Vikings' Chad Greenway leaving football 'healthy and happy'

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) NFL players usually don't get to leave the game like Chad Greenway did.

From start to finish, Greenway had quite the career.

Proudly declaring he's ''healthy and happy'' and ready for retirement after 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings , Greenway turned his time at the podium at a farewell news conference into a 25-minute thank-you to the people who influenced and supported him over the years. Former teammates Jim Kleinsasser and Ben Leber were among those in attendance, along with Vikings greats Carl Eller and Bud Grant.

General manager Rick Spielman praised Greenway's exemplary citizenship off the field, and coach Mike Zimmer expressed his appreciation for being able to lean on Greenway's leadership to help sell his message in the locker room.

''I wish I would've had him when he was younger,'' said Zimmer, who has been with the Vikings for three seasons.

The 34-year-old Greenway reminisced about his family's farm in South Dakota, where he recalled telling his father at age 5 or 6 while helping him feed cattle that he would play professional football one day. The encouragement offered by Alan Greenway, who died of cancer during the 2014 season, was one of many meaningful ways he impacted his son's life over the years. Greenway needed to pause several times to compose himself between cracks in his voice.

''The most amazing man in the world, hands down,'' Greenway said. ''I'm so proud to carry the name that he gave me and hold it to a high standard. I'm so proud to be his son. It was hard losing him, but at the same time it's fun to be able to carry on his name and his legacy with my own kids.''

Greenway said he was 90 percent certain he was done playing after the 2016 season ended. His talks with Spielman and Zimmer since then never broached the subject of a new contract.

Greenway's biggest priority for now? Coaching his daughter's youth basketball team, along with serving as an ambassador for the Minnesota host committee throughout the buildup to the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium next winter.

Winning a title was the one football goal left unfulfilled for Greenway, but he hardly sounded disappointed as he painted the NFC championship game after the 2009 season as a fruitful experience despite the devastating loss in overtime at New Orleans.

After playing nine-man ball for Mount Vernon High School and learning to play linebacker at Iowa on the way to developing into a first-round draft pick, Greenway appeared in 156 games for the Vikings and was voted team defensive MVP three times. He spoke with pride that he could ''hold the torch'' for small towns throughout rural America, beyond just the three-state area in which he played his entire career, allowing so many family and friends to attend his home games.

With a reduced role under Zimmer, rarely playing in passing situations, Greenway was able to freshen up his body for the next stage in life.

''I'm healthier now than I was when I was 25 or 26 and playing every snap,'' he said, adding: ''It was something that really ticked me off when I first had to do it, because I'm a competitor and a player and a guy that played every snap for so long, but at the end of the day, it ended up being the best thing that happened in my career. I'm proud that I was able to overcome my ego as an athlete and embrace those roles.''

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