GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers was worried.
Twice during the 2019 season, Ted Thompson — the man who launched Rodgers’ NFL career by selecting him with the 24th overall pick in the 2005 draft after his disappointing draft-day tumble — had visited Lambeau Field, checking in on Rodgers, the team, and general manager Brian Gutekunst, one of Thompson’s protégés.
Thompson, the architect of the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl XLV championship team, had spent 13 years as the team’s GM (2005 through 2017) before transitioning in January 2018 from the team’s general manager to an advisory role and quasi-retirement. He’d been inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in May 2019, and had announced a few days after the ceremony he was suffering from what he termed an “autonomic disorder.” Intensely private, Thompson did not share any details of his condition, when he began experiencing symptoms or how the disorder specifically impacted him and his work near the end of his tenure as GM.
But both times Rodgers saw Thompson thereafter, he left their conversations wondering if he had delivered his last goodbye to the man who’d not only drafted him but stood by him during the summer of 2008 when Thompson traded away iconic quarterback Brett Favre to make way for Rodgers to become the starter.
Thompson died on Wednesday night, just three days after his 68th birthday. The news spread among his former players and scouts Thursday morning before Packers coach Matt LaFleur confirmed Thompson’s death as his team prepared for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers, now in his 13th year as the Packers’ starting quarterback and a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, will lead the team into that game, one of a host of key players who remain on the Green Bay roster after being acquired by Thompson.
“I knew he wasn’t doing great,” Rodgers said in a phone interview late Thursday afternoon. “That was really hard, to see him like that — for sure.
“I still got to spend a couple lunch times with him, and I hugged him, and I told him I loved him. I wasn’t sure either time that I saw him last year if it was going to be the last time that I saw him. So, I wanted to make sure I got a chance to tell him how much I appreciated him. I really wanted to let him know how much I appreciated him and how thankful I was for him taking me, and believing in me, and giving me an opportunity.”
This season, the Packers had four players voted as first-team All-Pro selections by The Associated Press: Rodgers, wide receiver Davante Adams, left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Corey Linsley. All four players have one thing in common: They were all Thompson draft picks. Kicker Mason Crosby, running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry, cornerback Kevin King, right guard Lucas Patrick and tight end Robert Tonyan were all originally acquired by Thompson.
“He's had a tremendous impact,” LaFleur said. “Not only on people in this building — obviously ‘Gutey’ and a lot of our personnel people — but people in other departments as well. His impact is still felt to this day when you look at our roster, but I think he's had a tremendous impact amongst many people across the league when you look at all the other GMs that have learned under him. Certainly, we're sitting here with heavy hearts today.”
Team president/CEO Mark Murphy later announced that, to honor Thompson, the team will install his name on the Lambeau Field façade before next season — something Murphy had recently shared with the Thompson family.
“I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to work with him,” Murphy said. “Just a humble man, but so smart. We all owe a debt of gratitude to him. Look at his stamp; it’s on our team now. … Obviously, he was willing to make difficult decisions. He knew that was part of his job. (But) he was always looking for the good in people. I think we all just learned so much being around him.”
Added Gutekunst, who rose from college scout to being one of Thompson’s top personnel lieutenants before taking over for him: “This is a very competitive business, and everybody wants to win badly. But his ethics were at the top of the charts. There was no compromise there. He wasn’t one that had a very big circle that he let people into. Over time, I was lucky enough to be one of those guys. Selfishly, I wish he was still around because what we’re doing right now with this football team, I think he’d really enjoy.”
Thompson, who played 10 NFL seasons (1975 through 1984) as a linebacker and special teams standout for the Houston Oilers, was working in the financial sector in Houston when Packers general manager Ron Wolf hired him in 1992. One of the first tasks Wolf gave Thompson was to evaluate film of the Atlanta Falcons’ wild, third-string quarterback — Favre. Days later, Wolf traded a first-round pick for Favre, the pivotal moment that fueled the downtrodden franchise’s renaissance, set the stage for the 1996 team’s Super Bowl XXXI championship and eventually led to Wolf being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thompson worked for the Packers until 2000, when he left to join ex-Packers head coach Mike Holmgren in Seattle, where Thompson was in charge of the Seahawks’ scouting department while Holmgren held the dual role of coach and GM. With Thompson’s keen scouting acumen, the Seahawks built a roster that led to a berth in Super Bowl XL.
Thompson returned to Green Bay in 2005, after then-head coach/GM Mike Sherman was stripped of his personnel duties by then-team president/CEO Bob Harlan, who had hired Wolf to resurrect the franchise in 1992. With his very first draft pick as GM, he took Rodgers, who is expected to win his third NFL MVP and has the Packers one victory away from a Super Bowl return a decade after their last appearance.
Even Rodgers acknowledged that Thompson’s reserved, humble approach meant many players never got to know him well. A scout at heart — even while running one of the league’s signature franchises — Thompson traveled frequently and rarely addressed the team. Believing the locker room was the players’ sanctuary, he seldom ventured inside, other than to deliver postgame congratulations.
“Knowing Ted for so long, he was always such a mystery almost. He loved scouting, so he was gone doing that a good amount of time,” Rodgers recalled. “We saw him at the beginning of training camp every year, he would give us a few words, but there wasn’t a ton of dialogue over the years. But I always appreciated the handshakes after the game and when we would share words.
“The thing that I always remember — he would say it during training camp, and he said it to me early on in my starting career — he always stressed, ‘Make it about the team. Always make it about the team. Not about yourself.’
“He was a really, really humble man, and I definitely appreciated that humility.”
Packers at 100 | Celebrating 100 seasons of Green Bay Packers football
Packers at 100 | Celebrating 100 seasons of Green Bay Packers football
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