IOWA CITY, Iowa — Chad Greenway became the first non-Iowan named to the ANF Wall of Honor, and on Friday he accepted the achievement with gratitude and humility.
Greenway was born and raised on a farm in South Dakota and, like many players in the Kirk Ferentz era, he was lightly recruited. He played 9-man football in high school and switched from quarterback to safety, then ended up at linebacker.
He became a starter. Then an All-American. Then a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2006. There he played for 11 years and earned two Pro Bowl nods before retiring in March. He was a team captain, started 144 games and ranks fourth in Vikings history with 1,329 tackles. He has 11 career interceptions and two touchdowns.
Greenway ranks as one of Iowa’s 50 greatest players and one of the Vikings’ 50 greatest players. But football tells only a fraction of his life story and nowhere near the best part. It starts with his life on the farm and how he watched his parents give back to their community.
The family operated a farm of roughly 1,500 acres in eastern South Dakota. They combined the typical corn and soybean rotation with about 100 head of cattle plus hogs. Both sets of his grandparents were farmers, as are many extended family members currently. Greenway learned teamwork and acquired a tenacious work ethic from loading hogs at 6 a.m. — along with “a few special words.”
“So many values you learn when you grow up in that environment,” he said.
Around the holidays, Greenway’s family would donate meat to their church, and it was dispersed to poorer families around Mount Vernon, S.D.
“We didn’t have a lot of money and things but what we did have my parents were willing to give that to families so they could have something for themselves, a good meal for the holiday,” Greenway said. “Those things stick with somebody.
“Then when you get in a position where you have a platform like the NFL and you have people listen because you play football, you really find the need to do as much as we could.”
Greenway saw the importance of giving back, and immediately he made his mark with the Vikings. Most NFL players are required to perform charitable tasks, but Greenway’s deeds became extraordinary. Within a year of joining the Vikings, he gave $100,000 to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., to help children’s cancer patients and their families. In 2008, Greenway persuaded Vikings owner Zygi Wilf to fly his private jet to Iowa City and aid with post-flood cleanup along the Iowa River.
Four times Greenway was named as the Vikings Community Man of the Year, including from 2014 through 2016. In 2015, the NFL Players Association recognized Greenway as the Byron “Whizzer White Award winner for his community work. He started the Lead The Way Foundation, which provides funding, materials and support to ill and physically challenged children and their families in the Twin Cities area.
Lead The Way has three signature programs. The TendHER Heart Luncheon honors and celebrates mothers of chronically and critically ill children. Its Field of Dreams programs give ill children a chance to live out their sports and vacation dreams. Chad’s Locker provides notebook computers, movies and video game systems to different hospitals. Greenway has set up those lockers throughout the Twin Cities, Hudson, Wis., and Sioux Falls. He plans to issue another locker at the UI Children’s Hospital.
Since retiring, Greenway and his wife, former Iowa track athlete Jenni Capista, continue to run his foundation. Greenway also is a member of the Minnesota Super Bowl LII Host Committee and captains a group of volunteers called Crew 52 — his jersey number with the Vikings.
But Greenway’s commitment starts with his family. He and Jenni have four girls — Maddyn, Beckett, Blakely and Carsyn. With Greenway’s personality and ability to articulate football to all audiences, he’d be a natural to broadcast NFL games. But that would interfere with his priorities.
“That was something that I had thought about doing was getting into broadcasting,” said Greenway, who graduated with a degree in communications from Iowa. “We had our fourth child in November, and you find a pretty unique situation to be able to retire at 34. You hear from everybody how fast your kids grow up. For me to be gone every week for 20 weeks calling NFL games, you miss a lot. I don’t want to miss those moments. I want to be with the kids as much as I can until they’re going to be gone.
“I love being on the radio. I love talking football. That’s something I’ll continue to do on a local level in the Twin Cities. That’s something I enjoy, but probably not something I’ll do full time.”
No former player could do a better job of replacing iconic Ed Podolak as the Hawkeyes radio analyst than Greenway — when Podolak one day decides to retire. Shoot, Greenway would be perfect calling Vikings games alongside Paul Allen. Or analyzing games at FOX or CBS.
Greenway would be just as successful if he returned to his farming roots or worked in any other walk of life. Saturday night, as Greenway takes the turf at Kinnick Stadium as the honorary team captain and the ANF Wall or Honor nominee, fans will celebrate his football career and salute the memories he provided with the Hawkeyes. With two co-Big Ten titles and three top-10 rankings in his four playing years, he’s earned that.
He may be the first non-Iowan inducted in the ANF Wall of Honor, but nobody embodies Iowa’s values more than Greenway. With that, he honors his alma mater as much as it honors him.