Marshawn Lynch, recently traded from Buffalo to Seattle in the middle of the season seven years ago, was just settling in with his new teammates.
“There was a young receiver on our team, and he came in. And Marshawn had on a backpack,” Seahawks Pro Bowl veteran Doug Baldwin recalled Tuesday, talking about Lynch. The Seahawks (2-3) are reuniting with him on Sunday when they play Lynch’s Oakland Raiders (1-4) in London.
“And the young receiver was like, ‘Man, that’s a nice backpack. Where’d you get it from?’” Baldwin said.
“And he literally takes it off his back, dumps out all his stuff and says, ‘Here, you can have it,’ grabs his stuff and goes to his locker. Just as simple and as plain as that.
“Marshawn, it didn’t matter who you were, if you respected him and love him as a person, for who he was, literally he would give you the backpack off his back. I thought that was just the epitome of the man he was.”
Who was the young receiver?
“Me,” Baldwin said. “It was me.
“I just liked the color.”
Baldwin is now 30 and in his eighth NFL year. The backpack is gone. Baldwin passed it on to another young receiver who came to the Seahawks after he did. Paul Richardson signed with Washington this spring.
But years later the legacy — and love for — Lynch remains. He’s still as much a part of the Seahawks’ locker room as the plush, blue carpet and cherry-wood interior on the first floor, west end of team headquarters.
Lynch is now 32. He is in his 11th NFL season. He is playing his second season with his hometown Raiders after retiring from the Seahawks and the NFL for 2016. Sunday will be the first time he has played against Seattle since he left at the end of his bizarre 2015 season (the Seahawks and Raiders annually play preseason games against each other, but Lynch never plays in those exhibitions).
“I gave him a hard time a couple of years ago when he first came back that he had gotten back into great shape,” his former Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
“(Like), how come we didn’t see any of that?”
Raiders coach Jon Gruden was a television commentator when Lynch was romping for the Seahawks. When Gruden returned to the NFL this offseason some in the Bay Area doubted the meticulous, hard-driving coach would get along with Lynch and all he does and represents.
Some were wrong.
“He’s as advertised. He’s one heck of a player. He’s a great teammate,” Gruden said Tuesday. “I think he’s misunderstood by a lot of people. But he is a great, down-to-down competitor. Still as talented as any runner, I believe, as there is in the league.
“He’s become a leader on this football team. He’s highly regarded in the Oakland area. And I’m sure he’s looking forward to seeing his old coaches and teammates and competing against the Seahawks, and seeing the Seahawk fans.”
Lynch rushed for 130 yards two weeks ago against Cleveland, Oakland’s only win this season. It was his third 100-yard game in his two seasons with the Raiders, and his biggest rushing day since he had 157 yards for the Seahawks in their comeback win over Green Bay in January 2015 in the NFC championship game.
Last week he had just 31 yards and nine runs while Oakland lost 26-10 at the Los Angeles Chargers. He has 331 yards and three touchdowns in five games this season for the team whose home stadium is a couple BART light-rail stops south of where he grew up in Oakland.
“He looks good. He looks really good,” Carroll said. “He looks healthy and aggressive. He wants the ball more, you can tell that. His running style and everything about him looks good. He’s caught some balls already. It’s a well-rounded offense for him with (former Seattle line coach) Tom Cable there, as well, knowing how to bring out his strengths. They’ve got a nice running game and he looks great.
“He was in great condition. He was trim and fast and all that. He looks as good as ever.”
Lynch has been away three seasons. The few remaining veteran Seahawks players who played with Lynch still miss him.
“He epitomized everything that we stood for here in Seattle,” Baldwin said.
The Seahawks’ decision makers have moved the offense and the team beyond Lynch, of course. They first tried to replace Lynch’s production with Thomas Rawls. Then Christine Michael. Then Eddie Lacy. Then Chris Carson. Then Mike Davis. Now with Carson and Davis together.
And this spring they made Rashaad Penny just the third running back Seattle’s drafted in the first round (Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander are the others).
None of them were Marshawn Lynch.
There will never be another one like him in Seattle. Or anywhere else.
Lynch didn’t just run for over 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons for Seattle from 2011-15, the second-longest such streak in franchise history. He didn’t just provide the ferocity behind the Seahawks’ consecutive Super Bowl teams in the 2013 and ’14 seasons, including Seattle’s only NFL championship. He isn’t just second behind Alexander in franchise history for rushing touchdowns. He doesn’t just hold Seattle’s franchise playoff records for carries, yards rushing, 100-yard games, touchdowns and longest run from scrimmage.
You might remember that last one: The immortalized “Beast Quake” epic in the 2011 playoff game against New Orleans which Carroll on Tuesday called his favorite Lynch run.
For Baldwin and fellow veterans Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Russell Wilson, Justin Britt and J.R. Sweezy — the only starters left on the Seahawks from Lynch’s days — Lynch remains about so much more than running, pounding and punishing opponents.
To them, Lynch is about the time Justin Britt, in one of the center’s first weeks as a rookie with the Seahawks in 2014, was talking in the locker room about how small his television was inside his new Seattle-area apartment. The next day Britt — and all Seahawks offensive linemen — had new, giant, flat-screen TVs delivered to them, courtesy of Lynch.
To Baldwin, Lynch is also about the hilarity of “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” at the Super Bowl in Arizona in February 2016.
“He was amazing,” Baldwin said. “He brought a uniqueness. He was old-school, you know?
“You live in a world where everyone is trying to project this facade. You see on Facebook, you see on Instagram, you see on Twitter, everyone is trying to project this facade. And he was not about that. He was genuinely who he was, whether it was in the media, at my house for my birthday, in the locker room, out on the street with his family. It didn’t matter. He was who he was. And I think that speaks more volumes about the fun or the type of person that he was, that he brought to this locker room more so than anything.”
Yes, Lynch created friction by being himself. He infuriated the NFL by grabbing his crotch while doing backwards plunges across the goal lines at the end of touchdown runs. He clashed with the league and the media over not talking to reporters. He confronted opponents, confronted teammates, when necessary.
“That’s the price for something deeper. And a lot of people don’t want to go there,” Baldwin said. “They want to project this facade that everything is perfect, everything is OK. But that’s not how life is. Life is rough. Life is hard. Life is complicated. Life brings contentious situations, confrontations.”
As much as for all the yards and wins and the Super Bowl ring, the Seahawks admired and respected Lynch for risking his reputation, his standing with the team and the league and the nation’s perception of him, by just being him.
“I mean, we loved it,” Baldwin said. “He was beloved in this locker room because of that.
“He would speak how he felt. If he was wrong, he would come back and apologize to the people that he wronged. But for the most part, you respected the man because he was who he was. He didn’t try to act like something he wasn’t. He didn’t pretend with you guys in the media then come back into the locker room and act differently. He was who he was consistently, throughout and throughout.”
That friction, for which Lynch didn’t give a rip, produced a unique, anti-establishment superstar hugely popular beyond football. As in, worldwide.
Or did you forget his commercials in Scotland?
Or him riding a camel amid the pyramids in Egypt?
There is no doubt the Seahawks miss Lynch on the field. Only in the last three weeks has Seattle gotten back to the run-based offense it had when Lynch was here. The Seahawks did not have three straight games with a 100-yard back from the end of the 2012 season, when Lynch ran for 100 yards in five consecutive games into the playoffs, until last week’s narrow loss to the Rams. That’s almost six full years.
It’s not difficult to see when the Seahawks stopped being a true contender for the Super Bowl. It happened about the time Lynch put those spikes on Twitter. They got smacked in the divisional round of the playoffs at Atlanta to end their first season without Lynch. Last season, the Seahawks missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.
They went from third in the league in rushing offense in Lynch’s final season with them, 2015, to 25th in 2016 then 23rd last year. They began this year 29th in the NFL in rushing, until their resurgence with the run the last three games.
“From a productive standpoint, a football-productive standpoint, we’ve missed him up until this point, right?” Baldwin said. “We’ve been searching for a running back to kind of take that role.
“And from a leadership standpoint, he has been missed. I think the leadership is different know, especially with a lot of young guys. They’ve grown up in a different time than we have. I didn’t grow up with social media as a mainstay in my life. These guys do, so they look at life differently.”
No doubt, Lynch left the Seahawks and NFL under what can charitably be described as less-than-optimal circumstances. At the start of the 2015 season he symbolically jabbed at Seahawks management by wearing holdout Kam Chancellor’s jersey for a practice, to show solidarity with the Pro Bowl safety. Lynch went away from the team for more than a month during a playoff drive in late 2015, to rehabilitate from abdominal surgery on his own with friends and a mixed-martial arts coach in his native Bay Area.
Upon his return to the team, the week of a wild-card playoff game at Minnesota in early January 2016, Lynch took the first-team snaps at tailback all week in practices. Then, as the players and coaches boarded buses at team headquarters for the drive to Sea-Tac Airport and the Friday flight to Minneapolis for the game, Lynch told the Seahawks he wasn’t going. He declared himself out for a playoff game, when he was a primary part of Seattle’s game plan.
The following week Lynch started the divisional playoff loss at Carolina. A few weeks later, during the Super Bowl, he announced he was retiring on Twitter with a picture of his cleats hanging from a utility wire.
Just like that, he was gone.
Did Baldwin mind how it ended with Lynch and the Seahawks?
“It’s football,” he said. “I mean, I’m looking at all of you, right. You all make a big deal out of football. But truth be told, at the end of the day, when we are on our death beds, football means nothing. Right? It really means nothing at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter how many ... like, I was talking to K.J. about this earlier today: I don’t care how many tackles he makes, or how many interceptions he has. I want to know, is he a good husband. Is he a good father to his children? Those are the most important things.
“So, honestly, don’t really care how it ended. Because I know the man. My relationship with Marshawn, and his relationship with guys he’s spent time with in this locker room, that doesn’t change — no matter if he’s in a different uniform, if he’s in a different country, doesn’t matter.
“He’s still Marshawn. He’s still our brother.”