Packers fans have learned to love Thompson

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Any discussion about Packers general manager Ted Thompson used to be a hotly contested debate. Many fans were upset Thompson had the audacity to oust Brett Favre from the job he held with great success for 16 years. Others had become fed up with Favre’s will-he-or-won’t-he retirement act every summer and applauded Thompson’s courage to move in a new direction.

But that was so 2008.

Four years later, Thompson appears to be universally approved of by Packers fans. During the team’s annual shareholders meeting Tuesday morning, the GM was given a standing ovation by 12,500 fans wearing green and gold inside Lambeau Field. There were organized shouts of “We love Ted!” and “Ted for President!” Throngs of fans clamored for his autograph afterward.

Given Thompson’s recent track record of success, it’s easy to see why he is so embraced by the franchise’s die-hard fans, all of whom in attendance had purchased at least one share of “stock” in the team at $250 each. That money was, for all intents and purposes, a donation to the Packers, as it has none of the properties that typical stock has.

Since taking over from Ron Wolf in 2005, Thompson has — initially to much criticism and more recently to much praise — steadfastly adhered to his philosophy of building a team through the draft, then developing and later re-signing the best of his draft picks. A team that went 4-12 in 2005 steadily improved to 8-8 and 13-3, cut ties with Favre, dropped to 6-10 and then reeled off a 36-12 record and a Super Bowl title in the past three years. Coming off a 15-1 record last year and with a young nucleus in place, Thompson’s team has the potential to be a dynasty.

But for all of Thompson’s genius, he is about as low-key as any public figure could be. Managing his words as carefully as his roster, Thompson’s report to the gathered shareholders Tuesday was admittedly unhelpful. Thompson warned from the beginning that he usually doesn’t say much at these affairs. Then he kept to his word, doing little more than reading through the Packers’ draft picks and coaching changes, while doling out such useful information as, “We want to win now but also keep an eye on the future.”

That message sounds bland now, but it wasn’t bland in 2008 when he used the same unwavering rationale to make the unpopular choice to not allow Favre to return to the Packers as a starting quarterback after his retirement a few months earlier. Favre had left the organization hanging while contemplating retirement during several consecutive offseasons, but when he made the end of his career official — the first time around — in March 2008, Thompson moved on to an unproven replacement in Aaron Rodgers and didn’t look back.

That decision came after a season in which Favre led the Packers to overtime of the NFC Championship Game. Favre was the Packers, and his rise to stardom in the early to mid-1990s was one of the biggest reasons the team went from being a consistent loser in the previous 20 years to an annual contender. So many of the team’s fans were hoping to extend Favre’s career in Green Bay as long as the QB would grace them with his high-risk, high-reward passes.

In the summer of 2008, Thompson had been on the job as general manager for only three years. There was little reason to believe he was going to come up with nearly all the right answers, as has turned out to be the case.

These days, boos have turned to an unfailing trust, and even his mistakes — the first-round pick of Justin Harrell in 2007 quickly comes to mind — are significantly outweighed by his overall body of work.

When Thompson drafted Nick Perry in the first round this offseason, there were plenty of questions about Perry’s ability — and desire — to switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense like Green Bay’s. However, Thompson has had so many “I told you so” moments that Packers fans just assume it will work out as they count the days until the next playoff game.

“I’m really happy for the organization, but specifically for Ted,” team president and CEO Mark Murphy said Tuesday. “He took a lot of criticism, I think unfairly. He’s a tireless worker, he’s just an extremely talented general manager. It’s not on accident. He works at it.

“I’m really happy that he’s starting to get the recognition that he is now.”

That recognition of Thompson’s work was on full display Tuesday, as he was greeted with nothing but overwhelming applause and cheers from every single Packers fan in the crowd. Who would have guessed that the GM could now be more popular in Green Bay than the onetime beloved quarterback?

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