MINNEAPOLIS — Chad Greenway wasn’t ready for the emotional impact that hit him Monday night.
The former Vikings linebacker celebrated the 10th year of his Lead The Way Foundation by hosting his annual Celebrity Waiter Night at Manny’s Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis.
Midway through the dinner, Greenway’s wife Jenni surprised him with a six-minute video with tributes from people he has impacted, and those who have impacted Greenway.
When Greenway took the microphone for a brief speech, he quipped that he was able to hold it together during the video. But soon after, he could not.
“Wow, I did not expect that at all,” Greenway said before pausing multiple times to gather his emotions. “Over the years you try and make an impact and do things the right way … it just makes me proud to be a part of something this big, and I never thought it would reach this.
“We have so much more work to do,” Greenway added. “We’re going to be in this community for a long time and want to make as big of an impact as we can.”
The Lead The Way Foundation has had an immeasurable impact on children who have faced life-threatening illnesses across the Upper Midwest. Greenway is a regular at hospital visits and has provided fun and safe spaces at hospitals for families to try and take their minds off their health issues.
“We had a crazy dream … we just wanted to help a larger cause,” Jenni told the crowd. “Thank you for helping us accomplish a lot of those dreams.”
Monday’s gathering is one of the foundation’s signature events. Professional athletes from around the Twin Cities gather to help raise money for a worthy cause.
Vikings players such as Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph, Eric Kendricks and Eric Wilson were on hand, as were Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild. Others attending included former Vikings players Mike Harris, Brooks Bollinger, Chris Liwienski and Bob Lurtsema.
Players poured wine, signed autographs and mingled with fans during a silent auction before dinner was served.
“I’m not doing a very good job at all serving wine. It’s probably good everyone just wants autographs,” Rudolph said. “If I were being judged on how my waiter skills are right now then I’d get a very, very poor grade.”
Added Smith: “I’m terrible. I can’t take a drink order or do anything.”
The event has hit six figures in donations each year, and Monday’s event likely hit that mark, too.
Signed jerseys from Greenway, Smith, Rudolph and Zucker raised nearly $20,000 alone, while multiple items from the live auction went for more than $5,000.
“This is one of our signature events, but it’s kind of a smaller space, which is how we like it,” Greenway said. “It’s a lot of fun. And financially, it’s done well over the years. For our foundation to function the way it does, we need events like this.
“We’re so much more hands-on now than we probably were when I played because we have more time,” Greenway added. “In order to make the biggest impact you can, you have to work hard and keep people interested and keep changing and be dynamic.”
Rudolph and Smith are two of the most active Vikings in the community. The Pro Bowl tight end launched Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, and the All-Pro safety is constantly committed to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
But both players said they learned how to give back from Greenway, who made another undeniable impact on Monday night.
“I always bring up Chad. He’s a guy that took me under his wing in the early stages of my career, and not just on the field,” Rudolph said. “He taught me how to be a professional off the field, how to be a great husband and a great father and how to be a great philanthropist.
“He’s done so much for me and my family, that’s the reason we’re always at his events,” Rudolph added. “We’ll never miss one as long as I’m here.”
Added Smith: “Having a guy like that when I was a young guy coming into the league, it was huge for me. He set a great example for everyone else. He still does. That’s just who he is.”