The sign takes me back to the victorious Green Bay Packers locker room on Super Bowl Sunday. Inside, as the players talked to reporters or chronicled the celebration on camera phones, Ted Thompson held court with a handful of reporters.
Asked where he wanted the street named in his honor in Green Bay, Thompson kept a straight face and matter-of-factly said, "No, I've still got some work to do."
Thompson has a few more years to get that work done, with a contract extension awarded on Friday.
The Super Bowl victory should have been a personal triumph for Thompson for all he had gone through during the days, weeks, months and even years after his controversial decision to trade the legendary Brett Favre. Instead, asked several times in several ways if he felt vindication, Thompson humbly said no, that he was just doing his job as best he could.
"I don't think in terms of that, I really don't," he said. "I think in terms of what's best for the team right this second. The fact that we won the Super Bowl, I think most of the fans will be happy. You'd like for all of them to agree with you most of the time but that's not the way it works. You can't run the team trying to be a politician. You can't try to get votes. You have to do what you have to do."
It was a typical moment for the understated Thompson. He had no interest in the spotlight or boastful speaking, which is probably part of the reason there was such venom directed toward him after the Favre ordeal. With rocks being slung at him from every which way, Thompson made little effort to defend himself or win the battle of public opinion. He could have said that Favre's best days had passed him by, that Favre's inability to function in the cold of the NFC Championship Game simply made him unfit to lead a team based in Green Bay. He could have said that Aaron Rodgers was ready to lead the team to new heights.
There would be none of that, though. Thompson bit the bullet and made a deal that made him despised by many fans and split Packer Backers along a Mason-Dixon Line of sorts, the pro-Favre contingent and the pro-Thompson contingent.
Now, with the fourth Lombardi Trophy on display at Lambeau Field, I wonder how many of those Packers fans who sent angry, hate-filled letters to 1265 Lombardi Ave. that landed on Thompson's desk will bother to send a letter of apology or a thank you note.
Thompson's job isn't to be Mr. Personality or be a quote machine for everyone from yours truly to ESPN. His job was to build a team fit to win a championship – and not just for one year, but for many years.
The Super Bowl matchup was between teams that do things the right away. Not flashy, just effective. With a few notable exceptions – Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett for the Packers and James Farrior for the Steelers, for instance – the Packers and Steelers have built shrewdly through the draft. In a league that's starved for cornerbacks, Thompson found Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, both of whom went undrafted. In a league that's starved for pass rushers, the Steelers found undrafted James Harrison.
With few wasted dollars, Thompson has crafted a roster that's built to last. Including the 15 players that were on injured reserve, only nine of the 68 players on the roster were ages 30 or older. Outside of Woodson and Chad Clifton, the core of the team that played such key roles in the Super Bowl is incredibly young. Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Nick Collins and Williams are 27. B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews are 24.
So, in Year 6, Thompson earned the vindication he doesn't care about and the Packers won the most unlikely championship in franchise history.
"My vision was to win six of them by now," Thompson said. "When you go to Green Bay, there's only reason why you're there and that's to win this thing. We have high expectations so there's a little more critiquing, there's more people you see in the grocery store that tell you you need to do something about the punt game or the kickoff return game. But it's a special place. I knew that going in. I liked the people there, I liked the opportunity. If you do your job well, you will have a chance to win."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.