Work is natural for Thompson
Thompson values the motto of hard work pays off, and it certainly has for the native Texan. Thompson’s Packers will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, less than 200 miles from his tiny hometown of Atlanta in northeast Texas near the Arkansas and Louisian border.
“I’m happy to be here, believe me,” Thompson said earlier this week. “It’s sinking in that this is it.”
Over the last six years, Thompson has used a conservative approach of building the Packers, opting to utilize his uncanny ability to find hidden gems in the draft over the quick-fix route of free agency. Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett are the only two players on the 53-man roster signed in free agency.
Thompson’s unwavering plan hasn’t gone without its critics. However, Green Bay has shown its depth and resiliency this season. Sixteen players, including six starters, were placed on injured reserve. Two of the Packers’ heroes in the playoffs are undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields and running back James Starks, a sixth-round pick.
“He’s why this team is in the shape that it’s in,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said of Thompson, “and why the future looks so bright.”
Thompson, 58, knows the value of unearthing overlooked players. After playing college football at SMU in the mid-1970s, Thompson signed with the Houston Oilers as an undrafted free agent and hung on in the NFL for 10 years, always fighting for one of the last remaining roster spots.
“I have an appreciation for guys that come up the hard way,” Thompson said.
Thompson helped build the foundation for Seattle’s Super Bowl team in 2004. Three years after joining the Packers in the summer of 2008, Thompson made the unpopular decision of not allowing Brett Favre to return from retirement and rejoin the Packers. Instead, he went with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, trading Favre to the New York Jets.
Rodgers has emerged as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks while a beat-up Favre recently retired for the third time. Green Bay is in the Super Bowl. Favre is hunting. Thompson could be gloating this week, but that’s far from his style.
“He’s a pretty humble fellow,” said Jimmy Thompson, Ted’s 82-year-old father who still lives in Atlanta. “He kind of stays in the background and doesn’t like to talk much. I guess he got his shyness from his mother.”
Ted Thompson will also be cheered on by some of his former SMU football and baseball teammates who remain close friends, including Louie Kelcher, Dan Browning and Don Jarma. Most summers, usually in late June, Ted Thompson returns to Dallas to play golf and share old stories with about 10 of his SMU buddies.
“We have the same 10 stories. We need to get some new ones,” Jarma said. “A few years ago, I was sitting with him on a golf cart and he was laughing and having a good time. Then he started texting and wasn’t laughing any more. I said, ‘Put that away. Are you trying to trade somebody?’ He looks me straight in the eye and said, ‘Oh no. It’s nothing like that.’ About a week later, we started hearing all the stuff about Favre coming back.”
That’s just another example of Thompson’s work ethic. Even when he’s supposed to be relaxing and enjoying time with his friends, he’s always at work reshaping the Packers.
“He wasn’t big enough to play college football, and he did that and then he went onto the pros,” Thompson’s father said. “He’s excelled beyond my imagination in about everything the boy has ever done.”