On Nov. 9, TC Huddle writer Lindsey Young had the privilege of sitting down with Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway in the Vikings locker room and conducting a one-on-one interview about his many experiences and passions on and off the field. Special thanks for former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber for helping set up this interview.
When it comes to NFL defensive players, few stand out more than Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. Ten games into the 2012-13 season, Greenway ranks No. 1 in the league for tackles with 99. He’s an explosive athlete with a mind for the game and an intensity most offenses dread. Prior to this season, Minnesota slapped the franchise tag on Greenway. In his fifth season with the Vikings, he was selected to his first Pro Bowl after a career-high 154 tackles (13 for a loss), two sacks, and a fumble recovery during the 2011 season.
Greenway is as strong as they come—not only on the football field, but beyond that as well.
Born in rural South Dakota, Greenway didn’t immediately foresee a future in the game. He played well in high school, and he eventually accepted a scholarship offer to play college ball in Iowa. A couple years in, the young linebacker finally began to realize his own potential as he earned substantial minutes on the field, started, and was named to the All Big Ten team as a sophomore. It wasn’t until after his junior year—when agents started calling him consistently—that Greenway saw the NFL as a reality.
People were telling me I was going to be a high pick, and it was one of those things where you have tunnel vision on what you want to accomplish. You don’t really see anything else. With my rural background, we used a ‘one-day-at-a-time’ sort of work ethic—keep it simple. That’s what I did, that was my approach, and it worked out for me. I still try to retain that now.
Through it all, Greenway’s family served as a constant source of support and encouragement. Practices, camps, programs, you name it—his parents were there. Even in college, Greenway’s mom and dad drove the seven hours down to Iowa City every weekend for games. “They were always a part of it,” Greenway said, smiling. “Even today, it’s only 4.5 hours home for me.”
That Midwest connection is something Greenway not only appreciates, but chooses for himself and his family. Born in South Dakota, attending college in Iowa, and then drafted in 2006 by the Minnesota Vikings, he doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
Greenway’s physical build, athleticism and in-game ferocity no-doubt have an intimidation factor for opponents, but anyone who meets him will tell you he’s a small-town boy at heart. “[Minnesota] is a great place to live, a great place to raise children,” he commented. “I can’t see myself living anywhere else.”
Despite remaining on the same team, these past two seasons have been a transition for Greenway as he sees himself moving from student to teacher. When he joined Minnesota as a rookie, Greenway grew under the leadership of line mates Heath Farwell, EJ Henderson and Ben Leber. Due to trades, free agency and retirement (respectively), the three no longer play alongside Greenway. “Those are the guys that taught me to play in this game at this level,” Greenway said. “It’s certainly tough when you lose guys that aren’t only your teammates, but they’re also your friends. You spend every day with these guys, not only playing with them but also spending time with their wives and their families.”
Greenway embraces the new opportunity this transition provides, however, and he also sees it as a responsibility to takeover where his teammates left off. “Now it’s my job to lead the next group. That’s what I’m trying to do—be a leader in the room, show these guys things in practice—the same things that Ben, EJ and Heath did for me.”
One teammate Greenway specifically stays in touch with is Leber, who was featured on TC Huddle earlier this summer. Leber’s pursuit of a post-football career in broadcasting has kept him close to the Vikings world, and the younger linebacker enjoys seeing Leber succeed in something he’s passionate about. Is it strange having a former teammate on the other side of an interview? Greenway says “no.”
It would only be weird if he made it that way. Ben’s done a good job of keeping things very professional. I try to let him do his job as well, and he never steps over those bounds of taking our friendship into his work. I’m just really proud of where he’s going. He’s the type of guy who, whatever he’s going to do, he’s going to do it to the best of his ability.
Even in the absence of the veteran players, the Vikings defense has played extremely well this season. I had the privilege of speaking to Greenway prior to Sunday’s game against Detroit.
Most fans will remember Minnesota’s first conference matchup this season, when Greenway received a $21,000 fine for a nasty hit that resulted in a Calvin Johnson concussion. I asked Greenway if the play was a factor heading into Sunday, and he seemed confident there were no residual feelings from either party. Following the tackle, the 29-year-old was able to immediately connect with Johnson and express that the injury was unintentional.
“[Johnson] understood that,” Greenway said. “We’ve played against each other 10, 11 times now, and I obviously have a ton of respect for his game and his abilities. He’s one of the best receivers in the NFL and I certainly wouldn’t want to impose my will on him that way or try to injure him […]. It’s hard to keep yourself out of those positions when you’re playing fast and trying to get the best guy in the league down. He makes it difficult to defend him.”
One thing the media has jumped on in the past few weeks is Minnesota’s recent struggles on the field. On Nov. 5, after his team had lost three of its last four games, Greenway made a statement for an article in the Pioneer Press: “We’re 5-4. The sky is not falling.” I asked him on Friday to elaborate on this statement, and Greenway emphasized the importance of avoiding that “doom-and-gloom” attitude that tends to hover around a squad after a loss.
“We have a strong record; from this point forward, we’re going to control our own destiny […] The vibe in the locker room is still really strong. We’re just trying to figure out what’s going on, to right the wrongs. Sometimes it can just take one play that can really change the mentality of a team.”
And, as chance would have it, it may have been his own play that served as that route-change for Minnesota. Greenway sparked a cloud of energy when he intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass, and the Vikings were able to add a notch to the “Win” column before entering the BYE week.
“Sometimes you can just turn on one play or one series or one quarter and just kind of take the season from there.”
As the Vikings head into their Week 11 BYE with a winning mentality, Greenway continues to work behind the scenes as well. His biggest community involvement comes in the form of his Lead the Way Foundation. The linebacker started the program to support Minnesotan families mentally, physically and financially while their child is hospitalized. The foundation works with social workers from each hospital in the metro area and gets a feel for what families are most in need at the time. There are several different programs that target each part of the family dynamic—whether it’s for parents, siblings or the actual child suffering from an illness.
For Greenway, the mission of his foundation hits closer to home now than it did when he initially founded it. The linebacker’s father received a diagnosis of cancer less than a year ago.
“Dealing with this with my father, you take a greater appreciation for families that go through something like that,” Greenway explained. “It’s difficult and straining. It’s hard […] It definitely puts it into perspective for me, to realize what those families are going through. I think it makes it even stronger that we believe in what we’re doing and we want to help as many families as we can while we’re on this platform.”
Minnesota is lucky to have Greenway’s foundation in the area. The Vikings are lucky to have a player of Greenway’s caliber and, just as importantly, character a part of the franchise. Greenway does it all: family, football, and foundations.
Don’t expect to see your franchise guy taking his talents elsewhere anytime soon either.
“I certainly want to retire a Viking. I’ve been here seven years, I have three years left of my deal, and I’d love to just play it out here and be able to have an entire tenure in Minnesota.”
If you would like to learn more about ways you can volunteer or donate to Chad Greenway’s Lead the Way Foundation, visit www.chadgreenway.org.
Lindsey Young is a graduate of Northwestern College and an avid Minnesota sports fan[atic]. It’s been argued females don’t know much about sports, but she begs to differ. Currently working full time at her alma mater, she continues to edit and write for BleacherReport.com and on her blog Making the Call in pursuit of a career in sports journalism. You can follow her on Twitter @lilshortie2712.