May 22, 2012 at 10:59 PM ET
As a football pro, Donald Driver knows a thing or two about how to play a game. It doesn't matter if you're down in the first half -- or even the first three quarters. What matters is where you land when the game's over. And when the clock ran down on Tuesday night's "Dancing With the Stars" finale, the Green Bay Packer was the clear winner.
After spending most of the season trailing just behind his fellow finalists William Levy and Katherine Jenkins, Donald closed the gap (and then some) in the finals. A solid judge's pick routine on Monday night and his 24-hour-prep performance in the finale helped him, but it was no doubt his show-stopping, country-themed finals freestyle that sealed the deal when it came to viewer votes.
When the results were announced, Donald threw himself across the dance floor, as he's been apt to do during high-points all season long. Then host Tom Bergeron turned to the wide receiver and said, "I've got to ask you the question that Brooke (Burke Charvet) always asks: How do you feel?"
Completely ignoring that Brooke zinger, Donald raved, "Amazing! Oh, this is awesome! Thank you so much."
The victory was a sweet one for the man who spent much of the season hoping (and rehearsing) for a single perfect score from the panel -- and more importantly, from head judge Len Goodman. Donald regularly wished for a "10 from Len," and in the final 24 hours of the competition, he boasted two of them and a sparkling mirror ball trophy too.
Of course, the win wasn't just a victory for Donald. His partner, Peta Murgatroyd, is now a "Dancing" champ. After exiting the game in the first week during her premiere season, she took it all the way with Donald in her second effort.
Donald and Peta's win wasn't the only one of the night. OK, technically it was, but Donald's fellow finalists put on some praise-winning, if not show-winning performances.
First William, who ended the night in third place, took the floor for a salsa. It was a bold choice for his final routine after getting an earful from Len for performing a salsa-filled freestyle the night before. His last effort wasn't as polished as his earlier ones, but it still packed the hip-shaking and rear-rotating moves he's now known for.
Then second-place finisher Katherine took the floor for a jumping jive that earned raves from the panel. According to judge Bruno Tonioli, the dance only cemented the fact that she's "the girl that has it all."
Well, everything but a mirror ball trophy.
Donald's last-chance cha cha -- easily the best dance of the night, other than maybe his encore freestyle -- proved his win was well earned. The routine packed body rolls, smooth transitions and fan-pleasing perfect lines.
All the dances earned top scores from the panel.
And those weren't the only performances of note. The ballroom's past challengers of the season came back to remind the crowd just what they could do. Highlights included Sherri Shepherd's "It's Raining Men" routine, complete with pros Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Tony Dovolani raining from the ceiling while she took one last spin with Val Chmerkovskiy. And Melissa Gilbert hit the floor again with both Brothers Chmerkovskiy for a reworking of her memorable trio routine.
Roshon Fegan had the chance to show viewers what his freestyle would have looked like had he made it to the finals. The fast, content-packed dance was worth watching, but it seems a safe bet to say Donald would have still won that round.
But one of the most memorable performances of the night came from a not-so-great dancer -- Gladys Knight. The singing legend traded her dancing shoes for a microphone and belted out a tear-jerking rendition of "The Way We Were" while the finalists awaited the results.
That (and a whole lot of star-studded, clip-tastic filler) was all the two-hour finale could pack. But as Tom reminded viewers, the ballroom bash will be back in the fall with an all-star season bound to entertain fans once again.
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