Let's talk about Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson, shall we? With the recent exception of embattled quarterback Brett Favre (and maybe former head coach Ray Rhodes), I am hard pressed to think of a more controversial figure in Packers lore during my 30-plus years of following the team.
Since joining the club as GM in 2005, Packers fans have questioned his every move, called him names, made him the butt of some very unkind jokes and burned him in effigy in the press. But for more than five years now, Ted Thompson has stayed the course in the sea of doubt and diligently pursued his vision of rebuilding a team that was aging, underachieving and over the salary cap when he inherited them six years ago.
Now in the wake of the Packers' first Super Bowl appearance in 13 years, history it seems, will be kinder to Thompson than his critics were along the way.
In 2005 The Fans Said: "What do you mean you let Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera go? Darren Sharper too? They're Pro Bowlers! Do you want Brett Favre to get killed? Sharper's a legend! And you took a quarterback in the first round? We have a Hall of Fame quarterback who needs to win now! Get him some help! We hate you Ted Thompson!"
But History Shows: Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle signed ridiculous, inflated contracts with the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers, respectively. Rivera retired after one injury plagued season with the Cowboys. Mike Wahle made the Pro Bowl in 2005, then descended into mediocrity before retiring in 2009 as a Seattle Seahawk.
Sharper continued a nice career with the Vikings and Saints, but Thompson replaced him with safety, Nick Collins, who was a named Second Team All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl in 2010. First round pick Aaron Rodgers has averaged roughly 4000 yards and 29 TDs a season in his three years as a starter, while never throwing more than 13 interceptions.
In 2006, The Fans Said: "You fired Mike Sherman? Other than Vince Lombardi, he's the winningest coach in Packers history! It was your fault we were 4-12 last season! Who's this Mike McCarthy guy? And you let Ryan Longwell, Mike Flanagan and Na'il Diggs go? Are you crazy? We hate you, Ted Thompson!"
But History Shows: It seems it was Brett Favre who made Mike Sherman look good all those years by doing more with less. Sherman moved on with the Texans and convinced them to bring in overpriced Packers castoffs like Ahman Green. He later moved into the college coaching ranks with Texas A&M and has yet to produce a bowl victory.
Thompson made big moves in 2006, luring Pro Bowler (and later Defensive Player of the Year) Charles Woodson over from the Raiders. Thompson also drafted future Pro Bowl WR Greg Jennings, LB AJ Hawk and G Darren Colledge. All three made the NFL's all rookie team and have been key contributors to the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010.
In 2007, The Fans Said: "All the Raiders wanted for Randy Moss was a fourth round draft pick and you didn't pull the trigger? Do you hate Brett Favre that much? Your big trade was with the Giants for who? Ryan Grant? Who's that? We hate you Ted Thompson!"
But History Shows: Randy Moss had a great two-year run with New England, but after becoming a locker room cancer, he left the Patriots for the Vikings (who also quickly jettisoned him for a second time). Moss eventually landed with the Titans, but not before burning every bridge he could find along the way.
Meanwhile, Ryan Grant turned into a 1000 yard rusher (twice, actually) and the Packers made it to the NFC Championship game. 13-3? Was this team really 4-12 two years ago? Thompson admittedly picked a first round dud in DT Justin Harrell, but did manage to draft RBs Brandon Jackson and Korey Hall, as well as Kicker Mason Crosby, who led the league in scoring as a rookie.
In 2008, The Fans Said: "What do you mean you TRADED Brett Favre? He's a hero! A legend! An American institution! We were an overtime play away from the Super Bowl last year and you want to turn the team over to what is essentially a third-year ROOKIE? Why did you cut Jon Ryan? We haven't had a decent punter since Craig Hentrich! We hate you, Ted Thompson!"
But History Shows: Brett Favre had a forgettable season with the Jets, but it was good enough to net the Packers a third round draft pick in 2009. Meanwhile, Favre’s replacement Aaron Rodgers threw for more than 4,000 yards. In the 2008 draft, Thompson acquired WR Jordy Nelson, TE Jermichael Finley, G Josh Sitton and took a flier in the later rounds on Matt Flynn (who's bound to draw a lot of interest this offseason from a QB hungry league).
Nelson's having a breakout year and Sitton has become a mainstay on the offensive line. Losing Jon Ryan hurt, as the Packers had an awful year punting the football. Thompson would later recover from that mistake, finding diamond in the rough Tim Masthay in 2010.
In 2009, The Fans Said: “We were 6-10 last year without Favre and he's a Viking now? Why did you let him go? Why, oh why, did you turn the team over to Aaron Rodgers when Favre obviously still has gas in the tank? We hate you, Ted Thompson!”
But History Shows: Ted Thompson hired defensive guru Dom Capers to turn the defense around and drafted B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews in the first round of the draft (thanks, in part, to that third round pick acquired for trading Favre) to infuse talent into Capers’ system. The draft yielded two other contributors in FB Quinn Johnson and Guard T.J. Lang.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers threw for more yards and more TDs than Brett Favre did in 2009, compiling a second straight 4000 yard campaign. The Packers fell in the Wild Card round to the Arizona Cardinals while Favre took the Vikings to the NFC Championship game and lost to the Saints.
In 2010, The Fans Said: “I thought this defense was supposed to be good? How did we get smoked by the Cardinals in the playoffs? And Favre beat us twice! Is this team going to ever get over the hump? We seem to be getting better, but for some reason we still hate you Ted Thompson!”
But History Shows: Ted Thompson selected OT Bryan Bulaga from Iowa to shore up a line that was aging at the Tackle position. He also selected DT Mike Neal (who could be a fixture on the defensive line for years to come if he fully recovers from injury), S Morgan Burnett and TE Andrew Quarless. Thompson worked some real magic late, selecting RB James Starks in the sixth round and picking up undrafted DB Sam Shields and the aforementioned Punter Tim Masthay from the Colts’ scrap heap.
A Season On The Brink:
The 2010 season started off with high expectations. A Week 3 loss to the Bears, however, put the team in an early divisional hole. As the season wore on, the Packers found themselves with a league high 14 players on injured reserve. While other teams succumbed to injury problems and faded out, the Packers kept plugging along. They even managed to exorcise the Brett Favre demons along the way, defeating the rival Vikings twice and eliminating them from NFC North contention.
So what saved the Green Bay walking wounded from packing it in? Surprise, surprise—it was Ted Thompson! Bryan Bulaga stepped in for Mark Tauscher. Clay Matthews had a breakout year with Nick Barnett out. James Starks stepped in for Ryan Grant. Sam Shields went from an unknown to a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year. Unknown players from the bottom of the depth chart stepped up and played at a high level. Nick Collins, Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson, all Thompson acquisitions, stepped up and are having career years.
At 8-6, the Packers were perched on the brink of playoff extinction. Rather than give up, the team (led by Rodgers’ arm and Dom Capers’ crafty defensive scheming) pressed onward, winning two critical home games just to get into the playoffs. Then? The unthinkable...three straight road victories against the Eagles, Falcons and the rival Bears to become the first No. 6 seed in NFC history to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. At the heart of it all? Ted Thompson.
Silencing The Critics:
In the locker room after the NFC Championship game, Clay Matthews had this to say about the team’s general manager: “We're a young team that continues to grow. He’s obviously taken hits through the media and maybe not picking up a guy or the whole Favre situation. But we're in the Super Bowl now. There's not a whole lot you could say about him that's not positive.”
Whether the Packers win or lose against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl on February 6, Green Bay fans owe you an apology, Ted Thompson. They questioned you. They doubted you. They mocked you. They even hated you. But you showed them, and more importantly, HISTORY will show them, that you were right and they were wrong.
I know I, for one, love you, Ted Thompson!