As the Green Bay Packers march toward a possible perfect season, General Manager Ted Thompson said he isn’t worried about an unbeaten record becoming a distraction.
“I don’t think it has been and I don’t think it will be,” said Thompson of the 11-0 Packers. “I think our team has been pretty focused.”
Thompson doesn’t worry about much these days, but it’s not because the reigning Super Bowl champion Packers are sitting on top of the world. Like his team, Thompson remains remarkably even-keeled.
That’s the way it was three years ago when the Packers were on their way to a 6-10 season and Thompson was getting assailed for trading Brett Favre.
His demeanor hasn’t changed, even if the Packers’ fortunes have soared. Can there be any doubt that Thompson, who has assembled the best team in the NFL, is the best general manager?
Yet despite his lofty status, Thompson has managed to stay below the radar. He hasn’t appeared on the cover of any national magazines, and the talking heads at ESPN largely ignore him.
That’s exactly the way he prefers it. Despite the Packers’ achievements, my sit-down interview with Thompson on Thursday in a conference room at Lambeau Field was just the second he has conducted since the season started.
Thompson spends his weeks between Packers games on the road scouting college talent, but that work is mostly done now, so he took a few minutes to reflect on the best start in franchise history.
Thompson is pleased with the Packers’ success but in his typical understated manner is taking a cautious approach.
“This is a very humbling business,” Thompson said. “We understand that we’ve won a few games, but we still have an extraordinary amount of work to do. This business doesn’t allow you to get too full of yourself, and we’re not.”
What Thompson calls “a few games” has mushroomed into a 17-game winning streak going back to last season. It’s been almost a year since the Packers’ last defeat.
But the burning question that gets hotter every week is whether they can become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to go an entire season unbeaten.
“We’ll have a chance if we win this week,” said Thompson. “And then after that we’ll have a chance if we win the week after that. I don’t think that’s an overriding concern of ours.”
Thompson appears to have adopted a “don’t worry, be happy” motto. Among other things he won’t lose sleep over:
• The growing hype surrounding the Packers’ perfect record. “We don’t pay a lot of attention to it,” he said. “We just try to go about our business and go about our work.”
• The Packers’ defense ranking near the bottom of the NFL in passing yards and total yards allowed. “I’m not unwise to the challenges that we have in front of us, but I like our team,” he said. “I like the makeup of our team. I like the character of our guys.”
• The Packers’ struggles to generate a pass rush. “I think we should just enjoy where we are,” he said. “We’re really happy that we’re 11-0. We’re not worried about a lot of things.”
&bull: Injuries, which tend to start piling up around this time of year. “I think our team … just goes about its business,” he said. “They know injuries happen and they know other guys are ready to come in and play, and they don’t get all whacked out about it.”
Thompson is sure to attract some national attention if Aaron Rodgers continues his march toward an MVP and record-breaking season. Thompson selected Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft, his first pick as Packers general manager.
Nearly two dozen other general managers passed on Rodgers, and Thompson now looks like a genius. The Packers didn’t need a quarterback, but that didn’t sway Thompson.
At the time, Thompson remembers saying, “We need a lot of things but if this kid comes to us, we’re going to take the best player available. And I preach that every year and you guys don’t believe me, but this was the best player available.”
Rodgers is now the best player in the NFL.
“I think he’s playing well,” said Thompson. “I think he enjoys playing the game. He enjoys his teammates. I think they like him. I think he’s got a marvelous head on his shoulders. He’s competitive. He’s demanding of himself. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. All those things I think lead to him being a good player.”
Which in turn has led to the Packers being the best team.
Life is good for Thompson, even if he won’t allow himself to fully enjoy it.
“This team is still growing, still maturing, still trying to get better,” he said. “That’s where we are. We know we face a huge challenge this week. We don’t ever have a chance to sit back and pat ourselves on the back. It doesn’t work that way.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.