The decades long story line of the Green Bay Packers has always centered around the quarterbacks. How one organization could almost seamlessly move from one of the games biggest names and most accomplished players to one who has practically surpassed him in almost all areas…let’s just say it doesn’t happen often.
What’s typically left out of the national talking points are the ones who orchestrated that success. Brett Favre doesn’t get to take his helmet off running down the field in Super Bowl XXXI without Ron Wolf. And the Packers don’t have Aaron Rodgers, a fourth Lombardi Trophy, or a perennial championship caliber team currently on the doorstep of a 6th Super Bowl appearance without the late Ted Thompson.
The Ted Thompson mantra, notoriously, was “draft and develop”. It was executed perfectly, sometimes to a fault and even more times in the face of loud fan outcry. It’s a strategy that only works if you have the stomach to weather the barrage of criticism and stick to your plan; to not get caught in the emotion and bend to pressure from the outside.
There’s no better example of this than Ted’s biggest claim to fame: the selection of Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick in 2005 and the subsequent decision for the organization to move forward with the young California prospect over Packer fan idol Favre. We know the outcome and we’ve seen the emotion that a choice like that made among fans, media and others in the league. Nothing sums up that situation more than this clip.
No emotion. No reaction to a fan’s crude comment. Thompson always had the exact same reaction when confronted with criticism and praise alike.
Not cocky, not boastful. Just “thank you for sharing your opinion, but I’m doing my job the way I believe it should be done and I’ll let the team’s success or failure speak for itself”. And with a legacy that leaves behind a Super Bowl and foundation of players that have established this organization as the bar for teams around the league, it doesn’t so much speak as it does shout from the mountaintops.
The Aaron Rodgers story only works because of the opportunities for success Ted Thompson built around him. This is not a slight against one of the most talented players to play the game, but look at the talent at that position in places like Detroit, Houston or Cincinnati. You need to be able to bring in the talent around him:
David Bakhtiari, John Kuhn, Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Tramon Williams, Robert Tonyan, Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, Nick Collins, Mason Crosby. Those are the players, through draft and free agency, that support his legacy as one of the best to ever do it.
The only black mark in the history of Ted’s time with the Packers was that in the final years of his life his body and mind started to betray him and he unfortunately wasn’t able to execute his position to the full extent we knew he was capable. At a certain point, the calls for his job weren’t from a point of criticism, but instead became for the health and well-being. It put into perspective for many fans, myself included, the job and foundation Ted was able to produce in his just over decade and a half.
In sports, as captives of the moment, we tend to look for an immediate winner. It’s a world of black and white, absent of any grays, where nuance has no place. Ted knew better than most that his job was not to win PTI or Around the Horn, but to win championships; not to build a team to compete with Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd, but to compete with the best teams in the league for years to come. We owe all the wins, records and accolades this season to no one more than Ted Thompson.
Thank you, Ted.