Wisconsin Owes Ted Thompson an Apology

From Kevin Seifert, of ESPN.com, “The House That Ted Thomp­son Built.”

As he always does, the man with the white mane sat sto­ically in his press box seat. Believe me, I checked.

Every time the Green Bay Pack­ers’ rookie nick­el­back made a play, I stole a glance down the aisle. Ted Thomp­son was unmoved. There was no hint of vengeance when rookie tail­back James Starks scored a second-quarter touch­down, and I saw no reac­tion of note as punter Tim Mas­thay flipped the game’s field posi­tion all afternoon.

The Pack­ers’ gen­eral man­ager had every rea­son to feel wholly vin­di­cated Sun­day as his team advanced to Super Bowl XLV with a 21–14 vic­tory over the Chicago Bears. On a day when quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers’ best play was a touchdown-saving tackle, Thompson’s brand of team build­ing proved espe­cially pre­scient. This was a Ted Thomp­son vic­tory if there ever was one.

Ted built this house,” Pack­ers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He is respon­si­ble for every­thing that goes on.”

We’ve all had our fun and taken our shots at the way Thomp­son con­structed this team. Eschew­ing vet­eran free agency puts a pre­mium on your own devel­op­ment pro­gram, leav­ing no mar­gin for error in the draft and lit­tle patience in bring­ing along young play­ers. You’ve got to hit nearly every time, and after watch­ing Sunday’s game at Sol­dier Field, I think we can agree that Thomp­son bat­ted 1.000 in a year when the Pack­ers lost more start­ing play­ers to injuries than any NFL team.

Undrafted nickel back Sam Shields became one of 11 rook­ies in NFL his­tory to inter­cept at least two passes in a play­off game, includ­ing the game-clinching play with 37 sec­onds remain­ing. Starks con­tin­ued his post­sea­son surge with 74 yards and his first touch­down since he was a junior at Buf­falo in 2008. Mas­thay, plucked off the street last win­ter, pinned the Bears inside their 20-yard line on five of his eight punts. Nose tackle B.J. Raji, Thompson’s first pick in the 2009 draft, returned an inter­cep­tion 18 yards for a touch­down that served as the final mar­gin of victory.

The Pack­ers have their share of elite play­ers in Rodgers, receiver Greg Jen­nings, line­backer Clay Matthews and cor­ner­backs Charles Wood­son and Tra­mon Williams. But with­out Shields, Starks and Mas­thay, the Pack­ers might not have a ticket for Arling­ton, Texas, in two weeks.
“I think this really to me showed all of Ted’s work over the last two or three years,” team pres­i­dent Mark Mur­phy said. “You look at the depth of the ros­ter, the play­ers he’s been able to iden­tify. We have start­ing play­ers play­ing key roles for us who were undrafted free agents this year. It’s a trib­ute to Ted and his staff that he’s able to find these players.”

I missed Thomp­son after the game. I’m guess­ing he wouldn’t have been in a gloat­ing mood. It’s not his style, and it’s what I like best about him. He doesn’t need to tell us I told you so. We saw it our­selves Sun­day, and it was a devel­op­ment not lost in the Pack­ers’ locker room.

It starts up top with Ted and play­ers and the per­son­nel depart­ment,” vet­eran defen­sive line­man Ryan Pick­ett said. “They do a good job of bring­ing in play­ers. Some­body gets hurt, and they bring in a guy where there’s almost no drop-off. We have a lot of tal­ent on this team. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this much, as long as I have been play­ing. There are play­ers all over this team that were over­looked by other teams.”

On the day the Pack­ers advanced to their first Super Bowl in 13 years, you might not be up for pat­ting their shy gen­eral man­ager on the back. Sorry folks. If Rodgers had pulled another of his post­sea­son gems, I would be telling you all about it. If Matthews had put together another of his three-sack games, this post would have been easy to write.

The assump­tion has been that the Pack­ers would ride Rodgers as far as he could take them. But Sun­day, the Bears’ defense lim­ited him to 17 com­ple­tions in 30 attempts. He threw two inter­cep­tions, includ­ing one to line­backer Brian Urlacher on what he called a “ter­ri­ble throw” in the third quar­ter. Rodgers man­aged to trip up Urlacher at the Bears’ 45-yard line, pre­vent­ing what almost cer­tainly would have been a touch­down, but he was unable to take the Pack­ers to a second-half touch­down that would have put the game out of reach.

On this cham­pi­onship day, that task fell to play­ers like Shields, Starks and Mas­thay. We’ve had plenty of dis­cus­sions about Starks, who has vin­di­cated Thompson’s deci­sion not to seek a vet­eran replace­ment (albeit a lit­tle late). Shields, mean­while, was Thompson’s ver­sion of an answer to the Pack­ers’ thin depth at cor­ner­back last season.

Signed as an undrafted free agent after the draft, Shields ini­tially was a can­di­date to be the Pack­ers’ kick­off and punt returner. But as soon as he arrived at train­ing camp, he had defen­sive play­ers and coaches turn­ing their heads.

We saw him and said, ‘Why didn’t this guy get drafted?’” Pick­ett said. “This guy has been mak­ing plays since the moment he got here. He might be the best rookie cor­ner­back in the league.”

It would be hard to argue based on Sunday’s game. Shields ended two con­sec­u­tive Bears series in the sec­ond quar­ter. The first was a sack of quar­ter­back Jay Cut­ler on third down. Less than two min­utes later, his ath­letic inter­cep­tion pre­vented what would have been a long 42-yard touch­down pass to receiver Johnny Knox.

Accord­ing to the data­base at pro-football-reference.com, Shields is the first rookie in NFL his­tory to col­lect two inter­cep­tions and a sack in a play­off game.

He is going to be a great player for the Green Bay Pack­ers for a long time,” McCarthy said.

The Pack­ers have more than their share of sim­i­lar stories.

Ted Thomp­son is their ghost writer.

He won’t tell you.

He doesn’t need to.

You saw it yourself.

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