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Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson dies at 68

  • January 21, 2021

died Wednesday at age 68, two sources said.

Thompson drafted future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers with his first pick as a general manager. That set the stage for the succession of Hall of Famer quarterback Brett Favre and the building of a team that won the Super Bowl in 2011. His teams in one stretch won 19 consecutive games and made the playoffs eight consecutive years.

“He’s a humble, intelligent guy that always put the team first. He always kept a steady hand, never panicked,” said longtime friend Mike Reinfeldt when Thompson was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2019. Reinfeldt roomed with Thompson when they played for the Houston Oilers and worked with him in Green Bay and Seattle.

Four days after his Hall of Fame induction on May 4, 2019, Thompson revealed that he had been diagnosed with an autonomic disorder. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the autonomic nervous system is “the part of your nervous system that controls involuntary actions, such as the beating of your heart and the widening or narrowing of your blood vessels. When something goes wrong in this system, it can cause serious problems, including blood pressure and heart problems and trouble breathing and swallowing.”

Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson is all smiles as he speaks to the media about his second first-round pick, USC linebacker Clay Matthews in the NFL Draft inside the media auditorium at Lambeau Field on Saturday, April 25, 2009. Photo by Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette

“I feel that it’s important to mention that based on the test results and opinions of medical specialists, they feel that I do not fit the profile of someone suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),” Thompson said in a statement.

Thompson’s health had been a subject of rumors, especially during his final year as general manager. Thompson did not say whether a specific disease or illness caused the disorder or whether the many tests he underwent revealed a cause.

“His impact is still felt today,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think it’s felt all around the league. There’s a lot of heavy hearts here today.”

Thompson was notable in Green Bay for his reticence. He seldom talked to the media unless he had to, and at annual shareholder meetings, where he did have to speak, he never revealed anything about his football team.

Mike Renfro, another longtime friend who played with Thompson in Houston, said Thompson was always reserved.

“He was a man of few words,” Renfro said at the induction banquet. “But a few words meant a lot. Some people babble a lot.”

If Thompson had something to say, he said it.

Randy Brice, treasurer of Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc., said when former Packers president Emil Fischer, who died in 1958, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, Thompson made an unscheduled visit backstage to meet Fischer’s family.

“Ted went around to every member of the family, shook their hand, told them who he was, how proud he was to be part of the Packers organization and how thankful he was that Fischer led Packers through some tough times,” Brice said.

Those words proved prescient when Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl XLV victory in his sixth NFL season, his third as a starter. Rodgers wasn’t supposed to be available at the 24th overall pick, and history has painted Thompson’s decision as an obvious call, but it was far from certain at the time, and not just because 36-year-old Favre figured to have more quality football left on his odometer.

The Packers were led by head coach Mike Sherman, who’d just lost his general managership and desperately needed to win the following season. Thompson, as the new guy in Green Bay, could have placated his head coach by drafting a player who would have more immediate impact. With Favre, it was clear Rodgers’ chances of playing early in his career were slim.

Instead, Thompson took the long view.

“I think we tried to put the interests of the Green Bay Packers first,” Thompson said after drafting Rodgers. “It wasn’t necessarily that comfortable taking that position maybe as some other things we’d like to have done, but you make draft choices and draft-day decisions based on the long-term best interests of your organization. I think that’s what we did today.”

Ted Thompson to Packers Hall of Fame gathering: ‘I’m just a scout’

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  • A high school classmate, Danny Harp, said a group of track team members one time were talking about what they wanted to do when they grew up. “When it came to Ted, he said, ‘When I grow up I’m going to be the general manager of the Green Bay Packers or the New York Yankees.’ That’s exactly what he said. We all laughed, and he looked at us like, ‘I’m not kidding,’” Harp recalled.

    Thompson played football for Southern Methodist University, where he was a starting linebacker and team captain. He was not chosen in the NFL draft and signed as a free agent with the Houston Oilers, where he played 10 years, from 1975-1984. He started only nine times during his career but played in 146 of 147 games. In one game he kicked four extra points as an emergency kicker.

    “Ted played 10 years in the league, which is a testament to anybody,” Reinfeldt said. “Ted knew assignments of all 22 guys on the field, better than some of the guys playing the positions.”

    Ron Wolf hired Thompson as a Packers scout in 1992. He moved to Seattle, where he was vice president of football operations from 2000 to 2004. Packers President and CEO Bob Harlan named Thompson general manager of the Packers on Jan. 14, 2005.

    With him at the helm, the Packers advanced to a franchise-record eight consecutive playoffs. They played in four NFC championship games, losing three. Two were especially painful defeats: the 2007 overtime home loss to the New York Giants, and the 2014 collapse in Seattle.

    The Packers had a 125-82-1 record in Thompson’s tenure, a .600 win percentage that ranked fourth in the NFL. Only the New England Patriots (.774), Pittsburgh Steelers (.649) and Indianapolis Colts (.605) had a better win percentage in that time.

    Rodgers, a two-time MVP, was the biggest factor in getting the Packers their fourth Super Bowl title. But from 2005 to 2010, Thompson executed a series of championship-building draft choices. Six offensive starters and six defensive starters on the Super Bowl team, along with kicker Mason Crosby, were either drafted by Thompson or acquired as an undrafted rookie. Thompson also signed key defensive back Charles Woodson in free agency.

    In his first six years, Thompson drafted nine players who would make at least one Pro Bowl roster. Five would be selected to at least one first- or second-team All-Pro list, including Thompson’s second-ever pick as Packers general manager, safety Nick Collins.

    “Stellar,” was how Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian once described Thompson’s ability to identify talent in the draft. “He’s outstanding, and he’s outstanding not only in terms of judging talent, but of managing the draft.”

    Analyzing talent was Thompson’s favorite task as general manager. He was self-deprecating about his other skills in that job during his Hall of Fame induction.

    “You look at all the great players who’ve come through here, they are idols. I’m not one of those people. I’m just a scout,” he said.

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