NFC Champions Reflect Their Architect

In his own, quiet way, general manager Ted Thompson has built a team that has withstood scores of injuries to reach Super Bowl XLV. It rarely has been flashy and frequently has created critics but, as our W. Keith Roerdink writes, he's proven his doubters wrong.

You watch Ted Thompson. And you listen. And you try to pick up a hint, any hint, of feeling vindication for taking this Green Bay Packers team to Super Bowl XLV. You watch his face. Search for any veiled reference behind his words. Wait for anything in the neighborhood of an "I told you so."

But it's not there. In fact, the only thing the low-key Texan offers up is words of praise. Well, that and just a smidge of his wry humor.

"You want me to cry?" Thompson said, smiling in the visiting locker room of Soldier Field last Sunday. "I think I can."

There were definitely some tears of joy from the players following the game. That's not Thompson's style, but everything else about this team certainly is a reflection of him. The Packers' general manager did this his way — with who he drafted, with who he picked to coach his team, who quarterbacked his team and what free agents he did or did not sign.

And it worked.

After a near miss in 2007, Green Bay is heading to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years. For everyone who ever questioned what Thompson was doing — whether it was not getting Randy Moss to Green Bay, not bringing back Brett Favre, drafting Justin Harrell (OK, it's fair to question that one), not trading draft picks for Tony Gonzalez or Marshawn Lynch, or signing Antonio Cromartie or whatever — it all added up to a trip to Texas and a date with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb. 6.

"You would like everybody that's out there, there's a lot of Packers fans, and you'd like for all of them to think that the organization is being run well," Thompson said. "But you can't worry about that. You have to do your job. And quite frankly, I don't speak on those things anymore. We've moved on.

"It's nice to stand here now having won the NFC Championship and being able to take the Packers back to the Super Bowl. I don't get into this satisfaction of showing people up or anything like that. I think most Packers fans are good people and they want the Packers to do good. And when we do good, they pat us on the back, and when we don't, they don't pat us on the back. That's the way the NFL goes."

I'll admit, I haven't agreed with everything Thompson's done. I thought they should've traded for Moss in 2007. I think they might've won a Super Bowl that year with him as a starter and Greg Jennings as the No. 3 receiver. But who knows? I was on the other side of the fence on the Favre saga. Especially in 2008. That said, it's impossible to argue with the amazing season Aaron Rodgers had in 2009 and his encore this year. He is a bonafide top-five quarterback and secures an even higher spot if he hoists the Lombardi Trophy overhead in Cowboys Stadium. He is Thompson's first draft pick as GM of the Packers and easily his best. But the draft always has been something Thompson drew high marks on, whether it was Rodgers, safety Nick Collins, Jennings, tight end Jermichael Finley, guard Josh Sitton, nose tackle B.J. Raji or linebacker Clay Matthews. The list could go on and on.

Have there been some misses along the way? Of course. But Thompson has missed far less than most in his position. Even Ron Wolf drafted Terrell Buckley over Troy Vincent in 1992 and had a hand in the Jamal Reynolds selection. Thompson, who cut his teeth under Wolf as Green Bay's director of pro personnel from 1992 through 1999, knows talent. He trusts what he sees. And he played an integral part in building the Packers into a Super Bowl team in the 1990s, along with shaping the roster that made up the 2005 Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl team, having served as vice president of player personnel. Now he's done it as GM of the Packers.

"I don't take any personal satisfaction with the way we do things, because we do things the way Ron Wolf taught us to," Thompson said. "Everybody that works in our personnel department I think was tutored under Ron Wolf, including myself. So, we're just doing our job."

It's a helluva job he's done. Not only has Thompson been very good with the top of the draft, he's culled starters from the middle rounds, where Wolf routinely struck gold, and unearthed gems like linebacker Desmond Bishop and running back James Starks in the sixth round. And as far as trades go, getting Ryan Grant from the New York Giants for a sixth-round pick was an absolute heist — even though the running back spent this season on injured reserve.

Ted Thompson stays in the background during the Halas Trophy presentation. Legend Willie Davis is in the center, president Mark Murphy at right and Fox's Terry Bradshaw at left.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
For Thompson, the draft is the core of a successful franchise. It's the foundation for the future. Free agency seemed to be something for other teams to dabble in. Thompson only signed two big-name free agent starters in his tenure: cornerback Charles Woodson, the 2009 defensive player of the year, and defensive end Ryan Pickett. But you couldn't help but wonder — shouldn't a guy who was at Wolf's side when guys like Reggie White, Santana Dotson, Don Beebe, Desmond Howard, Eugene Robinson and Sean Jones were signed be more willing to go after other teams' players? Was he trying to build a contender with one arm essentially tied behind his back? Was it more important to build a winner "his way?" When was the future going to get here?

But last Sunday at Chicago, all questions were answered and all armchair GMs, myself included, got effectively put in our place. While we all lamented over the big, shiny free agent that Thompson wasn't chasing, he quietly, unassumingly, and with the stealth and cunning of a ninja, supplemented his deft drafting with a host of impact free agents ... we just didn't realize it at the time. And suddenly, the future is now.

How else do you explain a Super Bowl run that takes place with 15 players on injured reserve, including superstar-in-waiting tight end in Finley (who was poised to be the centerpiece of the offense), Grant (who rushed for 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns the year before), linebacker Nick Barnett (the leading tackler from a year ago), veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, starting outside linebacker Brad Jones, rookie starting safety Morgan Burnett, special teams ace Derrick Martin, and key contributors from Brandon Chillar to Brady Poppinga to rookie Mike Neal?

Credit the players who have taken the phrase carpe diem to new heights and the coaching staff that has squeezed every bit of potential into production. But it's Thompson and his staff that found them through the draft, and yes, through free agency.

Tim Mathsay burst onto the scene against the Jets and established himself as maybe the best punter to wear green and gold since Craig Hentrich. Massive defensive lineman Howard Green provided depth — and width — at a depleted position. Undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields solidified the third cornerback slot and had two interceptions last week. Linebacker Erik Walden helped punch Green Bay's ticket to the postseason with 16 tackles and three sacks in the regular season finale against the Bears. Tight end Tom Crabtree has become a key player in Green Bay's two-tight end sets. Linebacker Frank Zombo showed some pass rushing prowess before getting hurt. None of them big names, but all of them played big at one point or another.

But this list is supplemental to the free agents that Thompson planted on the roster in previous seasons and watched grow into bigger roles. That includes special teams ace Jarrett Bush, running back John Kuhn and safety Charlie Peprah. Of course the greatest success story has to be cornerback Tramon Williams, a practice squad player in 2006 who moved into the starting lineup in place of an injured Al Harris last year and developed into an instinctive, ball-hawking, Pro Bowl player who led Green Bay's defense with six interceptions.

So, while Thompson doesn't sign big-name free agents, he clearly does sign free agents. He's done his homework, he trusts what he sees, he believes in his coaches and he waits for those players to make a name for themselves. They might be undrafted rookies or other teams' discards. In Green Bay, however, they've become pieces of a championship puzzle. And it's not a stretch to say that in some ways, what Thompson and his staff have done is actually more impressive than signing the established, proven free agents that his predecessor or contemporaries have.

"I'm proud of our staff, I'm proud of our coaching staff and proud of our leader guys that took these guys in," Thompson said. "A lot of credit goes to these players. They didn't know they're not supposed to be able to play well. So, they just played. Our coaches got ‘em ready, and they did a good job. We've got some more work to do."

After all, the goal wasn't to win this past game; it's to win the next game. And that will be the ultimate stamp of approval for Thompson as general manager of the Packers.

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories