1986 John Marshall grad, Minnesota Gopher football standout, Green Bay Packer running back, Minnesota Gophers radio analyst, and President of Bolder Options
Rochester Magazine: What would your stat line be if you got 20 carries for the Gophers against Rutgers this weekend?
Darrell Thompson: Hopefully, 20 carries, 165 yards.
RM: Seriously, you could put up 165 yards right now?
DT: Wait! No, not now! I thought you meant 1986. Right now I’d have 20 carries for 18 yards.
RM: Give me a story from Bolder Options (an organization that focuses on healthy development for at-risk youths).
DT: I had a young man who was in Bolder Options. I met him about 18 years ago, when I first started. This was a kid that wanted to get a gun, be a violent guy. I worked with him and got to know him very well. He called me two or three years after he got out of the program. He was a graduate and he went in the Marines. He said “Hey, can you come over this weekend?” But I was busy with my own life; my kids had basketball and soccer and all those things going on. My wife said “He’s been very persistent, he’s called you like four times.” So I figured I’d stop by his house on that Saturday. I get to the door and in his hands he has his baby daughter. She’s turning one year old that day. He wanted me to be there for his daughter’s first birthday.
RM: That gives you goosebumps.
DT: Usually I cry when I tell this story, but I’ll fight it off with the photographer here. That story epitomizes Bolder Options. That he thought enough of me and his mentor. That he wanted me to be there for his daughter’s first birthday. I’ve been there for four or five of her birthdays since. She’s 14 or 15 years old now. This was a guy who could have gone down a bad path. Now he works. His wife works. They are a productive family. He’s a great guy. They pay taxes. They are living the American dream.
RM: That’s phenomenal. You’ve worked with thousands of kids through Bolder Options. You must have a lot of those stories.
DT: A week and a half ago I was at a wedding for a young man who had graduated from our program. At the wedding reception, the thing he was most excited to tell me was that March 5th was his birthday, and that he was coming over on March 6th to sign up to be a mentor. We’re starting to see the 360 degrees with kids who have come full circle and are starting to give back.
RM: How did you and [wife] Stephanie meet?
DT: In college. My sister and Stephanie played volleyball together at college. I got invited to a volleyball after-party. A smart guy doesn’t turn down a party when girls invite him.
RM: Four kids?
DT: Dominique is 24, Indigo is 21, True is 19, and Race is 17.
RM: So, you didn’t go with traditional names?
DT: No. We wanted the names to be unique and have a little fun. Everyone’s middle name is a derivative of Alex, my grandfather’s name. Alex, Alexander, Alexis. It’s an important name in my family.
RM: Were you a big troublemaker as a kid?
DT: No. I got in trouble with a teacher when I was in seventh grade at John Adams. It made us close; we’re close to this day. I was in the hall. I took a cookie out of the wrapper. I threw it down the hallway. It hit the wall and it exploded. A teacher came out and yelled, “Who did that?” I told her it was me. She and I talked and we’ve been friends ever since. Mrs. Wissink, at John Adams. Every year she writes me a letter and sends a donation to Bolder Options. She taught Home Ec. I liked Home Ec. I liked cooking.
RM: You cook breakfast for your kids?
DT: Every day except for Saturday or Sunday. Bacon, French toast, eggs. I’ve done that since my oldest daughter started high school.
RM: Are you familiar with Rochester’s MacIver brothers, Doug and Ken?
DT: Yes, though I don’t know if I knew about it at the time. When I got drafted by the Packers, these guys sent my mom a flower arrangement—a bouquet of roses every week—during my first pro football season. That was really, really cool. My mom passed away about 13 years ago, but she was very moved that someone would do that for her. It was heartwarming. I almost cried, actually.
RM: Your dad, George, told me you’re a great father.
DT: I’m flattered. I’m active with my kids. He was a great father, too. My parents divorced when I was a kid, so I didn’t live with him that much. He was a great dad in that he never left. I have two siblings. We had a rotation during middle school and high school where one of us was at my dad’s and the other two were at my mom’s. Then every Sunday all three of us were at my dad’s house. As a kid we were a very, very close family.
RM: Tell me about the time you got hit by Bears’ linebacker Mike Singletary.
DT: I’ll describe it in three words: awesome, intimidating, and painful. It was at Soldiers Field in 1991. Cold, cold day. … I took the handoff. I saw the hole. I went in high and put my leg in there first. As soon as I got in the hole Mike put his shoulder pad right on my thigh and tackled me. I didn’t wear any padding on my legs and I felt it. I was bruised. He smiled at me when he got up, and said “I got you.” He lured me into that hole. I didn’t come out of the game, but I had to wear a special pad the rest of the year because the bruise turned into a contusion. I learned something from that, though. After that, even when it looked like there was a big hole, I always went in low with my shoulder pads down just in case.
RM: Tell me about the time you got hit by teammate Brett Favre after you scored a touchdown for the Packers?
DT: Scary. It was scary.
RM: So he really did that, tackled you after you scored?
DT: Yes, he did. It was a non-event because I didn’t get hurt or anything, but he ran and tackled me from the side. I thought it was going to be a high 5. It was not a high 5. It was a tackle. It was funny after we got up and laughed about it.
RM: So nothing like the Singletary hit?
DT: No. I’ve still never laughed about that one.