Truth be told, dealing with Marshawn Lynch was not a particularly rewarding experience.
Nobody cares about that, of course, and I mention it now only to provide context: If I had a Hall of Fame vote, I’d push for his induction as soon as possible.
Lynch played with greater and more admirable effort than anyone I’d witnessed in decades of playing and covering the game. And he changed the fortunes of a franchise in the process.
On Sunday, he apparently retired from the Seahawks and the NFL via a cryptic tweet, presumably a final missive sent from somewhere out on the threshold of the vanishing point.
No one expected a press conference, of course.
His prickly dealings with the media always seemed like such an irrelevant sidebar that I avoided the topic. Beat reporters had no choice but to get into those farcical scrums surrounding him, even knowing those things sapped dignity from everyone involved, and all felt worse in the aftermath.
As a columnist, I could watch from the periphery and just speculate on Lynch’s motives and mindset. Any number of times I tried to climb inside his head, a fool’s errand we in the business call “a daily column.”
I tried one time to offer a study on the Tao of Marshawn, speculating that his approach was rooted in ancient Eastern philosophy and not, as it initially seemed, in East Bay truculence. Maybe it was intentional minimalism, to bring focus to his acts rather than his words. Perhaps he had entered Buddha Mode.
Another time, when I described him as “laconic,” I sought the exact definition to be certain it was appropriate. Was it ever. It came from the Greek via Latin, referring to the terse manner of the Spartans.
It couldn’t have been more fitting, because so often it seemed as if Lynch played football like one of the historically fierce 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae.
He was a balled-up fist of a runner, playing angry, out to prove something and eager to punish defenders in the process. It never was enough to just display his will, he was out to break the will of anybody who tried to stop him, too.
From his first game for the Seahawks, at Chicago in 2010, he changed the expectations for effort by everyone who would play for the team.
People will rave, with justification, about his highlight-reel runs. But that first game offered more evidence about the consistency of Lynch’s approach. The Hawks had a terrible offensive line, and Lynch gained a modest 44 yards on 17 carries that day.
But on one play deep in their own territory, when defenders poured through every gap and swarmed him the instant he took the handoff, he somehow fought through that Persian phalanx of tacklers for a gain of 2 yards.
It was the most extraordinary, yet statistically insignificant run I’d ever seen.
Granted, the Seahawks didn’t start winning big until they got quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012, but they definitively changed the way they were going to do things on that afternoon in Chicago. And Lynch was the catalyst.
In time, it grew obvious that Lynch was a man who loved the game but hated the parts that felt like a job. And that created between Lynch and the Seahawks staff what seemed to be an uneasy symbiosis.
I don’t believe Lynch would have flourished anywhere as he did in Seattle, under coach Pete Carroll’s willingness to recognize personal expression. And I’m even more certain the Hawks could not have constructed this franchise golden age without Lynch.
But by their nature, NFL franchises tend to be little slices of fascism, with totalitarian rule and the militant expectation of lock-step groupthink.
Having never walked in his shoes, I can only speculate on the formative influences on Lynch’s life. But it seems obvious that he bridles somewhat in the face of authority.
Maybe that contributed to a growing disconnect between Lynch and the franchise, to the point where the team had little idea what he was up to during his rehab from an abdominal surgery this season.
It led to a strange denouement of what had been a productive relationship. The end for NFL running backs is rarely pretty, what with cumulative injuries and the diminished production. But in this case, the separation had become inevitable.
Teammates, and even owner Paul Allen, tapped out a series of tweets proclaiming their affection for Lynch and appreciation for his contributions. That says a great deal about Lynch as a teammate.
When the time comes to assess his nine-season career, I think he deserves the same kind of respect as Earl Campbell, whose punishing playing style defied some of the conventional criteria for analysis.
Lynch earned that. He was a player who is the sum of his actions, someone totally defined by what he did and how he did it.
And as I look back, that’s what he promised in his first press conference in Seattle, back before he became so … laconic. He was questioned that day about his “Beast Mode” persona.
“It’s just a state of mind that I follow,” Lynch said. “That basically I won’t be denied, and I’m just relentless at what I do — running that ball.”
For a man who uttered so few of them, he was a man true to his word.
The Marshawn Lynch file
Career statistics (total / with Seahawks):
- Rushing attempts: 2,144 / 1,457
- Rushing yards: 9,112 / 6,347
- Total yards from scrimmage: 11,091 / 7,656
- Total touchdowns: 83 / 65
- Named to Pro Bowl: 5 / 4
Rankings all-time in Seahawks history:
- Rushing attempts: Fourth (1,457)
- Rushing yards: Fourth (6,347)
- Rushing touchdowns: Second (57)
- Total yards from scrimmage: Seventh (7,656)
- Total touchdowns: Third (65)
- Points scored: Seventh (392)