GREEN BAY, Wis. – Ted Thompson started his legendary tenure as Green Bay Packers general manager by selecting Aaron Rodgers with his first-round pick in 2005, even with Brett Favre on the roster.
His next pick wasn’t bad, either.
“He, in my opinion, is the best talent evaluator, especially when it comes to the draft, that I’ve ever seen or been around,” Thompson’s successor, Brian Gutekunst, said on Thursday, one day after Thompson died at age 68. “He had a very unique way of seeing what a player was going to become and the greatest he could become. There’s 1,000 players, but like Nick Collins comes to mind. I scouted Nick Collins at Bethune-Cookman and that’s a very small school, and Ted identifying the greatness in a guy like Nick Collins, that’s not at an Alabama or a Power 5 school, he had a rare ability to do that and not many people that come through our league have that.”
Collins, the second-round pick in 2005, was selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls in 2008, 2009 and 2010, accumulating 17 interceptions during that span. Before suffering a career-ending injury early in 2011, Collins was on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
“It’s sad and unfortunate that he passed away,” Collins said in a phone interview on Thursday. “Ted, he was great. He took a chance on a kid coming from a small school – a black college, at that – in the second round and gave me an opportunity to play the game I loved so much at the highest level. I’ve got a lot of respect for Ted.
“He had a little grin. You already knew he was always happy but he didn’t show his emotions all the time. He was about his business. He did a tremendous job putting a team together that was able to go win a Super Bowl and had a couple more chances to win another. He was a straight-forward guy. When he walked in the building, you felt his presence. Without him saying one word, it’s like, ‘There goes Ted. Let’s get it together.’ My heart goes out to the family.”
Murphy announced the team would honor Thompson at a game next season by unveiling his name on the Lambeau Field façade.
Thompson played 10 seasons for the Houston Oilers. That playing background resonated in his handling of the team, Gutekunst said. During the height of the Favre controversy in 2008, when Favre decided to come out of retirement, Thompson’s concern was “doing the right thing” for the team and the legendary quarterback.
“That was everything to him was doing what was right,” Gutekunst said. “Sometimes, that’s not an easy decision, and sometimes it takes a lot of courage to make the right decision, but he did it with a lot of grace. There’s no doubt about that.”
Whether it was his uninformative and infrequent news conferences or the lack of free-agent moves to potentially push a perennial championship contender over the top, Thompson became a bit of a maligned figure as the team slid from elite-level status. Ultimately, the man who built a Super Bowl championship never became the same type of revered figure as Ron Wolf despite frequent trips to the postseason.
“He had to make some really, really tough decisions,” Gutekunst said. “And this world we live in right now sometimes those things don’t fade, but I think if you really look back at his record and what he was able to accomplish here, whether it was eight straight playoff runs, a Super Bowl, I mean the players that he brought here not only from the draft, but then Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers and Ryan Pickett and some of the things he did. That Super Bowl win that we had that the injuries that we had that year and the guys that he picked up off the street to fill the gaps and make sure we finished that season with a championship, you know, it’s remarkable and I don’t think it’s ever really gotten it’s full appreciation.”
The Packers, with the quarterback (Rodgers), receiver (Davante Adams) and center (Corey Linsley) selected by Thompson enjoying All-Pro seasons, are one victory away from getting back to the Super Bowl.
“It’s tough,” Gutekunst said. “Not only because of the opportunity we have to go out and win a championship but I think this particular team would’ve been one that he would’ve really enjoyed being around, the players that we have and the spirit that it is has I think really fit him and he would’ve really enjoyed being around. That’s a tough thing to swallow.”