quadriceps injury, an injury that kept him out of a game earlier in the season. Coach Mike McCarthy said Driver was fine, and was held out as a precaution.
The hard-hitting Steelers defense expects him to play. They know some receivers can be intimidated and Driver isn't one of them.
"Not Driver, no," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "He's been a great receiver for that team throughout the years. He's fearless. He doesn't mind getting hit, and it's not going to be a game where you can intimidate him."
Driver said former teammates such as Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman taught him the merits of going across the middle.
"That's where you're going to make your bread and butter," Driver said. "Because if people know that you're not afraid to go across the middle, you're going to be able to make plays. They know that they can hit you as hard as they can, you'll still stand up and smile and shake it off. And that's what I've done over my career."
Despite all the punishment, Driver wants to play out a contract that spans two more seasons.
"I want to walk away before I have to crawl away," Driver said.
Driver has taken a back seat to Greg Jennings as the team's No. 1 receiver in recent years, but says he doesn't mind a lower profile as long as it helps the Packers win.
"You've just got to accept your role and enjoy it," Driver said. "I think if I would have been one of those guys that went out every day and complained, I'm not getting this, I'm not getting that, we wouldn't be where we're at today. I think you have to be humble and understand the situation."
The Packers' younger receivers credit Driver for helping them learn the position, and they know how much it means for him to play in the Super Bowl.
"You could see that with Driver after the NFC championship when we beat Chicago," Jordy Nelson said. "He was a little emotional. I don't know if anyone else caught it, but he was sitting back and taking it all in and probably thinking about all the years and all the work that he put into this to finally get this opportunity."
Going into the game, Driver is telling his teammates not to let it slip away.
"It is hard getting here and that is what we stress to these guys all season long," Driver said. "When you get to this point in your career, you just want to win it all. This separates you from all other great guys that play this game, by winning that championship."
And if he scores Sunday, you'd better believe he'll do a "Lambeau Leap" into the stands — although he and his teammates will have to scout around for the right spot beforehand.
"You've got to do a Lambeau Leap!" Driver said. "You've just got to make sure you find the right fans."