All Texans, especially high school and college athletes, can learn valuable lessons from the life of Ted Thompson, a 10 year NFL Veteran and member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, who died Jan. 20. He devoted his life and livelihood to the game he loved.
Ted and I were football teammates for two seasons at Southern Methodist University before he graduated and headed to the Houston Oilers to be reunited with Coach Bum Phillips, who had been his defensive coordinator at SMU. Just as at SMU, he played linebacker.
A terrific small athlete with powerful legs and great quickness, he was the last straight toed kicker in the Southwest Conference. He even knocked through four PATS with his old fashion squared toed shoe for the Oilers as an emergency kicker against the Jets during the 1980, season making him the last straight toed kicker in the history of the National Football League.
Here are lessons learned from Ted's life that can provide important guideposts to all Texans as well as high school and college players. Lessons from college football, lessons from being a pro player, and lessons from the 13 years he was the general manager of the Green Bay Packers.
HAVE A DREAM
As a high school player Ted told his friends he was going to be the general manager of the New York Yankees or Green Bay Packer one day.
IT IS NOT WHERE YOU START BUT WHERE YOU FINISH
Ted was the 1970 high school team Captain for the little Atlanta, Texas Rabbits. A town of about 6,000, two and a half hours east of Dallas, near Louisiana. A small town with a big footprint, the comedian Ellen DeGeneres graduated from the same school a few years after Ted. It was also home to Bessie Coleman, the first female Afro-American to hold an international pilot license. Ted was student council president, an actor in the school play, and read the Bible.
Despite playing in a tiny high school football program, he gained the admiration of college scouts with his unbelievably quick forearm (as a Tight End, I felt the sting of that foreman on many occasions!) his terrific lateral pursuit, intelligent play, and his will to win.
PURSUE OPPORTUNITY, TAKE ADVANTAGE WHEN IT COMES YOUR WAY
When his decade long NFL career was over, Packers legendary GM Ron Wolf gave Ted a tryout as a talent scout. He said the Packers had an interest in the third team QB at the Atlanta Falcons and he would pay his expenses to investigate the player thoroughly. Ted went to the quarterback’s high school in Mississippi, and to his college and told them he only wanted to watch the film of when he was behind. He wrote his report and turned it into Mr. Wolfe in person in Green Bay. "Based on your investigation Ted, what is your recommendation?" said the Green Bay General Manager "Even if you have to give up a number one draft choice, you need to get Brent Favre!" “You have never seen a guy play like this when he is behind!” Mr. Wolf agreed with him, traded for Brent Farve, and hired the former Mustang team captain as a scout.
DO NOT COMPLAIN, PERFORM
One day the SMU defensive coaches got angry at him for a broken assignment. They sent him down to the third string "scout team" to practice against the first team offense. Ted never said a word, but he was agitated and proceeded to blow up every play the first team offense was trying to run that day! The offensive coaches quickly sent him back up to the first team defense! This was noticed by everyone, how he did not complain but made the most of it.
Others might train harder during the summer than Ted, but when he can came back for August two-a-days to do shuttle runs and 2 mile tests, he could focus at the task at hand, and as the athletic saying goes "suck it up" better than anybody you every saw. His focus helped him during his years as the General Manager of the Green Bay Packers, where he built the Packers 2010 Super Bowl winning team coached by the current Dallas Cowboy coach Mike McCarthy.
ON THE JOB OR IN A TEAM SETTING, BE HAPPY IN YOUR ROLE
Ted was never a starter at the Oilers, playing outside linebacker behind 7 time pro bowler Robert Brazile. But, he was happy in his role and a demon on special teams. Others might have sulked and asked to be traded, but a Texan to his toenails, Ted stayed and got to play in back to back AFC Championship games.
LEARN A NEW CRAFT, BE VERSATILE
As an All Southwest Conference linebacker at SMU he did not play much on special teams. But, in the pros he learned to cover punts and kickoff returns. He would often times be at the bottom of the pile next to the return man. Like many of us, he may not have had the job he wanted, but he adapted and took pride in being a role player without complaining. Any Corsicana Tiger or Navarro Bulldog can benefit from his example.
THE POPULAR DECISION IS NOT ALWAYS CORRECT
Thompson famously drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft. The decision was controversial and unpopular, with Brent Favre as the biggest star in Green Bay at the time. Ted never wavered in his commitment to Rodgers and the Packers future. Even during the tumultuous exit of Brent Farve to the New York Jets in 2008, he stood firm. Thompson knew he would catch a lot of heat, but did what he thought was the best thing. And, he turned out to be right.
Four days after being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on May 4, 2019 Thomas revealed that he had been diagnosed with an autonomic disorder. The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary actions like the beating of your heart and the narrowing of your blood vessels. This had no relation to his long playing career in football.
Ted Thompson gained unwavering respect from our SMU teammates and the Packer Nation for his humility, focus, and loyalty. The boy from the tiny East Texas community had a great career in the Southwest Conference, as a player with the Houston Oilers during their glory days, and as a talent expert and General Manager in the National Football League. He pioneered scouting practices that are now commonplace.
Super Bowl champion Andy Reid, as assistant coach with the Packers during Thompson's time their said "He was good at what he did and even a better person. "
Bill McNutt was the Corsicana High School Football Co-Captain in 1972, and earned a four year football scholarship to SMU where he was a teammate with Ted Thompson.