Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch rarely spoke publicly, but he emitted charisma and fierceness. We’re likely to miss all of that legacy more than we imagined.
What is it about Seattle sports icons wearing No. 24 and their idiosyncratic retirement methods? Ken Griffey Jr. drove off into the sunset one day without a word to anyone, while Marshawn Lynch simply tweeted a picture of green cleats hanging from a wire, with a peace sign emoji, in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
Both departures were, in their own ways, silent perfection, reflecting the singular personality of the ballplayer without the need for a news conference, or even a news release.
Lynch was one of a kind, emitting as powerful a charisma as I’ve ever seen from an athlete within the constricts of a team. Not that Lynch was ever beholden to the conventions that governed others, except in two very important areas that pretty much gave him a pass in all others: He was a supportive and loyal teammate, and as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever seen.
Those factors made Lynch a beloved figure within the Seahawks locker room, and made it easy (or at least imperative) for management to overlook the occasional issues that cropped up. It’s only fitting that Lynch retired rather than forcing the Seahawks to cut him, the final installment in a career ethos of doing it all on his own terms.
Ultimately, it won’t be Lynch’s quirks and eccentricities that we’ll miss most (though I have a hunch we — even the media he tweaked for all those years — will be nostalgic for those a lot sooner than we’d imagine).
It will be the toughness and intimidation and presence he brought the Seahawks, each one a palpable force that enriched the ballclub in numerous ways.
His production spoke for itself — no one ran for more yards or touchdowns during Lynch’s four-year heyday from 2011 to 2014, the reign that should rightfully put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There have been other productive running backs, but few destroyed the will of opponents like Lynch did. He inspired not only his offensive cohorts but the Seattle defenders with the unforgiving manner in which he fought for every single yard.
As Michael Bennett said after Lynch’s 122-yard effort in a Week 7 win over the 49ers — really, the last time Lynch dominated before injuries did him in:
“A lot of guys get 100 yards but don’t punish a team. He punishes a team.”
More than even the Legion of Boom, Lynch set the tone for the Seahawks, establishing the level of toughness and grit that carried them to the greatest heights in team history.
Thomas Rawls, Lynch’s likely replacement at running back, will get his yards. But it would be setting an unrealistically high bar to expect that he would immediately have the same impact as a leader and tone-setter.
Indeed, if strong safety Kam Chancellor doesn’t come back to Seattle next season, as appears to be at least a possibility, the yin and yang of the Seahawks’ bruising reputation would be gone.
That doesn’t mean that they still wouldn’t be a physical team, or even a feared one. It does mean that the feel, the aura, will be unavoidably different. Lynch was the most enduring symbol of the Seahawks in this exalted era, his famed silence merely enhancing his stature, his appeal, and, yes, even his charm.
Acquiring Lynch from Buffalo four games into his tenure as Seahawks coach was Pete Carroll’s first great move, and maybe still his best. Off the field, Lynch was never less than fascinating, a writer’s dream despite the fact that he rarely spoke publicly.
I always felt that was a shame, not because he owed it to us, but because in those rare moments Lynch did open up, it was almost always riveting, even poetic. My favorite example remains Lynch’s interview with ESPN’s Jeffrey Chadiha for an “E:60” episode in 2013. Lynch’s description of his Beast Quake run, relating it to his Oakland childhood, is profound:
“Growing up, being where I’m from, a lot of people don’t see the light. I didn’t see the light in that play. Went forward, ran into some trouble. Being on food stamps, living in the projects. Running head-first into linebackers. Start to play football. Things opened up for me a little bit. Breaking a couple more tackles. Going to jail. Getting in trouble. Coming out of that. Touchdown.
“I guess you could say that run is symbolic of my life.”
In the same interview, Lynch got emotional when talking about perceptions of him, based on some of the incidents that had plagued him after turning pro in 2007 — a gun charge, a hit-and-run incident and a DUI.
“I would like to see them (critics) grow up in project-housing authorities, being racially profiled growing up, sometimes not even having nothing to eat, sometimes having to wear the same damn clothes to school for a whole week. Then all of a sudden a big-ass change in their life, like their dream come true, to the point they’re starting their career, at 20 years old, when they still don’t know (bleep). I would like to see some of the mistakes they would make.”
My most recent glimpse of Lynch came last Friday at the opening of his Beast Mode retail store in Oakland. I saw a tender side of him there, as he gently hugged his sister and grandmother while the Oakland mayor read a proclamation honoring him for all he’s given to his hometown. I’m pretty sure Lynch was misty-eyed, too.
No interviews, of course, but his body language spoke volumes.
The Seahawks got a jump-start on life without Lynch during a 2015 season in which his contributions were sporadic. Now it’s a new era, one in which the Seahawks will definitively be without Lynch.
He will be missed in innumerable ways — as a competitor, as a personality, and, especially, as the relentless force who, more than anyone else, made the Seahawks the team no one wanted to play, but everyone wanted to watch.