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The play that perhaps most represented Chad Greenway’s 10-season NFL career came last Sept. 27 in Minneapolis.
San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw a pass that was deflected off receiver Stevie Johnson’s hands and was intercepted by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Greenway. He then went 91 yards for a touchdown, his first in eight years. The Vikings won, 31-14.
But it wasn’t the play itself that was as striking as much as the reactions of Greenway’s teammates. At one point, there were six Vikings running ahead of him, clearing his path to the end zone. It was a big play for the team, yes, but you got the sense those players were extra-happy because it was Greenway making it.
“It’s one of those plays that when you think about it, it’s just too good to be true,” the former Iowa All-Big Ten player said while he was guesting on my podcast.
“When you look back at the tape and you see the joy in everybody’s face because that probably sealed the game for us, it kind of put San Diego away. so they’re happy for that. But also it kind of sent home to me that I was doing things the right way.
“You have guys that are in your corner that are fighting for you, that are blocking for you, that are sprinting for you, that have played the whole ballgame and are still sprinting, trying to get a block for you.
“You look back and you realize that’s why you do all the things every day, the little things to get better and the little things to be a good teammate.”
Vikings safety Harrison Smith said, “He’s a guy that we look up to, on and off the field. He teaches us a lot. Not just about the game, but about being a man, being a good guy in the community. We all love him, and a lot of guys try to follow his lead.”
That, more than his decade of productive play, his more than 1,000 tackles, or his two Pro Bowl appearances, are what’s defining Greenway in the Twin Cities.
His Lead the Way Foundation has had a positive impact since it was established in 2008. The foundation’s mission is to enrich the lives of families and individuals in need, specifically by providing seriously ill and physically challenged children with support and experiences.
It is why the Vikings named Greenway their Community Man of the Year for the second straight year and third overall, and it’s why he was the team’s 2016 nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
It is why the NFL Players Association gave him its 2015 Byron “Whizzer” White Award and a $100,000 donation to his foundation. That award honors the player who serves his team, community and country in the spirit of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron Raymond “Whizzer” White.
“My wife (Jenni, a former Hawkeye track and cross country long-distance runner) and I are very authentic, genuine people,” Greenway said. “We wanted that to come through in our foundation.
“We’ve been blessed with a great opportunity. A lot of it was created at the University of Iowa. The dream I had was brought to fruition by Kirk Ferentz, Chris Doyle, Reese Morgan, all the people at the university I still love.
“I realize my platform is a positive thing. ... I wanted to leave more behind than tackles, sacks and interceptions. I wanted to leave a mark in a different way.”
Not long ago, I got an email from Julie Frye of Ankeny. Her brother, Steve Slaubaugh of Wellman, died a year ago this month at 47 because of cystic fibrosis. Julie reached out to basketball’s Harrison Barnes, golf’s Zach Johnson, and Greenway, all favorites of Steve’s sons, Ryan and Aaron. All three of the sports stars responded by setting up in-person contact with at least one of the boys. That won’t surprise anyone who has met any of the three.
Greenway empathized because his own father, Alan, had leukemia and died in December 2014 at 56.
Julie took Aaron, then 12, to Greenway’s annual “Day to REACH” football camp in Hutchinson, Minn., last July.
“It’s special to us to have him here,” Greenway said at the time.
“At the end of the camp,” Julie said, “Chad presented Aaron with an autographed, matted and framed photograph of him with Aaron. A couple hundred kids kind of singled out Aaron and made him feel special.”
Greenway credits his parents, his wife, and his three daughters for steering him down good paths.
“I can tell you in 10 years in the NFL I’ve known so many great people do so many great things,” he said. “I’m not sure I’m different than most.
“I want to be someone you can talk to like it’s your son, your brother, your father, and not feel like I’m somebody special. I’m blessed I grew up on a family farm in South Dakota, and that’s never left me.”
South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa can all claim Greenway. In fact, they would be foolish to do otherwise.