Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson doesn’t know if he has the NFL Network at home. He does, however, know all about “Hard Knocks.”
Rather than the acclaimed HBO series, Thompson lived through his own version of “Hard Knocks” during his first training camp with the Houston Oilers in 1975.
“I remember being in training camp before July the Fourth,” Thompson said on Friday afternoon, a day before his team departs for Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. “We showed up at training camp, I think, it was on July the Second. That same day – I just drove down from Atlanta, Texas, to Huntsville, Texas – and that same day, we went on the field and ran a 40-yard dash and did some shuttles and they cut 30 guys. I’m thinking, ‘Holy smokes.’”
Those decisions were as harsh as they were reasonable.
“They didn’t have enough beds,” Thompson recalled.
Thompson survived that first cutdown. He said he had a “secret helper” — first-year Oilers coach Bum Phillips, who was Thompson’s defensive coordinator during his sophomore season at SMU.
“I knew the guy knew my name,” Thompson said.
Thompson no doubt was selling himself short. He played 10 seasons for the Oilers, missing just one game in that span. This, however, isn’t just a fun history lesson about the Packers’ general manager. Rather, there’s a comparison to be drawn. When Thompson played, there were six preseason games. This year, because of the Hall of Fame Game, the Packers are playing in five.
That’s good news for the 40-plus-strong contingent of rookies and first-year players, many of whom are chasing their long-shot NFL dreams. That includes undrafted quarterbacks Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams, who will run the offense for most, if not all, of the game. Defensive lineman Brian Price, an undrafted rookie from Texas-San Antonio, said he’d happily play in 10 preseason games if it’d help his pursuit of a roster spot.
“For our young guys, especially the young free agents trying to make the team and be seen and be noticed, I can promise you as one that was in that category, I relished every practice, every game,” Thompson said. “We got rained out one afternoon there in Huntsville, Texas, and I knew that was one less opportunity for me to show the coaches that I can play. I think in that regard, it’s a good thing. Some of the veterans probably look at it in a different way.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.