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Training days: Packers GM Thompson sticks with plan

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ted Thompson had white hair long before he became general manager of the Green Bay Packers in 2005.

It only seems that the events of the past month-and-a-half made it that way.

Few, if any, general managers in the NFL have ever had to deal with the challenges that Thompson has faced from the moment a certain quarterback decided that he wasn't ready for retirement after all. The drama that ensued when Thompson stuck with his decision to move forward with a new quarterback made for an incredibly stressful summer.

Instead of leaving town in a fashion befitting the king he had become during 16 seasons here, Brett Favre departed bitter and angry ... and most of that bitterness and anger was directed toward Thompson. Not surprisingly, Favre's legion of fans expressed their disappointment and resentment over the fact that No. 4 would wear the green of a different team -- the New York Jets.

As the Packers broke training camp Thursday, Thompson was in a reflective mood. He could have pretended that he had simply turned the page and moved on, but he didn't.

Some wounds just don't heal as quickly as others.

"I love being here, I love working for a place where so many people care about everything that has to do with this place," he said. "At the same time, this job has been harder than I thought it was going to be. I didn't anticipate a summer like we just had. I didn't anticipate some of the things that have happened in the past, but (they happened) because everybody cares so much.

"And we understand that passion. We embrace that passion, but sometimes, it hits me on the wrong end of the emotions."

At times, Thompson has been outright pummeled by criticism by fans and media. Suddenly, all of the goodwill he had accumulated for the smart drafting he had done in methodically building the Packers into a team that went 13-3 and contended for the Super Bowl last season was gone. Suddenly, it no longer was about providing the right supporting cast and coaching for Favre to succeed.

It was only about Favre ... and about the perceived callousness in shoving a beloved icon out the door.

Then there were moments such as Thursday, when, after finishing a radio interview, Thompson was swarmed by autograph-seeking Packer faithful in the atrium at Lambeau. He happily obliged them.

It seems that, even if there are any lingering hard feelings about Favre's departure, the team ultimately means more to the community than any single player. And it's probably safe to say that everyone who cares about the Packers seems relieved that the saga is finally over -- especially Thompson.

"We're happy to be able to concentrate on football and concentrate on the team," he said. "Get back into normal routines, normal planning for the fall college visitation schedules and the pro scouting, the little minutia that you have to go through on that."

Mike McCarthy, the Packers' coach, is just as happy to see normalcy return. He likes being able to go through an entire week without constantly being called into meetings to talk about you know what.

McCarthy wasn't nearly as large of a target as Thompson, but he gave his full support to his GM. It was part of an understanding they formed when Thompson interviewed him for the job. McCarthy and Thompson frequently visit each other's office to talk through the course that has been mapped for the team -- a course that includes 37 Thompson draft picks on the Packers' roster.

"It's about making the tough decisions and continue to work through all the tough decisions," McCarthy said. "He's the most diligent individual I've ever worked with."

[internal-link-placeholder-0]Camp: Green Bay, Wis.

Preseason games:
Aug. 11: Bengals 20, Packers 17
Aug. 16: at San Francisco, 9:00 p.m. ET

Aug. 22: at Denver, 9 p.m. ET

Aug. 28: Tennessee, 7:00 p.m. ET

Thompson had made Aaron Rodgers the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2005 with the idea that he one day would replace Favre.

When Favre announced his retirement in March, Thompson was ready to put that plan into action. Ultimately, he determined that not changing his mind was best for the franchise, even if Favre changed his.

"From the onset, we felt it was important to identify that the veteran players that were here when we got here in 2005, that we wanted to establish as core players going forward," Thompson said. "We've done that. We've extended contracts. All the youth on our team and all the draft picks get a lot of publicity, but it's the Al Harrises and the Chad Cliftons and Mark Tauschers, the Donald Drivers that we've gone to and extended forward.

"We think we have a pretty good mix. We are a little bit young, certainly, at some positions. But it's our veterans that have led us in the past and it's the ability of young guys to step in and play like men that's the reason you can win games."

Rodgers will need to do exactly that if the Packers are going to be anywhere near as good as they were in 2007.

If he doesn't, Thompson can count on receiving more grief. That goes with the business.

But he is confident that Rodgers can continue to perform as well as he did in the Packers' preseason opener against Cincinnati. Rodgers led the Packers to 10 points and generally looked sharp in 23 snaps of action.

"I think he's been very consistent," Thompson said. "He's carried himself well, he's prepared himself. He's sat and watched for three years, which is the way they did it in the olden days. I think that's been beneficial to him. I think he's ready for this."

Even if Thompson wasn't the least bit ready for what he has faced in the last month-and-a-half.

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