I was a still a full-time sports columnist for The Forum in 2006. I had no plans to file a column for the Sunday, April 30, edition of the newspaper since there was nothing locally going on. That is, until I got a call from from a newsroom editor who said the editor at the time, Peggy Bellows, expected a column from me on the NFL Draft. This was confusing to me, since it was not my usual territory to write a random column on the NFL Draft — particularly since there was nothing local about which to write. This was long before Carson Wentz being a first-rounder was even a glimmer in somebody’s brain.
But, valuing my job and the paycheck that came with it, I said OK. I figured I could write something about the Vikings draft. Easy enough.
Then it so happened that the Vikings chose South Dakota native Chad Greenway with the 17th pick of the first round. He was from tiny Mount Vernon, S.D. This got my brain to thinking: “I’ve spent plenty of Saturday nights in small Upper Midwest towns. When there is a big event in a small town, everybody heads to the local bar or supper club to celebrate. I wonder if they’re celebrating in Mount Vernon tonight.”
So, this being 2006, I started digging through a stack of phone books at The Forum (imagine — phone books!) looking for a South Dakota phone book that would include Mount Vernon. We happened to have a Mitchell phone book. It had Mount Vernon listings. So I started calling numbers of places that looked like bars and restaurants. The first place I called, if memory serves, had been disconnected. The second was a quiet place where the bartender sounded lonely. When somebody answered the phone at the third place with a shout because of the overwhelming din in the background, I figured I might be on to something.
I was. The person who answered the phone was one of the co-owners, Cindi Nitz. She said, yes, dang near the whole town of Mount Vernon was in Wermer’s Lounge celebrating Chad Greenway being drafted by the Vikings. After she tried to answer a few of my shouted questions with shouts of her own, I finally asked somewhat jokingly whether Greenway himself was there.
“Not anymore. He left. But his dad is sitting right here in front of me. Want to talk to him?” Cindi yelled.
Yes, I did. And I had my column on the NFL Draft, with Dakota flavor involving the Minnesota Vikings. Perfect. I cranked out the following column, which actually won an award in the Minnesota Associated Press sportswriting contest that year, if I’m not mistaken.
Alan Greenway died in 2014 at age 56.
I thought I’d re-run the columnc (thanks, Eric Peterson for finding it in our archives) since Greenway retired recently. Here’s the link online, or you can read it here:
S. Dakota celebrates local pick
Mount Vernon, S.D., was rockin’ Saturday night, perhaps like Mount Vernon has never rocked before.
“I bought two kegs, and they were gone in an hour,” Alan Greenway shouted into the telephone over the din at Wermer’s Lounge. “We’re having a good old time.”
Greenway is the father of Chad Greenway, the young man responsible for the party. The Iowa linebacker, a former standout for the 9-man Stickney-Mount Vernon Mustangs, was chosen by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the NFL draft.
Rejoice, Vikings fans, you have another one of us — a small-town, Upper Midwest kid — for whom to cheer.
The sign on the highway outside of Mount Vernon says 470 souls inhabit the town, which is located just west of Mitchell along Interstate 90. This is farm country, where people work for a living, and the book on Chad Greenway is that he works.
He must get it from his father. Alan Greenway runs a typically large South Dakota farming operation that includes 4,000 hogs and 135 cows. He farms about 1,800 acres.
Oh, and in his spare time, Alan is a rural mail carrier.
“A lot of stuff going on,” he said.
Alan wasn’t thinking about work Saturday. It was a day to party.
Wermer’s Lounge, Mount Vernon’s town steakhouse, officially opened at 10:30 in the morning, although co-owner Cindi Nitz said there were customers who jumped the gun. The place was nearly full to its capacity of 150 by noon. It was packed by 5 p.m.
And that included a beer garden outside set up especially for the big day. After rain early in the day, the weather straightened out enough for the celebrants to enjoy cocktails in the cool April air of South Dakota.
“Oh my God, it’s been pretty crazy in here,” Nitz shouted. “I just had to chase a guy down because I thought he was stealing one of Chad’s posters off the wall. Turns out he just wanted to give it to Chad.”
The man of honor actually spent a couple of hours in Wermer’s after NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue called his name on behalf of the Vikings shortly before 2 p.m. Then it was off to Sioux Falls to catch a flight to the Twin Cities, where Greenway was to meet with coaches and be introduced to the public at a press conference today.
That Greenway didn’t receive an invitation to Radio City Music Hall for the draft, an honor reserved for only the choicest of top choices, might’ve worked out for the best. That glitz isn’t Mount Vernon’s style. Greenway instead watched the draft on TV at the family farm before heading to town.
“I don’t know whether Chad would’ve gone even if he had been invited to New York,” Alan said. “He’s not into that sort of thing. Doesn’t like being around too many people.”
Mount Vernon is Vikings country, like much of the Dakotas. But, for the record, Chad grew up a San Francisco 49ers fan and, until Saturday, Alan rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We’re all Vikings fans now. I suppose I’ll be buying season tickets. They’ll be selling a lot of season tickets in South Dakota now.
“Actually,” Alan cracked, “this was very smart on the part of the Vikings. Between South Dakota and Iowa, there’s a lot of tickets to be sold.”
This will go down as a big year for Mount Vernon. The town’s 125th anniversary will be celebrated June 17-18, an event that is sure to bring home those who’ve moved away. Wermer’s Lounge undoubtedly will be stuffed with happy folks that weekend, too. It seems unlikely, though, that the excitement will reach the fever pitch it did Saturday when the hometown hero had his named called on ESPN. “I’m sure we’ll be going until 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning,” Alan said. “People are just crazy. It’s awesome for everybody involved. This is a big day for Mount Vernon.”
Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on Tee It Up, Saturday 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or firstname.lastname@example.org