Chad Greenway was breezing dry-eyed toward the end of Tuesday’s 25-minute retirement speech when the now-former Vikings linebacker was forced to pause 19 seconds and then 10 more to compose himself.
“I have to pull it together here,” he said. “Hold on.”
The man with 1,334 tackles had another difficult one to make. Fighting off his emotions, he had to thank his mom, Julie, and his late father, Alan, for what they meant to his career, his marriage to Jenni, his fatherhood to young daughters Maddyn, Beckett, Blakely and Carsyn, and, well, an entire life that began 34 years ago on the family farm in Mount Vernon, S.D.
“I am a microcosm of my parents and the work ethic that led me to be the consistent player that I’ve been over the last 11 years,” Greenway said. “None of this would be possible without them.”
It took Greenway another 19 seconds to get the next words out. Coach Mike Zimmer, General Manager Rick Spielman, safety Harrison Smith and Vikings greats Bud Grant, Carl Eller, Paul Krause and Scott Studwell were among the many looking on as Greenway praised his mom for “the example she continues to give us” by continuing to run the family farm two years after Alan lost his battle with cancer.
Ten more seconds passed as Greenway reached his full-circle moment. A son would thank the father who first encouraged his NFL dream nearly three decades ago.
“I know he’s looking down on me,” Greenway said. “The most amazing man in the world, hands down. I’m so proud to carry the name that he gave me and hold it to a high standard. I’m so proud to be his son.”
Greenway’s speech also highlighted his inspirational journey from small-town America as the son of a mail carrier/farmer. He played quarterback on a nine-man high school football team in a town of 400 people. He turned his only Division I scholarship offer into an All-America career at Iowa. He was drafted 17th overall in 2006, missed his rookie season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament and still rewarded the Vikings with durability and production over the next decade.
On the field, only Studwell (1,928), Matt Blair (1,404) and Jeff Siemon (1,375) finished with more tackles as a Viking. Off the field, Greenway used his Lead the Way Foundation to win Vikings Community Man of the Year four times. Only Matt Birk, with seven, won that honor more times.
“This was a dream that started when I was 5 or 6 years old,” Greenway said. “I was holding a gate for my dad when he was feeding cattle. I told him I was going to play pro ball. And he looked at me like I was crazy.
“But I’ll never forget. He said, ‘It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but it’s possible.’ It was one of those moments that you never forget. My dad was my hero. I think when he said that, it was something like, ‘You know what, I’m going to try to do that.’ ”
Greenway said he’ll stay in the Twin Cities and gave a shout out to Vikings Director of Community Relations Brad Madson, saying, “I hope you know you’re not done working with me and our foundation for the next 15 to 20 years.”
Greenway does have an interest in coaching. Just not at the NFL level. He said his “No. 1 job” is as father and coach to his four daughters.
“My daughter [Maddyn] won a state basketball championship last weekend,” Greenway said. “I was able to coach her, which was awesome. If you’re going to ask me what I’m going to do next, I’m going to be a coach. And probably a championship coach, it sounds like, with these guys.”
Greenway said he met most of his career goals except, of course, winning a Super Bowl. Finishing his career as a Viking, and being able to do so on his terms, was a primary goal he had.
“Doing it my way,” Greenway said. “I never took a day off. I never took the easy way out. I started from nowhere and was able to achieve the highest standard of our profession.”