His purple No. 52 uniform was being left behind, except for glittery replications being worn by his daughters, as the veteran linebacker called it a career with a 37-minute press conference in which he spent 28 minutes thanking everyone from hometown supporters to college coaches to NFL teammates, coaches and support staff.
Greenway, a first-round draft in 2006, was the first pick under the ownership of Zygi and Mark Wilf and has been with the Vikings ever since.
“The Wilfs had an idea of what they wanted in a football player and not only did Chad show that on the field, but his contributions off the field speak for themselves,” General Manager Rick Spielman said.
Greenway started with Brad Childress as his head coach, spent the entire Leslie Frazier era in Minnesota and finished with Mike Zimmer as his coach, saying he learned more about defense in the last three years than he did his entire career before that.
“He’s one hell of a football coach and he’s the right coach for this football team and this organization,” Greenway said of Zimmer. “I’m so excited that he’s here and I’m so happy that I got a chance to play for him. It was truly an honor.”
Zimmer looked to Greenway and another veteran on defense, Brian Robison, to carry the coach’s message to the players in the locker room and has relied on them for advice in Zimmer’s first three years as an NFL head coach.
“For the three years I’ve been here, he has been a tremendous help to me, to this team, to this organization. Anytime I had any kind of message for this football team or for this organization he was always there to sell it and help in any way possible,” Zimmer said. “He was a guy I could lean on an awful lot in the locker room.”
To make it to the NFL, Greenway leaned on a variety of people for support, but no one more than his family.
His mother, Julie, still runs the family farm in Mt. Vernon, S.D., and, as Greenway now raises four young daughters with his wife Jenni, he remains amazed by the example his mother has set.
“The courage she shows on an every-day basis of running that [farm] with my dad gone, having four daughters is such an amazing thing for me to watch and I’m so proud of that,” Greenway said. “The example that she continues to give us.”
The linebacker with a sharp wit held his emotions in check for most of his press conference, but they poured out when speaking of his parents. His father, Alan, died in December 2014 after a battle with cancer.
“Seeing him battle through that cancer for two years and having him watch my career, I know he’s looking down on me, the most amazing in the world, hands-down,” Greenway said. “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.
“My dad is my hero.”
Greenway’s two grandfathers are still alive and attended many of his games.
When it comes to the Vikings, Greenway said the linebacker that set the standard was Scott Studwell, who played for the franchise from 1977-90 and still holds the career tackles mark with 1,928.
Studwell remains with the organization today and was the director of college scouting that sold the Vikings on drafting Greenway in the first round of the 2016 draft.
“All those damn records that I could never catch,” Greenway said of the standard Studwell set as a player. “I look up to you, Scott, a lot and I appreciate that example every day. I couldn’t catch the records because they were too far out in front of me, but I appreciate you giving me something to reach for.”
Although Greenway gave every indication throughout the 2016 season that he was retiring, he said he was only 90 percent sure after the season ended that it was a wrap.
“I wanted to make sure,” he said. “It’s one of those decisions you don’t make and come back from.”
Like nearly every player that leaves the NFL, he won’t miss training and said he doesn’t want to tackle anymore, but the memories of teammates, coaches and support staff will live long in his memory bank.
The past two years, he has had to take on a part-time role. Although he was a starter, he came off the field when the Vikings went to their nickel defense on obvious passing downs, decreasing his playing time to less than 40 percent last year. While he was initially “torqued off” by that decision, he finds it a blessing as he heads to retirement, believing he is healthier now than he was as a full-time player earlier in his career.
As a rookie, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2006 preseason but never doubted he would be back from that, although saying he knew he would carve out an 11-year career that included two Pro Bowls might be a stretch.
“It was obviously a shock. I had gone through it before, which was a benefit,” he said of that injury. “… But to think I’d be sitting here 10 or 11 years later and have the career that I have, you could say that’s something I knew was going to happen, but the reality is I knew I had to take it day-by-day and become that person that got to the NFL – consistent guy that went to work every day and gave everything I had.”
So what’s next?
For now, he is leading an effort of the Super Bowl 52 Host Committee to recruit 10,000 volunteers for Minnesota’s big stage next February and will speak on leadership and teamwork through Nationally Speaking.
After that, he joked about a front-office position.
“Rick’s not any good so I’ll probably move into that role in the next couple years,” he said, needling Spielman in the front row.
“That’s why he didn’t get a contract,” Spielman shot back.
That’s probably a fitting microcosm of the good-natured byplay between Greenway and just about anybody that has crossed his path in the Vikings’ locker room over the last 11 years. He’s energetic and quick with the wit. But, on Tuesday, he reflected with emotion.
“I’ve been so proud to be your linebacker for the last 11 years so thank you,” he said.