Donald Driver picked up a slightly different trophy Tuesday night on Dancing With the Stars
After months of hard work and stout competition, Donald Driver hoisted his championship trophy high in celebration.
This isn’t about the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl win in 2011; Driver and his partner Peta Murgatroyd came out on top in this year’s spring season of Dancing With the Stars on ABC.
In what was called “the most competitive season ever,” Driver edged out singer Katherine Jenkins and actor William Levy for DWTS’ mirrorball trophy.
In this 14th season, Driver joined Emmitt Smith and Hines Ward as the third NFL star to take away top honors.
More than a few NFL greats have graced the show’s dance floor, including the likes of Jerry Rice, Jason Taylor and Kurt Warner. And while current players aren’t exactly available for the fall season (which will be an “all-star” competition of previous contestants), Driver’s and Ward’s success begs the question of which NFL star might be the next to spend their spring working on jive and samba steps over post patterns or zone blitzes.
With that, here are seven solid candidates ABC should start dialing up to recruit for their 16th season. History shows they look for players with intense fan bases (i.e. Packers and Steelers) and top-end NFL success like Rice. They've also gone for top personalities (Lawrence Taylor and Chad Ochocinco).
These seven have all of that. What's more, at least most of them already think they can dance.
NFL receivers certainly made their mark the last couple years on Dancing With the Stars, with both Donald Driver and Hines Ward taking home the mirrorball trophy in consecutive spring seasons.
Small wonder, too. Quarterbacks rely on their wideouts to run crisp, exact routes to gain separation from defenders.
That precision translates well to the finer points of dance, especially with Len Goodman highlighting every flaw and misstep.
If that’s the case, then ABC should be banging on Larry Fitzgerald’s door. A consummate professional and world class athlete, Fitzgerald would bring the same positive personality and relentless work ethic to the dance floor that he shows every year in Arizona.
The only reason not to bring him on is because the competition might be over before it starts. Not to discredit Driver or Ward, but Fitzgerald eclipses them both in receiving. He might just do the same in the samba and cha-cha as well.
He might want to avoid sending this video of him and Kurt Warner having a short dance competition of their own, though.
Of course, Fitzgerald isn’t the only great receiver in the NFL. In fact, last year he trailed another receiver by over 100 receiving yards. What’s more, this New York Giant already has some dance experience.
Victor Cruz salsa’d his way to over 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns in his second professional year, blowing away 31 other teams who missed on the Giants’ former undrafted rookie. He also managed to pick up a Super Bowl ring in the process.
Cruz drips with charisma and already successfully navigates the media frenzy that is New York City. His story of fighting for a spot to roster standout would appeal to DWTS fans; his personality and skill would do the rest.
In the past, DWTS stuck with some of the NFL’s more established players. Before Hines Ward and Donald Driver, no active player had participated in ABC’s dance competition.
But if Victor Cruz deserves consideration, then it’s only fair to consider someone on the losing side of last year’s Super Bowl. Rob Gronkowski’s 265-pound frame wouldn’t be the largest ever to grace DWTS’ dance floor, but he might just be the most athletic.
Gronkowski hits like a lineman, but runs like a receiver; with his upper body strength, he should have no issue handling some of the lifts and twirls that helped Driver secure this season’s title.
Like Cruz, Gronkowski also has some dancing skills, which he put on display after last year’s Super Bowl loss.
The last two active players to participate on DWTS both came from some of the most rabid fan bases in the NFL. Since Green Bay and Pittsburgh have had a chance to cheer some of their biggest names in franchise history, why not let New Orleans have a chance to do the same?
Drew Brees isn’t just a fan favorite for the Saints; he’s an icon for all of New Orleans. And while I’d love to see Kansas City pry Brees out of the Big Easy and solve his contract troubles, conventional wisdom says he’ll play out the rest of his career in the land of jazz and jambalaya.
Outside of winning another Super Bowl, nothing would wash away the bad taste of Brees’ contract dispute like a few weeks watching him waltz his way through a few Monday nights next spring.
Well, unless you count Tom Benson opening his checkbook and paying the Saints' greatest player ever.
Of course, if fans like to see a veteran player with movie-star looks, comfort in the spotlight and a Hall of Fame resumé, they need look no further than Tony Gonzalez.
The Atlanta Falcons tight end spent the last 15 years establishing himself as one of the greatest ever to play the game. He regularly demonstrates his lower body strength and leaping ability by dunking footballs over the goal post after touchdowns. The sure hands that made Gonzalez the most prolific tight end ever will similarly prevent his dance partner from unceremoniously hitting the floor during a routine.
Taking an offseason gig like this wouldn’t be very different from Gonzalez’s days earlier in his career. After playing both football and basketball in college at California, Gonzalez periodically flirted with a second career in the NBA’s summer league.
Plus, Gonzalez would be able to pull from two cities for a solid fan base when it comes to viewer voting. Gonzalez may be an Atlanta Falcon, but he’ll always hold a special place in the hearts of Kansas City Chiefs fans who’d love to see him raise any trophy—mirrorball or Lombardi.
Or DWTS could go another direction and ask Jared Allen.
It’s not that Allen lacks skill or athleticism; in fact, that runs much to the contrary.
But not many people could match Allen’s larger-than-life persona. A total character, Allen brings to mind images of cowboy hats, pink Cadillacs and Fu Manchus as often as he does monster sacks.
Where Gonzalez or Brees or any number of others would come off as professional, Allen would just be downright fun. Allen would treat DWTS fans to crazy antics, wild costumes and more than a few laughs.
But don’t count Allen as a quick exit from the season. Allen’s a competitor and brings an intensity to everything he does. It might be a bit surreal watching Allen strut through the tango, but he’s spent plenty of years tap dancing his way around offensive tackles already.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without Tim Tebow.
Like him, loathe him, love him or hate him, no one can deny Tebow’s immense star power. Few players in the history of the NFL have ever evoked this type of fanaticism (or disdain).
Tebow ranked dead last in 2011 for completion percentage among qualified passers, but engineered five fourth-quarter comebacks (and one stunning overtime win against Pittsburgh in the playoffs).
And despite Tebow’s tendency to throw balls that make wounded ducks look healthy, he ranks as the NFL’s most beloved player.
Now imagine what DWTS would be like fully immersed in Tebowmania.
While Tebow might have objections to some of the skimpier outfits worn on the show, his open and selfless demeanor would easily win over the show’s cast and crew. His athleticism would help him master the more difficult techniques, and his questionable throwing motion won’t be a hindrance on the dance floor.
Tebow would be the crown jewel for ABC’s flagship show. With half the world cheering Tebow on, while the other half waits for him to face plant on national television, DWTS would reach their highest viewership ever.