If ever there was a time when Ted Thompson could enjoy an in-your-face moment after all the questioning -- and threatening -- he was subjected to over the Brett Favre trade, this was it.
The Packers' general manager had just watched Favre's replacement, Aaron Rodgers, get his team to the Super Bowl by beating the Bears in the NFC Championship Game. The moment was three years in the making, and countless moments of second-guessing for Thompson, who was reviled by many Packers fans for trading Favre to the Jets when he came out of retirement the summer after he led Green Bay to the 2007 NFC title game.
Thompson declined the offer to gloat.
"It just feels good to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl and be a part of this," he said in the winners' noisy locker room at Soldier Field. "I've always said the best part of my job was a winning locker room. And a winning locker room when you get to go to the Super Bowl is only succeeded by the one at the Super Bowl if you get to have a winning locker room there."
The muted reaction was not a surprise to those who know the self-effacing Thompson best. He's much more comfortable scouting players or watching video than standing in front of a microphone. Yet it's difficult to understate his contributions to the Packers, who have a chance to win their first Super Bowl since Thompson's mentor, General Manager Ron Wolf, teamed with Mike Holmgren to do that after the 1996 season.
In 1992, Wolf's deal for Favre eventually led to Green Bay's first championship since the Lombardi years. This time, it was replacing the iconic quarterback that proved to be the difference. Favre got the Packers so close to the Super Bowl once more following the 2007 season, the Giants' Corey Webster intercepting Favre in overtime in the NFC Championship Game.
Favre officially retired in March, Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy made the transition to Rogers, and when Favre came out of retirement in August, the Packers traded him to the Jets within days.
Vitriolic fans demonstrated at the team's headquarters, some holding placards demanding that Thompson be the one to go. And through it all, he said very little, understanding he'd have to live with the consequences.
But that decision, combined with so many others involving players of far lesser stature, has helped return the Packers to the Super Bowl. Even so, Thompson refuses to gloat.
"I don't take any personal satisfaction with the way we do things, because we do things the way Ron Wolf taught us to," said Thompson, who was a backup linebacker with the Houston Oilers for 10 years after making the team in 1975 as an undrafted free agent out of SMU. "We're just doing our job."
He did that brilliantly, and not simply because he cut ties with Favre, who played one year for the Jets, then two more with the Minnesota Vikings.
In Thompson's first draft as GM, he took Rodgers late in the first round in 2005. He has since blossomed into one of the most dominant passers in the game. Thompson's first-round selection of USC linebacker Clay Matthews in 2009 also has paid huge dividends; now one of the NFL's top pass rushers, Matthews could win the league's Defensive Player of the Year award for 2010.
When running back Ryan Grant suffered a season-ending foot injury in this season's opener, Thompson was under enormous pressure to trade for the Bills' Marshawn Lynch. But Thompson instead stuck with Brandon Jackson and sixth-round rookie James Starks, a Niagara falls High School and UB product whose late-season emergence has keyed the ground game.
And get this: On a team that has had a whopping 15 players suffer season-ending injuries, including three of its four starting linebackers, Thompson's drafting and free-agent signings have provided sufficient depth to win the conference championship.
So even if Thompson won't indulge with a little "take that" moment, how about if we offer the kind of praise he might find more fitting at a time like this?
Well done, sir.