Chad Greenway can run and juggle at the same time. He loves the Tour de France.
“He even owns the whole racing outfit,” said former teammate Jimmy Kleinsasser. “Although, thank God, I’ve never had to see him in it.”
Every season, Greenway pain-stakingly builds a 40-pound ball of athletic tape.
“I guess that’s about all there is to do where he’s from,” said former teammate Ben Leber. “Other than the obligatory cow-tipping.”
Greenway might be the only trash-talking linebacker in the NFL whose chatter could be broadcast unedited in a nursery.
“He talks more trash than any player I ever played with,’’ Leber said. “But it’s all clean. It’s so elementary a fourth-grader might say it. He’d yell stuff like, ‘Yeah, that’s the way we did it at Iowa!’ I’d just look at him and say, ‘What is wrong with you?’ ”
Greenway is a sports historian. Recently his trainer, Craig Helmer of Balance Studios in Uptown Minneapolis, brought in a photo of Jesse Owens. Greenway knew what year Owens competed in Berlin.
“He knows tennis, cycling, pretty much everything,’’ Helmer said.
As he enters his 10th and perhaps final training camp with the Vikings this weekend in Mankato, Greenway is many things you might not suspect, but is defined by the ways he conforms to the stereotype of a small-town Midwestern father.
He is a devoted parent who has taken consecutive pay cuts so he can end his career with the Vikings. He is dedicated to good works. He is beloved throughout the organization.
“If you didn’t know him and I said, ‘We’ve got this guy, he grew up on a farm in South Dakota and played middle linebacker at Iowa,’ you would picture Chad,’’ said former teammate Matt Birk. “Great guy. Great father. Beautiful family. Did everything the right way. Will play his whole career with one team. Not like some jackass who left toward the end. Part of you hates him because he’s done everything so perfectly.
“I’m proud to call him a teammate and a friend. He’s everything that’s right with the NFL. There are not enough people like him in the league these days.’’
Birk was teasing himself for leaving the Vikings late in his career for the Baltimore Ravens. He was serious about the rest.
Someone once said of a fading athlete who belatedly turned friendly, “He’s learning to say hello when he should be learning to say goodbye.’’ Greenway has been shaking hands from the start.
Not about money
It’s a hot summer morning. Greenway is an hour from his Twin Cities home, sitting on a cafeteria bench at Hutchinson High School, eating a Subway sandwich. He has spent the previous two hours sprinting around fields, diving on the ground, coaching kids.
The Day to Reach Camp is part football camp, part charitable endeavor as part of his foundation. With the campers sitting in the Hutchinson football stands, Greenway hosted a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and donated a van to the family of an Iowa boy who was paralyzed in a car accident.
“My heart dropped to my toes,’’ said Chad Harlander, who works at the high school and runs the Reach program to help troubled kids. “Chad is the most genuine person I’ve been around. What he and his wife do with their foundation is amazing. He’s what professional sports should be about.’’
During a lunch break, Green- way offers a reminder of what professional sports are often about: Money. He brings up his contracts. He has taken pay cuts two straight years.
“The only person it affects from an ego standpoint is me,’’ he said. “ Nobody in my household, nobody in the organization really cares about my ego other than me. It’s important to be self-aware. I think that’s something a lot of professional athletes lack, is self-awareness, of where they are in their career.
“I mean, who, other than me, really cares how much I make?’’
After the 2013 season, the Vikings approached Greenway about a contract “restructuring.’’ Greenway accepted a salary reduction from $6.5 million to $5.5 million. “Really, I thought I won, because I went from no guaranteed money to $5.5 million in guaranteed money,’’ Greenway said.
During the 2014 season, Greenway made it clear that he wanted to end his career with the Vikings. He wound up taking a pay cut from the $7 million he was scheduled to make to $3.4 million for 2015.
“The previous year was a surprise,’’ Greenway said. “This year wasn’t. I was 32 years old and coming off a season in which I dealt with injuries for the first time in a long time. I understand where the organization had to go. At the end of the day, it’s about my teammates and coaches and my family. We want to stay in the Twin Cities long-term, and this makes that easy.’’
Greenway hasn’t taken a vow of poverty. He’s a wealthy man with a membership at Wayzata Country Club, a house on Lake Minnetonka and money in the bank. He’s making good money for an older linebacker. His uniqueness is his appreciation for what he has and an unwillingness to alter his family’s life for a few dollars more.
“Coach [Mike] Zimmer said it best when he said we wish we had 53 Chad Greenways on this roster,’’ Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said. “Not only because of what he does as a football player but what he does from a leadership standpoint and in the community, and how he represents our organization. It speaks to his character that he was willing to restructure his deal to stay here and hopefully finish his career here.’’
Friends note that Greenway was remarkably grounded for a rookie first-round draft pick, and that he’s matured dramatically since. He married his college sweetheart and had the first of three daughters as a rookie.
“From his first years, to the man he is now, I guess it’s the same progression that I went through,’’ said Kleinsasser, who is from North Dakota and played his entire career with the Vikings. “We all start out as meatheads, meatheads with lots of energy, thinking we know everything. You settle down and take that role as an elder. Now he’s that leader offering pearls to young players.
“I’m the father of an eight-year-old who has started to love sports. There’s a huge sense of relief for me that he looks up to someone you know is worthy of looking up to. My son looks up to Chad, and I’m thankful for that.’’
Leber, Helmer and Birk noted Greenway’s rampant enthusiasm, that he has so much energy he rarely stops talking or moving.
Even after a year in which his father died after a long battle with leukemia, his consecutive-games streak ended at 115, he dealt with rib, hand and knee injuries and underwent another pay cut, Greenway is relentlessly optimistic about his life and the Vikings’ future.
“I think we all know after last year just how tough he is, and I don’t even think that’s a strong enough word,’’ said Leber, who also is from South Dakota. “I’m good enough friends with him to have seen what his dad went through, and how he handled it.
“I saw him the day after his father died and told him how much I respected what he stood for. It takes a strong man to be there for his father and his family and to still be dedicated to his team. Believe me, his teammates know what he went through.’’
Greenway would visit his father at Mayo Clinic in Rochester without missing practices. After Alan Greenway died at age 56, Chad decided to travel with the team to Miami. “Life couldn’t have thrown much more at Chad last year,’’ Leber said.
On this summer day, Greenway is surrounded by kids, talking about his foundation, raving about the Vikings’ young talent. He has been working out with Helmer, running the nearly-vertical 102 steps at Linner Park in Wayzata and biking. He looks like a young man and yet an NFL elder. He is a lover of the Cities informed by small-town roots.
“I think it’s so valuable to grow up where I grew up, where everybody leans on each other,’’ he said. “You play four sports because you want to keep the sports going. You can’t specialize. Everybody’s supportive. It’s special.’’
Greenway is a dedicated family man invested in charities who grew up in South Dakota, played for Iowa, and intends to spend the rest of his life in Minnesota. “He’s such a Midwesterner,’’ Birk said. “But, you know, not all stereotypes are bad.’’
Jim Souhan writes four columns a week and posts to the Souhan on Sports blog. Listen to his podcasts at MalePatternPodcasts.com