GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers has always understood the debt he owes Ted Thompson. And not just for drafting him.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback didn’t always love Thompson’s draft-and-develop roster-building approach as general manager, eschewing big-ticket free agents and focusing on ensuring the team was a perennial contender instead of going “all-in” with long-term aftershocks on the salary cap.
But he always appreciated Thompson’s support, from using his first selection as GM on him in 2005 to having his back throughout the awkward transition from Brett Favre to him during the bizarre summer of 2008.
“I have a lot of love and appreciation for Ted. Because I was his first draft pick, there was always a special bond between us. There is something special about that feeling,” Rodgers explained last week. “You just kind of know the GM has got you and wants you to be here and wants you to be successful. I always appreciated that.”
In the days leading up to Monday night’s game between the Packers and the Detroit Lions, during which the team honored the late Thompson at halftime, Rodgers shared another story of his relationship with his GM. It was of a call he got from Thompson during the 2007 offseason, when the Packers were exploring a trade for Oakland Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss and Rodgers was rumored to be a possible piece of the deal.
“Really, the first time he ever called me,” Rodgers recounted. “I was in Portland visiting some friends, and that was when there were the rumors about Randy Moss. He called me personally, and with his (Texas) accent, reassured me that wasn’t going to happen, that it was just a rumor.
“I remember it was one of the slower conversations. You guys know Ted; Ted was very deliberate talking. I put him on speaker so my friend who was in the car could hear Ted talking. It was a cool moment to get that phone call from him.”
Thompson, who died on Jan. 20 at the age of 68, spent 13 seasons as the Packers GM, during which time the team went 125-82-1 in regular-season play and made the playoffs nine times, including a franchise-best eight straight seasons from 2009 through 2016. Green Bay was 10-8 in postseason play during that time, reaching four NFC Championship Games (2007, 2010, 2014, 2016), while his 2010 team won Super Bowl XLV — led by Rodgers, the game’s MVP.
At halftime, the Packers honored Thompson by unveiling his name on the façade of the stadium in the northeast corner. Just as they did with GM Ron Wolf — before Wolf was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and joined the rest of the Packers’ gold-jacket owners in the upper ring of the stadium — the Packers placed Thompson’s name one ring lower than the Hall of Famers.
“I just had so much respect for Ted,” team president/CEO Mark Murphy said when the team announced its plans to honor Thompson. “He was so humble, and I don’t think he’s gotten the credit he deserves for what he accomplished with the Packers. So I think this is very fitting.”
Thompson’s family was in attendance for the ceremony. Players are wearing a “TT” decal on their helmets this season, and there’s a logo honoring Thompson painted on the field.
“Thanks, on behalf of Ted and all the family and friends, for this great honor. It is truly amazing,” Thompson’s brother, Jim, told the crowd. “Ted always loved this organization. He loved his scouts, he loved the players, he loved the coaches, and certainly loved and appreciated the fans. I’d just like to say thank you on behalf of him and on behalf of the family for this great honor. Thank you very much.”
Thompson transitioned from GM to an advisory role following the 2017 season, when one of his lieutenants, Brian Gutekunst, was hired to replace him. Thompson still served as a sounding board for Gutekunst for a while before Thompson revealed that he was suffering from what he called an “autonomic disorder” in May, 2019. Rodgers recalled seeing Thompson shortly after his illness became public and remembered being concerned about him.
“You knew he wasn’t doing great,” Rodgers said last week. “It definitely tugged on the heart strings to see him like that, because Ted was always the guy (who was) always active and always loving going on the road and the scout at heart. To see him as a little bit a shell of himself was tough. But I went over and gave him a big hug and told him I loved him. That was a cool moment. I didn’t think that was going to be the last time I saw him, but ultimately, it was.”
While there has been significant roster turnover since Gutekunst succeeded him, several of the Packers’ best players were acquired by Thompson, from Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams to running back Aaron Jones, tight end Robert Tonyan, injured left tackle David Bakhtiari and defensive tackle Kenny Clark.
“Ted was a great man. I’m forever indebted to him for just giving me a chance,” Adams said. “(I was) just a young kid, raw, out of Fresno State, redshirt sophomore. He took a lot of chances to bring me up here and see how it worked out. I’m just happy that it all worked out the way that it did. I’m still here, too, and I know he’d be proud of the work that I’ve been putting in.
“I think it’s awesome that they’re honoring Ted in that way.”
A sincere gentleman: Former Packers GM Ted Thompson's influence felt on and off the gridiron
Starting off on the right foot
Opening a door
Support goes a long way
An amazing mentor
What a weekend
Taking a back seat
All Ted cared about was getting good players and winning games. He was about the work, not the trappings of the position. And that is too rare these days.— Drew Olson (@DrewOlsonMKE) January 21, 2021
Lending an ear
I’m saddened to hear the news of Ted Thompson’s passing. I can’t say enough good things about Ted. I always enjoyed the lunch room conversations and sideline chats we had and I will always feel indebted to him for taking a chance on this unproven kid. RIP TT 🙏🏼— Clay Matthews III (@ClayMatthews52) January 21, 2021
Actions speak loudest
At Pro Day, Ted Thompson came out of the stands to cheer us on during the 60 yd shuttle. This simple act to encourage & cheer on a bunch of nervous guys stressed about running a good time meant everything. It spoke to who he was, & what he meant to the success of the Packers.— Drew Meyer (@drewmeyer5) January 21, 2021
Don't hold back!
It's amazing to think that about 10 years ago Ted Thompson and Kevin Green we're celebrating a Super Bowl Victory and now have since past away. 2 takeaways. 1. Go for your highest aspirations because at least you will leave this life with no regrets. 2. Our time here flies fast.— Brady Poppinga (@BradyPoppinga) January 21, 2021
Earning their respect
One for all!
My sincere condolences to the Thompson family. Ted was a great man and great GM for the Packers. I’ll always remember my draft day phone call. He asked me if “I’d have his back?” And I responded with saying “Not only his back, but Aaron Rodgers back too.” #RIP #ThankyouTed— David Bakhtiari (@DavidBakhtiari) January 21, 2021
Leaving his mark
His legacy lives on
As much as I ever complained about Ted Thompson during the tail end of his tenure as GM, I have to give him credit. He had a huge hand in building the @packers team that will take the field for the NFCCG on Sunday. Many of those key players were drafted by him. RIP #GoPackGo— Corey David Witcher (@coreyw7878) January 21, 2021
Set up for success
Ted Thompson is reason #Packers are in this title game. For the late-tenure frustration from fans, Thompson aligned #Packers for 15 years of contention with very first major decision. Every good Packers memory these past 15 years, it started with him.— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) January 21, 2021
How many GMs can say that?
Putting team first
Ted Thompson and S Mike Reinfeldt became best friends when they played for the Oilers. Mike recommended Ted to Packers GM Ron Wolf for an entry-level scouting job. Ted was a Houston businessman at the time. He thought he'd give it a try for one year. The rest is Packers' history.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) January 21, 2021
Man behind the scenes
Condolences to the Thompson family. Ted set the foundation for so much of the success I was able to see and be apart of in the Packers organization. Much respect— Ryan Grant (@RyanGrant25) January 21, 2021
Dark day in Green Bay
Thoughts and prayers to the Thompson family. Terribly sad news out of Green Bay. RIP Ted.— TJ Lang (@TJLang70) January 21, 2021
Laying the foundation
Not far off
Trust in his gut
I'm saddened by the news of Ted Thompson's death. No one worked harder at scouting. He was a scout's scout. Admired how he made the call to draft Aaron Rodgers. Don't know of another GM who would have had the guts to do that.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) January 21, 2021
Grinding it out
Thank you Ted Thompson. Thank you for giving me my first opportunity to make an opening day roster. Thank you for believing in me for 9 years and allowing me to grow as a player. Lastly, thank you for bringing me and my family to Green Bay. You changed our lives! RIP TED— John Kuhn (@kuhnj30) January 21, 2021
Giving a kid his shot
Thank you Ted for taking a chance on an undrafted kid from Arkansas. Had an amazing 10 years and truly honored to have that chance. RIP to one of the Greats!— Brett Goode (@BGoode61) January 21, 2021
Looking out for others
Sorry to hear about the passing of Ted Thompson. He gave me my first opportunity to scout in the league after getting to know him during my time with the @packers. The team building and evaluation lessons learned from him and #GoPackGo have served me well. RIP, Ted 💛💚— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) January 21, 2021
Showing up for veterans
Former Green Bay media member John Maino shared his thoughts on the passing of Ted Thompson. John is an advocate for local veterans and servicemen & women, and Ted appreciated that. Ted helped out as well, with little to no fanfare about donating his private box to local vets. pic.twitter.com/b3CqxEqxw4— Kyle Cousineau (@KCousineau09) January 21, 2021
An expert eye for talent
Time to make him proud
Crack a smile!
Unbelievable 💔!! Thoughts and prayers go out to the Thompson family! Ted was one of a kind!— Tramon Williams Sr. (@HighRizer22) January 21, 2021
Thank you, Ted, for seeing the value in an undrafted free agent 15 years ago! I'm forever grateful. Ted was My Guy! RIP, #TedThompson pic.twitter.com/vJ41lyFYXP