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Former Packers GM Ted Thompson did it the right way

He’ll be remembered for his humility and grace

Former Packers General Manager Ted Thompson
Former Packers General Manager Ted Thompson

GREEN BAY – It's no secret by now Ted Thompson was decidedly more comfortable crunching film than standing at a lectern inside the Lambeau Field media auditorium.

As good a talent evaluator as the former Packers general manager was, Thompson never sought the attention that comes with his position. He had a job to do. It was about the team. Not him.

For that reason, there was a side to Thompson many never got to see. While categorically introverted, he had a dry, witty sense of humor that could bring laughs to any room he occupied.

Thompson was a caring man who wanted people to succeed much like he did as a former undrafted free agent who carved out a 10-year NFL career with the Houston Oilers.

Fittingly, after Thompson's 68 years of providing life-changing opportunities to players, coaches and scouts, news of his passing was met with waves of sympathy and reflection on Thursday.

"I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to work with him," President/CEO Mark Murphy said. "Just one of the more remarkable people that I've ever had the privilege to work with and be around. I think the one thing that really stands out to me is just his humility. It was never about Ted. It was always what's best for the organization."

Thompson brought a realness to the job that often can get lost on the way up the personnel ladder. He aimed to do right by people and treated his colleagues like family.

Each year, whenever Thompson emerged from the draft room to talk to the media, he started by thanking his scouts for their countless hours of work in assisting him through the arduous process.

Ultimately, though, it was Thompson seated in a GM chair that warms quickly amongst a devoted Packers fan base. He had final say on personnel matters and never shied away from that.

Thompson had a keen eye for talent, drafting 20 players who were selected to at least one Pro Bowl from 2005-17. He didn't need a player to wear Alabama crimson red to get his attention, either. He happily dug through the tape to unearth a future All-Pro safety like Nick Collins, out of Bethune-Cookman, in 2005.

The same happened with Jordy Nelson. Before he became one of the franchise's all-time leading receivers, Nelson was a late-bloomer who started his career at Kansas State as a safety.

Thompson was high on Nelson's potential but didn't let anyone to know it. Even his own scouts.

"He would bury guys on the draft board that he really, really liked and he knew when draft day came, they would be two or three rounds higher than where they sat all spring long," said Brian Gutekunst, who succeeded Thompson as GM in 2018.

"The first time I really pegged it was Jordy Nelson. And we kept watching tape and kept talking about how good this player was and he never would move him and he never would move him. That's when all of a sudden, I was like, 'OK, I got it.'"

Thompson was charged with making two of the most grueling decisions in NFL history – drafting Aaron Rodgers with the Packers' first-round pick in 2005 and pressing forward with him as the team's starting QB following Brett Favre's initial retirement three years later.

Gutekunst recalled the first time he asked his boss about the rumors Favre might be reconsidering his position. It was a short conversation, but spoke volumes about Thompson's character and his unrelenting commitment to the organization.

"I had kind of heard the rumors that Brett was thinking of coming back, and I asked him about it," Gutekunst said.

"He goes, 'That's true. Brian, I'm just praying that I do the right thing for the organization and the player.' It's not that easy, but that's what's important – doing the right thing for the organization and for the player."

Thompson stuck with Rodgers, his first of 121 draft choices in 13 years as GM. Two years after the move to make him the starter, Rodgers would lead the Packers to the franchise's fourth Super Bowl title.

Rodgers, on the precipice of likely his third NFL MVP, has the Packers – a team still featuring 17 players with ties to Thompson's tenure as GM – vying for a return engagement this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I'm really thankful for Ted. The fact that I was his first draft pick will always link us together," Rodgers said in a statement. "He always preached to put the team first, to not be a distraction, to be a good teammate, to be a good professional, and I always appreciated those comments.

"He would always start the season and address the team for a few minutes and he would always finish with, 'Godspeed.' As he passes on, I want to thank him for what he meant to myself, the team and the organization, and wish him Godspeed.'"

There was an outpouring from former colleagues and players throughout the NFL on Thursday, tweets and statements to voice their gratitude for the opportunity Thompson provided them.

Perhaps there was no one more appreciative than former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, the first and only head coach Thompson would hire in Green Bay.

McCarthy, now the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, thanked Thompson in a statement for giving him the "opportunity of a lifetime" in 2006 while adding, "There has never been a finer human being to walk the playing fields or have a presence in the scouting rooms.

"He taught me patience. I will forever remember all of the times he would simply smile at me and say, 'Slow down young man.' He always protected and reinforced the importance of the tradition and history of the Green Bay Packers. It wasn't enough just to win – it was equally important to win the right way. He exuded those qualities in everything he approached in football and in life.

"Slow down, my friend. What a life you led and an example you exemplified."

There was a side of Thompson that will go undocumented, but to those he let into his inner circle, he'll be remembered for his kindness and uncompromising integrity.

In what often can be a competitive and emotionless field, Thompson led his front office with the grace and empathy of a small-business owner looking after his employees.

"He wasn't one that had a very big circle that he let people into, and over time I was lucky enough to be one of those guys," Gutekunst said. "While he came across to a lot of others as pretty stoic, he was a pretty funny guy. He had a dry sense of humor and was really fun to be around. I know in our draft room, particularly, the stories are endless."

In the end, Thompson never saw himself as a general manager as much as he did a steward, whose primary responsibility was to ensure the prestigious job he inherited on Jan. 14, 2005, kept its value.

He succeeded.

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