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Retiring Viking Chad Greenway leaves with tears, thoughts of late father

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - Early in his retirement speech, Chad Greenway expressed his love for his South Dakota roots.The 11-year Minnesota Vikings linebacker officially announced his departure from the NFL on Tuesday, March 7, during a press confere...

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Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway gets a little choked up as he announces his retirement from football, Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at the Vikings' headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn. (Pioneer Press/ Scott Takushi)
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Chad Greenway’s goal was to make it through his retirement news conference without crying.

For the first 20 of the 33 minutes he spoke Tuesday, Greenway was able to do that. But when the subject turned to his father, Alan, who died of cancer in 2014, he broke down.

“I almost made it the whole way without crying,” Greenway said.

The linebacker retired after 11 seasons with the Vikings. He talked for nearly 25 minutes before fielding his first question, and thanked dozens of people associated with his career.

That included general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer, who sat in the first row. Also on hand were Vikings safety Harrison Smith and Vikings hall of famers Bud Grant, Carl Eller and Paul Krause.

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His most emotional thank you was to his father.

“Seeing him battle through the cancer for two years, and having him watch my career, now I know he’s looking down on me,” Greenway said. “The most amazing man in the world, hands down.”

Greenway grew up on a farm in Mount Vernon, S.D. He said he told his father when he was 5 or 6 he would play in the NFL.

“I was holding the gate for my dad when he was feeding cattle and I told him that I’m going to play professional football,” Greenway said. “He looked at me like I was crazy. I’ll never forget he was like, ‘It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but it’s possible.’ ”

Greenway’s wife, Jenni, said after the news conference that Greenway tried to make it through without breaking down.

“He wanted to, but I think when you talk about something that emotional, your dad, your hero, your mentor, everything that he was to him in his life, it was hard,” she said.

Greenway also thanked his mother, Julie Greenway, whom he said now “runs the family farm on her own.” He mentioned the “courage she shows on an every-day basis” since his father’s death.

Throughout the 2016 season, it was thought that Greenway, 34, likely was playing his final season. Just to be sure, though, he waited more than two months after the final game before announcing his decision.

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“I was about 90 percent retired after the season in my mind, and I wanted to make sure,” said Greenway, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. “It’s one of those decisions you don’t make and come back from. I wanted to make sure that I was prepared to be retired.

“There wasn’t this thought in the back of my mind that I should keep playing. Not necessarily for me, but for the people around me, they want their dad to be home and be happy.”

Greenway has four daughters: Maddyn, 9; Beckett, 6; Blakely, 2, and Carsyn, 3 months. They sat in the front row alongside their mother and wore No. 52 jerseys. Two read “Greenway” on the back and two read “Daddy.”

Greenway said he never talked to the Vikings about a contract for next season. Jenni Greenway said her husband finalized his decision after meeting last month with Spielman and Zimmer.

“He kind of talked to them about what they thought and combined with how he was feeling just mentally about everything,” she said. “He came away and said, ‘I’m good. That’s it.’ And then, of course, you hear all this stuff about concussions and all the scary part of it, everything in the NFL. I think he wants to be able to run with his kids and come out injury free ahead of the game.”

Greenway, who mostly came out on passing downs the past two years, said he’s “healthier now than I was when I was 25 or 26 and playing every snap.”

Zimmer said he will miss Greenway. He called him “a tremendous help to me” and “a guy I could lean on an awful lot in the locker room.”

Greenway didn’t offer specifics of what he next will do. He didn’t rule out eventually coaching football, but said his top priority now is coaching his girls in a youth basketball league.

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Greenway said he spoke to Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf on Monday and thanked them. Mark Wilf said last month it’s possible Greenway eventually could be hired by the team in some capacity.

Regardless, Spielman is counting on Greenway to continue to represent the Vikings in the community.

“As much as we’re going to miss Chad Greenway on the field, I know he’s going to be a big part of this organization as we move forward,” Spielman said.

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Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway embraces Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman before announcing his retirement from football, Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at the Vikings' headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn. (Pioneer Press/ Scott Takushi)

Related Topics: MOUNT VERNON
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