John McGrath

John McGrath: Lynch should talk so he’s known for more than his funny answers

By repeating the same short sentence 25 times over five minutes, Marshawn Lynch seized the spotlight Tuesday at Super Bowl Media Day.

“I’m here so I won’t get fined,” the Seattle Seahawks running back began, flashing a smile to keep the mood light. “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Moments after Lynch concluded his obligatory appearance with a last word — “time” — a football player famous for his refusal to talk was the talk of downtown Phoenix.

Conversations typically went like this:

“What did Marshawn say?”

“All he said was, ‘I’m just here so I won’t get fined.’ ”

“What’s his deal?”

“He’s mad at the NFL for making him do interviews. He’s shy.”

Depending on what occasion suits his mood off the field, Marshawn Lynch fits many descriptions: funny, angry, benevolent, penny-wise, calculating, impulsive.

But shy? No, not shy. A pro athlete cannot be shy when he makes plans to take the field in sparkling gold cleats for the NFC Championship Game, and then celebrates a key touchdown run in that game by slowing down and grabbing his crotch.

Lynch does not avoid attention. He craves it. He made himself the story of his team’s triumphant visit to the White House by staying home. He made himself the story of the offseason by threatening to hold out.

Every other Seahawks player — even those who are shy — copes with the league’s collectively bargained policy regarding media availability. But only Lynch combats the policy with a prearranged act the NFL tolerates (the Pro Football Writer’s Association of America announced it will not lodge a complaint).

His performance Tuesday amused those who are easily amused, and outraged those who are easily outraged. I found it neither amusing nor outrageous, merely frustrating.

I was frustrated not because I’m anxious for Lynch to make peace with the media — frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn — but because he’s a fantastic football player whose career deserves to be remembered for something more substantial than uttering the same eight-word answer during Super Bowl Media Day.

I attended an NFL game for the first time in 1963. Over five-plus decades of following the sport, I’ve never seen anyone comparable to Lynch, who seemingly has modeled his running style from a Who’s Who list of all-time greats..

Start with the ferocious will of Walter Payton, born with the heart of a lion and, at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, the body of a slot receiver. Lynch is 5-11 and 215. Do the math.

Lynch combines the determination of Sweetness with the tank-engine force of Earl Campbell. And while he’s not as elusive as Barry Sanders — aside from Gale Sayers, nobody has been as elusive as Barry Sanders — Lynch can put a tilt-a-whirl move on any tackler in the open field.

The best running backs are versatile running backs, and Lynch is as versatile as a Swiss Army knife.

Soft hands necessary for catching dump-off passes? Check.

An appetite for contact necessary to block blitzing rushers? Check.

The discipline to sell a play-action fake? Check.

If Lynch retires after the Super Bowl — it probably won’t happen, but with Beast Mode, you never know — he’s a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame.

His 8,695 career rushing yards are more than were gained by such Hall of Famers as Larry Csonka, Leroy Kelly, John Henry Johnson, Floyd Little, Steve Van Buren, Lenny Moore and Ollie Matson.

If it were my responsibility to represent Lynch in front of the voting committee — hoo, boy, how fun would that be? — I’d emphasize his playoff numbers: 815 yards on 163 carries, which rounds out at a crazy five yards per attempt. And there’s this: In nine postseason games, he’s scored eight touchdowns.

Media Day is a circus, and Lynch’s behavior was consistent with an event that emphasizes silly sound bites over earnest answers to reasonable questions. But I was holding out hope that one of the great running backs in a generation could provide some thoughts about how his remarkable talent ideally suits a remarkable team.

That didn’t happen Tuesday. For Lynch, it was all about the show. On his way to the interview podium, he cut through an elbow-to-elbow thicket of reporters and cameramen in the manner of a heavyweight prizefighter entering the ring for a title bout.

Music blared. Fans cheered. There was a palpable sense of anticipation.

Then came a question, and an answer, and after 30 seconds, my attention turned from what he was saying to what he was wearing.

Sunglasses.

Of course. The shy guy needed them for the glare he created, and will always covet.

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