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Iowa Football

Chad Greenway tackles selling vodka

Former Hawkeye/Viking linebacker building his brand

Chad Greenway (right) signs a bottle of his Gray Duck vodka for Seth Hampsher of Cedar Rapids (Mike Hlas photo)
Chad Greenway (right) signs a bottle of his Gray Duck vodka for Seth Hampsher of Cedar Rapids (Mike Hlas photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — You’re Chad Greenway, and you were promoting vodka in public-appearance events Thursday in taverns in downtown Cedar Rapids and downtown Iowa City, and in between at Hy-Vee supermarkets in Cedar Rapids and Coralville.

It wasn’t just any vodka. It was his. The 11-year Minnesota Vikings linebacker via the Iowa Hawkeyes is in the ownership group of Gray Duck Vodka, made with Minnesota corn, manufactured in Minnesota, and bottled in both the Twin Cities and Clive, Iowa.

“It’s (former Hawkeye defensive back) Sean Considine’s fault,” Greenway said while signing autographs and posing for photos Thursday at Jimmy Z’s in Cedar Rapids. “Sean and one of our partners, Mark Cotter, grew up together in Byron, Illinois. They had this concept of branding ‘Gray Duck’ based off that celebration a couple years ago.”

In a 2017 game against the Chicago Bears in Chicago, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph caught a touchdown pass and eight teammates then sat in the end zone and formed a circle, waiting to be picked in a game of what many of us know as “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Except in Minnesota it’s called “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.”

Rudolph called “Goose!” Minnesotans called “Fowl!”

The idea to create Gray Duck Vodka (it’s unrelated to Grey Goose) was hatched last year, and Greenway was asked to be a representative for the product. He instead took part-ownership.

“We launched last August in Minnesota,” he said. “We talked about it on the radio one time and all of a sudden this thing just kind of blew up. OK, we have to make sure we can get production lined up and all this stuff going. Two months later, we’re in (his home state of) South Dakota, another month and it’s North Dakota. Now about four months later we’re in Iowa.

“Things are going really fast and aggressively. It’s been really fun to do something completely different than football and have a brand we’re trying to build.”

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Asked if he had any qualms about selling alcohol, Greenway said “It’s something we considered pretty heavily. There are so many kids I’ve tried to impact in a positive way over the course of my career. I’m obviously not pushing this on them.”

Greenway’s 11-year NFL career — all of it as a Viking — ended upon his retirement after the 2016 season. It included 1,101 tackles, two Pro Bowl appearances and a five-year contract extension in 2011 worth $41 million. He doesn’t have to sign mini helmets for fans to help persuade them to buy a bottle of vodka. He doesn’t have to do much of anything, financially.

But the kind of person who can compete in the NFL for 11 years typically isn’t the kind who can do little else but play golf every day.

Greenway is charismatic and articulate, but has opted not to go into sportscasting because it would cut into his busy life. He does one or two corporate speaking events a month, talking about leadership and mentorship. His main focus, though, is his family.

“I just had a bunch of conversations with one of the networks,” he said. “The problem for me is I don’t want to give up that much time of my week and my kids’ schedule.”

Greenway and his wife, Jennifer, have four daughters, from 11 years old to 2.

“If you call collegiate games or NFL games,” he said, “you’re giving up your whole weekend. I retired from football and got away from that business to be able to control my schedule and be at all my kids’ events. I don’t want to miss all those things while they’re in the house. If I do that, I miss a lot.”

Besides being a soccer dad and traveling to places as far-flung as St. Louis and Phoenix to watch his two oldest girls play, the 36-year-old football guy is heavily tied into youth basketball.

“I’m the president of the Wayzata Girls Basketball Association,” said Greenway. “That manages everything from the second-grade rec kids to the eighth-grade A-level travel kids. We have 500 girls in that program.

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“I coach my oldest daughter’s team in the fifth grade and also help an AAU team.”

Greenway’s last event Thursday was from 8 to 10 p.m. at St. Burch Tavern in Iowa City. His plan was to drive back home to the Twin Cities afterward, “and put my kids on the bus for school tomorrow morning.”

Life after football.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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