These days for Packers GM, it's 'Congrats, Ted'
The website devoted to Ted Thompson's ouster from Green Bay doesn't get many hits anymore. Not too much going on there these days, except for this message: ''I'm not afraid to admit it. I was wrong. Congrats Ted.''
''I get that a lot,'' he said.
The man who put the Packers on a path that led to an ignominious exit for Brett Favre, replacing him at quarterback with Aaron Rodgers and, now, a return to the Super Bowl, says he isn't into ''I told you so.''
He's been around football too long for smugness.
''This business,'' Green Bay's general manager says, ''is way too hard to sit back and reflect on the past. You try to learn from your mistakes, but you don't spend any time at all going backward.''
Despite what comes off as his high-risk, high-reward method of decision-making, Thompson may be the most modest and softspoken of the NFL's 32 GMs.
On Thursday at the Packers interview session, he stood in a small little nook near a door, his hands shoved in his jeans, trapped on the wrong side of a semicircle of reporters who recognized the reluctant interview subject. Two days earlier at media day, he was barely noticeable, not so much holding court as trying to stay out of the way, tucked behind a podium near one of the end zones.
Having fun at the Super Bowl, Ted?
''Well, it's a little cold out,'' he said. ''But it feels good to be here. Doesn't it look like I'm enjoying this?''
Truth be told, the 58-year-old Thompson, who played linebacker for the Houston Oilers for 10 seasons back in the 1970s and 80s, has always been most comfortable in his post-playing years on a scouting assignment, evaluating talent, looking for hidden gems, trying to find ways to stock the roster with players who will last.
''Ron taught us that a long time ago,'' Thompson said of his mentor, the former Packers GM, Ron Wolf. ''It doesn't matter what kind of title you put on there, you have to remember you're a scout and that's your core job.''
The moves he's best known for - the ones that spawned the website and made him a lightning rod for disgruntled fans in Green Bay - were the decisions to pick Rodgers at No. 24 in the 2005 draft, then hand him the team three years later after trading Favre.
Thompson has spent the week deflecting requests to discuss his role in that unsettling chain of events - the moves most widely recognized as the ones that led to Green Bay's latest renaissance.
What he does let people in on is that, originally, the Packers didn't think they had a chance at Rodgers, who earlier in the year had been projected as the top pick in some circles. But as they learned Rodgers might fall down the draft board, they did their homework and realized he'd be worth the pick if he fell that far - even if Green Bay didn't really need a quarterback.
''Rosters are rosters,'' Thompson said. ''It's really all about players. If you have more of these guys at one spot who are really good, you keep more of the really good ones, and if you have to go a little light at another position, then that's the way you go. But saying, `You have to have six of these, three of these and two of these,' it doesn't always work out that way. It's not fantasy football.''
Thompson's theory behind stockpiling talent, even if it creates the occasional logjam, has turned out to be a wonder for this year's Packers. They've lost 16 players to injured reserve. Six of them were starters.
Among those with bigger roles because of the injuries: running back James Starks, a sixth-round pick; nickel cornerback Sam Shields, an undrafted free agent; outside linebacker Erik Walden, who was out of football when the Packers signed him in midseason and defensive lineman Howard Green, who was cut by the Jets in midseason.
''A lot of credit has to go to Ted Thompson and the personnel staff. Just the way that they're structured, their work ethic, the principles are in place,'' coach Mike McCarthy said.
Thompson believes in what, at times, seems like an old-fashioned ethic in today's NFL - building through the draft, giving players time to develop, not overspending in free agency. It's a philosophy that works well in two of the league's most tightly knit communities.
Both the Packers and the Steelers have 16 homegrown starters.
''Coach Tomlin uses the term with his players, he says, `The standard is the standard,''' Thompson said, choosing this time to deflect the praise to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin instead of taking it himself. ''Quite frankly, that philosophy seems to fit pretty good with us, too.''