Since returning from a knee injury he suffered in his rookie year, it’s been hard to keep Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway off the field.
The Mount Vernon native and 2006 first-round draft pick was forced to sit out his first season in the NFL after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on the first play of his first preseason game.
Since getting healthy, Greenway — now in his eighth year as a professional — hasn’t missed a game. On Sunday, he played in his 100th career game, becoming the ninth South Dakotan to hit the century mark in the NFL, according to DatabaseFootball.com
“I’ve been blessed in many ways and I take pride in the fact that it’s 100, but it’s also 100 straight,” Greenway said. “It’s a long, hard process.”
Only one other South Dakota native currently playing in the NFL has more than 100 career games under his belt. Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, a Rapid City Central graduate, has played in 263 career games, more than any other South Dakotan who’s ever played in the league.
Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, a Vermillion native, played in 143 games from 2002 to 2010. Mitchell native Ordell Braase, who played defensive end for the Baltimore Colts in the 1950s and ’60s, played in 156 career games.
In more than one way, Greenway’s game Sunday was a memorable one. He helped the Vikings to their first win of the season, a 34-27 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game was played at Wembley Stadium in London in front of about 83,500 fans, far more than a typical sellout at Minnesota’s Mall of America Field, which seats about 64,000.
Minnesota’s win over the Steelers was the first of two NFL games that will be played in London this year. Later this month, the Jacksonville Jaguars will play the San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium in Week 8. Recently, it’s been reported that the NFL will return to London again next year with three regular-season games.
“It was a unique experience for us,” Greenway said. “Obviously, we’ve played all over this country in some cool venues and some great places. This is definitely up there in ranking as far as the experiences I’ve had in football and the places it’s taken me.”
Greenway also played well individually. He finished with 10 tackles, a sack and an interception. It was by far his most productive effort through four games this season. He leads the team with 35 tackles on the year, ranking 11th individually in the NFL. He is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two, boosting his career total to eight.
Minnesota started the year with three straight losses and gave up touchdowns late in games that were the deciding scores against Chicago and Cleveland.
Sunday, with a seven-point lead over Pittsburgh, the Vikings stopped a threatening Steelers offense to preserve the victory. Still, the Vikings are in last place in the NFC North Division.
“With the way this season has started off, people have certainly questioned our two-minute defense,” Greenway said. “To have it come down to a last play in two situations and now three after last weekend, it’s funny how fine of a line it is in the NFL in wins and losses or happiness or tears.
“Now the biggest thing is, how can we push this into the future? How can we make this happen now another two, three, four weeks in a row? We want to get back in this thing and you get back to .500 and you always give yourself a chance. There’s never been a Super Bowl that’s been won in September, so we just need to keep grinding and take care of our home-field advantage when we come back off the bye.”
The Vikings’ bye is this weekend, and Greenway and Minnesota get back to action when they host the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 13.
Backup quarterback Matt Cassel started Sunday in place of the Vikings’ 2011 first-round draft pick Christian Ponder, who was out with a rib injury. In the first three losses of the year, Ponder combined to throw two touchdowns with five interceptions, while Cassel threw two touchdowns and did not throw an interception against the Steelers.
While Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has said Ponder is the team’s starting quarterback when he’s healthy, some believe Cassel earned the starting position with his performance against Pittsburgh.
When asked who he prefers to start, Greenway steered clear of the controversy.
“As far as the quarterback situation goes, it’s not a decision I’m going to make,” he said. “I think both guys are great guys. Christian came out of training camp and struggled the first three games. Matt came in and played extremely well for us against Pittsburgh. He certainly made a case for himself to get some more playing time, but it’s not my decision to make. Both guys are very capable leaders.”