At the end of the Super Bowl loss against the Patriots, Marshawn Lynch did four things that captured his career with the Seahawks:
1. He rushed onto the field after his defensive teammates got into a fight.
2. He headed to the locker room with 18 seconds left in the game.
3. He dressed quickly before the posse of reporters caught up with him.
4. And when asked if he was surprised he didn’t get the ball from the 1-yard line, he shot back to the NFL Network as he left the stadium, “No, because football is a team sport.”
It was everything we’d come to expect from Lynch. An individualistic defiance, an eagerness to stick up for teammates and unfiltered strangeness. But of all the problems we had understanding Marshawn Lynch, the biggest might have been thinking we understood him at all.
Lynch’s time in Seattle is over — the star running back announced his retirement on Twitter on Sunday night during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. He will go down as one of Seattle’s most memorable athletes. They will show his runs on highlight packages for years, but even those won’t capture what it was like to watch him, the aesthetics of it all.
“He’s special,” said Sherman Smith last year, himself a former NFL running back and Lynch’s position coach with the Seahawks. “That’s what I tell my guys: ‘You need to know something. We have a chance to be close to greatness. This guy is a great player.’ And some of my guys can’t handle it because they wish their skill level was as high as his. I don’t tell them this, but you can work out hard all you want, but he’s just gifted.”
He plowed through tackles. He never stepped out of bounds. He dragged three or four or five defenders. Teammates swore opponents avoided tackling him, and they marveled at his feats the same as fans.
“Most times I stay in the moment, and I try not to get caught up in the past or future or what might happen down the line,” receiver Doug Baldwin said after Lynch’s incredible run against Arizona in December 2014. “But in that moment, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Twenty years from now, we are going to be looking back at that run and thinking how amazing that was.’ ”
Lynch became increasingly difficult with the Seahawks. He was unhappy when the Seahawks traded wide receiver Percy Harvin. He was fiercely independent and could be standoffish depending on the setting. He refused to speak with the media until the threat of fines coerced him, and even then he only muttered catchphrases: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” … “Thanks for asking.” … “I’m just ‘bout that action, boss.” He became frustrated in 2014 when a reporter tried to praise him for returning a lost wallet; he didn’t get why something so ordinary was a story.
He didn’t go to the locker room at halftime in Kansas City two seasons ago, instead opting to remain on the field in freezing temperatures. Teammates and coaches said he was too hurt to come into the locker room; reports said it was an act of defiance. Whatever the case, his rough edges became inseparable from his play.
He was a beloved and respected teammate who would offer advice, wisdom or even his car if needed. “And I would say to him, ‘Dog, your Lamborghini?!’ ” Baldwin said. “And he would be like, ‘Bro, it’s just a car.’”
Said Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril: “This is a true and real good story about Marshawn. Shawn is the type of person who if the game is out of hand in the third quarter, he doesn’t care if he has 35 yards or 150 yards and is about to break a record. He’ll pull himself out of the game to let some of the younger guys get reps. Most guys go after their stats, but he doesn’t care about stats. And that’s unique for an offensive player.”
He often was hilarious. After a game a few years ago, he was answering questions when he noticed a bearded reporter with long brown hair who resembled backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. He glanced at the bearded reporter, kept answering a question, looked at the reporter again and broke out laughing.
“I thought you was Charlie, man,” he said. “I did. I looked and was like, ‘What’s Charlie doing with this mic in my face, man?’ ” — he yelled across the locker room — “Charlie! Is this yo pops right here? We’ve got Charlie’s pops over here.”
During a preseason game in 2011, he was supposed to appear on the broadcast from the sideline. When the camera cut to him, he had his face pressed against the lens, mouth open, and yelled, “Helloooooo? Is anybody in there?”
Lynch’s big runs defined him, but the smaller runs in between were just as reflective of his singular talent. He ran with a balance of patience and recklessness, and he demanded brutal answers from defenders on every play.
It wasn’t that Lynch didn’t lose yards, but the way he squeezed every inch out of his runs. Few running backs made losing three yards look more like an act of will.
“Those dirty, ugly two- or three- or four-yard runs, he actually enjoys those more than the breakout runs,” said Michael Robinson, Lynch’s former fullback in Seattle. “I saw him get maybe half a yard one time. He probably made six people miss. I totally missed a block, and he made me miss because I was in the way. He stepped over two people and flipped over another guy and was very excited.”
Robinson, a close friend of Lynch’s and for years his unofficial spokesman, broke into a Lynch impersonation: “And he was like, ‘I almost broke it, I almost broke it!’ I said, ‘You only got half a yard.’ He said, ‘Did you see what I did, though?! Did you see it?!’”
Former NFL scout Louis Riddick said scouts rarely give players the highest grade available. But Lynch was an exception. “He’s one of those guys that if the highest number you can give for competitiveness is a five, you’d give him a five-plus because you can’t deny it,” he said.
Lynch was revered in his own locker room as well as in locker rooms across the league. How many times did you see opponents talk trash to Lynch? More often, they helped him up or patted him on the helmet, signs of respect.
Lynch never seemed to care about his legacy, or about how he was perceived. But the reality is that he was such an exceptional talent and unusual personality that he leaves behind a singular legacy with the Seahawks.