Packers GM refuses to take victory lap
ARLINGTON, Texas – This should be his week, Ted Thompson’s week. This should be about vindication. The general manager of the Green Bay Packers should be smiling. He should have walked into Cowboys Stadium on Tuesday with his arms upraised.
He should have said he was right.
Instead he was trying to hide.
“I’m not that talkative,” he said glancing down.
On a spectacle that has come to be known as media day, the Packers hurried to mingle with the reporters who poured down several rows of the stands and onto the field. It is a day to forever leave an impression, to show off, to preen. For everyone that is, but the man who put the team together, the one who took the greatest of risks in drafting Brett Favre’s(notes) replacement and hastening Favre’s departure from Green Bay.
The one everyone in Wisconsin hated a few years ago and yet the one who turned out to be right.
He was standing on the field, well behind a temporary fence that penned in the circus Tuesday morning. It was as if he hoped to go unnoticed there near the stadium workers who were erecting a metal bleacher for team photos and putting last-minute touches on the field.
“They told me to hang around and somebody might want to talk to me,” Thompson said with a small shrug without specifying who “they” actually were.
But then someone called him over to the fence with a question. And then came another and another, and suddenly the moment he worked so hard to avoid had come. Ted Thompson had his time to gloat and wasn’t about to do it.
“There’s no place for that in my mind,” he said. “We’ve moved on.”
This is Ted Thompson. Old fashioned. Narrow focused. Always living by a scout’s code, one that says you do the right thing for a football team regardless of ego involved. He lives for the draft and builds teams slow, which means it might be years before he has a day like this.
So when it comes he will not embrace it. That’s not Thompson. He hates the attention. Instead of standing on the floor of the Cowboys’ oversized football palace talking about Brett Favre and the decisions he got right, he would rather be locked in a dark room watching reels and reels of game tape, evaluating players, looking to find the next player to slip into the lineup as soon as one of his current ones gets too old or breaks apart.
“With Ted he does what he does because it’s a God-given talent and he has a desire to build teams,” his best friend Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said by phone a few days ago. “He does it because he’s wired that way.”
Yet most of the questions on Tuesday were about Favre. How could they not be? In the three years since Favre left Green Bay and the scorn followed Thompson all over town, Favre has slowly broken down and watched in shame as his once great image was trampled. Meanwhile, his replacement has become a superstar.
Thompson would say nothing.
He wouldn’t as much as acknowledge all has worked out well.
“We’ve moved on,” he said.
He said it every time he was asked about Favre.
Someone asked Thompson what it was that the scout in him loved about Rodgers. He said he remembered watching tape of a game the quarterback played against USC and completed 20 passes in a row. He paused for a second and said it might not actually have been 20, but the point was nonetheless made. Rodgers was accurate and Thompson was impressed.
When Favre said he wanted to leave after the 2007 season, he blamed Thompson. He said the general manager wouldn’t go out and sign a superstar wide receiver. But it seemed as if it was more than just about a receiver, it was an indictment on the way Thompson was building the team: deliberately with young players who would fit nicely around a different quarterback, a younger quarterback.
Favre’s venom inspired a series of websites that were devoted to the demise of Thompson as the Packers’ general manager. Thompson said nothing. When asked on Tuesday, he tried to shake his head and make the memory go away, not because it brought misery but because it meant talking about Favre and a decision that worked and he wasn’t interested in discussing such things. They didn’t matter.
Eventually he laughed and leaned back.
“People think I was martyred or something,” he said. “It’s not like that.”
But he was the most hated man in Green Bay at one point.
“I don’t think I was,” he replied. Then he laughed. “I might have been second.”
As for first?
“I don’t know,” he said.
On the phone, a few days ago, Reinfeldt sighed.
“Ted has big shoulders,” the Titans general manager said. “I’m sure he kept a lot of that internal.”
Tuesday was the time for Ted Thompson’s vindication.
Except it never came. Instead he gave the same answers he always has. Which was little. He looked up at the stadium clock, an hour had passed. He chuckled.
“I don’t think I’ve talked this long ever,” he said.
“I really don’t like to do much talking” he said again.
He didn’t have to. He was right. Everyone knew it.
Even if he will never say so himself.