NEWARK, N.J. — Every shade of Beast Mode was on display at Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day, a bizarre annual ritual in which hundreds of journalists jockey to get their questions heard, or, just as important, their faces seen.
Marshawn Lynch was enlightening, and he was defiant. He opened up, and he closed off. He was funny, and he was, to many, maddening.
But amid wave after wave of rote responses to clichéd questions by most players — even Richard Sherman has noticeably dialed down the histrionics — Lynch was nothing if not memorable.
In fact, his show (and Lynch was most definitely on display) at the Prudential Center goes right into the Media Day Hall of Fame without the customary waiting period. He joins the likes of Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan, who wore a studded dog collar to his session at Super Bowl XXIII, and Jim Plunkett, who had to deal with maybe the worst question ever asked, by a reporter trying to clarify the Raider quarterback’s family struggles: “Jim, I want to make sure I have this right. Was it dead mother, blind father or blind mother, dead father?”
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Given the absurdity of the event — one recent year, a woman reporter roamed the premises in a wedding dress, asking players if they’d marry her; at this one, there was a guy dressed like “Where’s Waldo?” and another impersonating Ben Franklin — Lynch’s hour was just as muddled as the journalism on display.
For starters, he showed up. That in itself had been subject to considerable speculation, given Lynch’s well-known aversion to being interviewed. He was not assigned a podium station, normally given to players of his stature. But having had an earlier $50,000 fine rescinded as long as he fulfilled his media obligations, Lynch opted to appear.
“I knew he’d show up,’’ his close friend, fullback Michael Robinson, said. “They were going to fine him if he didn’t. He likes money.”
In fact, Lynch made a jaunty entrance, with his hoody pulled up and Louis Vuitton sunglasses hiding his eyes. A sizable crowd of reporters had staked out his likely location standing alongside other offensive players not deemed prominent enough for a podium. The first thing that caught Lynch’s eye was the fans who watched the proceedings from the bleachers.
“There are fans watching you do all this?” he asked. “Man, I appreciate this. This is love right here, straight up. They come to watch people get interviewed. This is amazing, man.”
Lynch was pleasant, and far more engaged than he had been in recent monosyllabic interviews clearly done to avoid the fine. I figured this was going to be a fascinating hour with a rare chance to find out what made Beast Mode tick.
Oh, at one point, he nudged away a microphone that had moved close to his face. And when a reporter who was getting jostled by the scrum irritably called out, “This is ridiculous!” Lynch halted his answer and said, “Oh, you don’t like it either? I know, they just be throwing (expletive) all in your face. I don’t get it.”
But Lynch was frank when asked why interviews make him uncomfortable.
“I think you just taking it wrong,’’ he said. “It don’t make me uncomfortable. … I’m just about that action. They say, ‘Hut,’ and there’s action. All the unnecessary talk, it don’t do nothing for me. I appreciate people want to hear from me, but I just go to work and do my thing.”
Reminded that reporters are the link between him and the fans, he replied, “That’s right. I understand that. I do. My fans love me regardless. They love the Seahawks. They ain’t worried about what I got to say. They just want to make sure I show up to perform.”
Lynch noted that playing in the Super Bowl crossed his mind “probably the first time I told my mama I was going to play in the NFL. Oh, I was young. Probably Pop Warner playing for the Saints, right there in West Oakland. She remembered, though. She reminded me of it.”
When Lynch deigns to let you in, he invariably comes off as likable and well-grounded. He said he won’t be able to elevate his effort in the Super Bowl because “Every time I go out on the field, Boss, I give what I got. That’s just straight up.”
Lynch seemed to be in a groove, answering a few questions about his time in Buffalo, his trade to Seattle, his decision to sign long term with the Seahawks (“I just roll with my gut, straight up”). None of it appeared too painful. Heck, Lynch even seemed to be having some fun. He was asked if he’d had a chance yet to enjoy himself in New York.
“A little bit. I won’t be satisfied with all of this until it’s all over. That’s when I’ll be satisfied. Until then, I’ve still got work. But I appreciate this. Y’all have a good day.”
And with that, Lynch walked off, having held court, by my count, for 6 minutes, 21 seconds of the allotted hour. Beast Mode, we hardly knew ye.
The weirdness escalated when Lynch returned about 10 minutes later.
For the rest of the time, more than half an hour, Lynch mostly stood silently, leaning against a pillar while a second wave of reporters about 10 feet away waited with increasing impatience for him to answer more questions.
Lynch took a few minutes to do a television interview for NFL Network with Deion Sanders, who told him enthusiastically afterward, “That was real, Dog.” He answered a question on camera from the Armed Forces Network. Three youngsters in the stands threw down their footballs for Lynch to sign, which he did.
Various PR officials talked to Lynch, as did Seahawks running backs coach Sherman Smith. A succession of Seattle teammates who weren’t drawing media attention stopped by to schmooze, as did Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.
A few questions were intermittently called out, and ignored.
At one point, a reporter said, “Are you trying to avoid a fine by standing here and not talking?”
Lynch nodded his head.
Indeed, the NFL has indicated that because he showed up and did some interviews, he won’t be fined.
The impasse continued, interminably and uncomfortably, until the PA announced, “That concludes …”
Before the sentence was finished, Lynch had scooted, and I had a hard time working up as much righteous indignation as other reporters.
That bit about reporters being the link to fans — I believe in that, wholeheartedly. I believe players have an obligation to cooperate with the media. And by trying to not make it about himself, well, it kind of became about him.
But I also can empathize with how disconcerting these mass sessions can be, particularly one as alternately in-your-face and irreverent as Super Bowl Media Day.
And I probably got more insight from Lynch’s brief turn than other players, who ostensibly were cooperating, provided in an hour.
I’d urge Lynch to reconsider his anti-interview stance. But I’m pretty sure his teammates don’t care, nor do most Seahawks fans. That’s straight up.
“I heard he did a great six minutes,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Some comedians make a career off of that.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry