Midway through the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch officially announced his retirement. He did it with an understated, but instantly iconic peace sign emoji and a snapped pic of his trademark neon-green cleats hanging from an Oakland electrical wire.
Lynch has embodied the word "cool" for the past six years in Seattle, and I can't think of a cooler way to quietly ride off into the sunset. We've come to expect that kind of art from Lynch. He's the guy who immortalized his two BeastQuake runs with crotch-grabbing dives into the end zone. He's the guy who velvet-roped off his Lambo on the streets of his hometown. He's the guy who drove his Aventador to Top Pot on game day in a Fuck You sweatshirt. He loves Skittles and grills. He's a weird, paradoxical mix of a silly prankster and the most intimidating guy on the field.
He's the guy who showed up at the last minute for the Seahawks' Super Bowl parade in Seattle and rode on the hood of the Sea Gals' Duck, sipping Fireball, smoking a cigar and grabbing a Native American drum from a willing fan before popping bubbly as he entered CenturyLink Field.
This is still my all-time favorite photo of Lynch, from the Seattle Times' Bettina Hansen.
Lynch is the guy who decided to skip the Seahawks' Super Bowl White House visit because he didn't feel like going. He's highly involved in the Oakland community in which he grew up. He blocked the release of a biopic about his life, which he starred in. He flipped off Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in a game and has had a strained relationship with Pete Carroll, but is tight with Seattle's billionaire owner and modern renaissance man Paul Allen.
He's friends with Conan O'Brien. When he was on the set of The League for a cameo appearance, he vibed hard with Jon Lajoie, whose character Taco is probably not far from the real life Lajoie. He occasionally speaks in the third person.
You couldn't think up a better character than Lynch. He's the coolest fucking dude on the planet.
It's not just that, though, obviously. He's an All-Pro talent -- probably the second-best back of his generation. No one had more rushing touchdowns than Lynch (61) from 2011-15. He's shattered Pro Football Focus' broken tackles records. He's been one of the most prolific playoff backs ever. He's got a good shot at the Hall of Fame.
Lynch's career legacy is not just as a profound catalyst of change and success for the Seahawks organization and the city of Seattle, but as a pop culture icon whose namesake -- Beast Mode -- is universally recognized and has become synonymous with toughness, physicality and miraculous, game-changing plays. Hell, you can go Beast Mode in just about any aspect of life -- it doesn't even need to be sports. Go Beast Mode on that TPS report today, man.
Lynch is calling it a career after nine seasons, and now the NFL loses one of its most exciting players and compelling people. Though he did have a complex relationship with the team and with the media who covered him, Lynch meant a great deal to the Seahawks, their fans (and NFL fans in general), and to me.
What Lynch has meant to the Seahawks
Take a second and try to imagine the current iteration of the Pete Carroll/John Schneider Seahawks without Beast Mode. You really can't. Lynch has been the foundation on offense for Seattle since he was acquired in 2010. While Russell Wilson and that great defense are undoubtedly huge parts of their great run over the past several years, Lynch represented the Seahawks' identity of toughness and physicality perfectly. Without Lynch, the Seahawks would have looked completely different over the last six seasons.
"I don't know if anything is more symbolic than what we've done with Marshawn and him playing the way he's played and him being the guy he is," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said last year just prior to Super Bowl XLIX. "I think he really is the key element to putting this thing together, from the attitude perspective at least."
Lynch has been the Seahawks' inspiration. The Beast has been their spirit animal.
"When we got here, we talked about an identity, and creating an identity, and getting ourselves into a position where we were a consistent championship caliber football team," Schneider, Seattle's general manager, said in 2012. "In order to do that in this league, you need to knock people around. You need to play strong, tough, smart, physical football.
"We thought, in acquiring Marshawn, that he would add that, not only on the field, but in the locker room as well and in the way he practices.
"He is a seriously tough individual. He's the kind of guy that only knows one way to run, and that rubs off on the other guys, the other players here. So, he brings an identity for us. It rubs off on our defense."
You'll hear the exact same thing from the players, both current and former.
"His running style definitely epitomizes what we want to be about in this program: aggressiveness, straining, all those type of things," former fullback and now NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson told Seahawks.com when he was with the team. "Definitely when we see him getting going, it's a boost to the team.
"Watching him run, he makes you want to strain, he makes you want to go harder. He's just a great symbol for what this team is trying to stand for."
The Seahawks want to "beat the hell out of you," as Carroll put it once. That's what they want to stand for. Schneider is always talking about how he wants players who will go out and take you on in the parking lot, and might not even bring a ball.
Lynch coined an expression publicly for the first time that I can remember, but when you play Seattle, you better be ready, because "we've got some dogs." In one of the last interviews that Lynch gave to major media, at Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day, he told Deion Sanders that the Broncos, "they're gonna have to stop all of us. You feel me? I'm a piece to it, but we got some dogs."
It became a calling card for the Seahawks. It's part of Seattle's character. It derived from Lynch, but soon permeated the whole roster.
"It has a tremendous effect on how we overcome adverse situations because everybody's been in there," Richard Sherman said recently on the concept of grit. "You have a bunch of, they call it grit, we call it dog. You've got a lot of guys with a lot of dog in them. They won't take no for an answer. They won't fail, they won't lose. They won't just quit. When you've got guys that won't just quit and won't just give up, and you've got 53 of them, you've got a problem. You've got an issue for a lot of teams. That's not to say we're going to win every game ... but we're going to be dang hard to beat."
The Seahawks have gone 88 straight games without getting blown out. That's an NFL record that is still ongoing, and will probably never be matched. As Sherman noted, the Seahawks may not win every game, but they've been in every game right to the end for about five years. It's not all because of Lynch, but he was the guy who was most integral in helping them establish that culture of toughness and grit.
Maybe I'll just let him explain what it means, in his own way. This is the ethos that permeates the entire Seahawks team.
What Lynch has meant to the fans
There's a common refrain that you see and hear around Seattle and in the Seahawks' blogosphere: "Marshawn Lynch is a treasure."
It's not lost on Seahawks fans that the Lynch era has been a golden age not only in terms of success, but in richness of character among the players. There's brash and cocksure Richard Sherman, the certifiably crazy and ruthless Earl Thomas, the hilarious Michael Bennett, the unapologetic Bruce Irvin. That's not even mentioning Jimmy Graham, Brandon Mebane, Kam Chancellor or Doug Baldwin.
All of those names pale in comparison to Lynch, though. Lynch is larger than life. He's weird. He's a rebel. He thumbs his nose at the league. He thumbs his nose at the media. He's funny. He's serious. He's unpredictable. He's legitimately a sports and cultural icon.
Fans ultimately took on the persona that Lynch brought to the Seahawks. There's a chip on their shoulders. There's an "us against the world" mentality. Lynch was integral in taking the Seahawks from the underdog to top dog in just a few years.
He played with a style never before seen in Seattle. Everything he did on the field had the Marshawn Lynch flair. He's stiff-arm posterized more dudes than just about anyone in NFL history. He does the kind of subtly cool shit you wish you could do on the field.
He actively tries to get under the skin of rivals.
He redefined what it meant to celebrate. He redefined swag.
Lynch helped Seattle shed the soft northwest reputation and gave it a hint of that Oakland edge. He shit on Alice in Chains and brought in 2 Chainz. He showed the Seahawks how to fight for every inch and to never give up hope of victory. He gave them their first truly national presence. He's the main reason the Seahawks and their fans aren't intimidated by anyone. It's insufferable for most other fan bases.
"Beast Mode" is ubiquitous, but will tied to the Seahawks and their fans forever.
What Lynch has meant to me
I love all that stuff. I do. But the thing that I love the most about Lynch is that in addition to all the eccentricity and swagger he brings to the table, he's also one of the most technically proficient, smart and natural running backs I've ever watched. Scratch that -- maybe I shouldn't say natural, because some of the things he does on the field are seriously just unnatural. He's got amazing feet, incredible explosiveness and an uncanny ability to absorb and redirect contact.
Maybe some of that apparent unnatural mass and density -- which allows him to plow through multiple defenders with impunity -- comes from an almost-mythological story of Lynch's nine months in his mother's womb.
Delisa Lynch, Marshawn's mother, was told during her pregnancy that her son had absorbed the placenta of a twin brother and that fetus had been nourished by both in utero.
The midwife told her at the time -- and I'm not making this up -- to not be surprised if Marshawn turned out to be an "amazingly strong child."
So, Lynch's real-life graphic novel origin story is that he was born with the strength of two men. He's used his inherited powers almost purely for good. Well, for the good of the Seahawks, anyway.
Darnell Dockett has about 75 pounds on Lynch. I don't understand the physics of this. When I was watching this play live, I thought Lynch had knocked some guy's head off.
Lynch's career is littered with these kinds of physical impossibilities. Take this play against the Giants -- and out of respect for the dead, I'll just reference their numbers -- but look at what Lynch and his mercury-based blood does first to No. 53, then to No. 26. I mean, seriously.
Lynch just ragdolls dudes. But it's not like he's 260 pounds, slow-footed and downhill. This next play below -- a run against Washington in the 2012 playoffs -- is one of my favorite Lynch runs of all time because he combines great feet, great vision and punishing power for a game-changing touchdown.
The first thing you notice is the cut that just devastates DeAngelo Hall's pursuit angle. The second thing you notice is what happens when No. 41 tries to body Lynch. Weird-ass physics, son.
Lynch is just made of cement, I think.
But I can't talk about Lynch without bringing up his two best runs ever.
You know about it. Lynch broke like 35 tackles on the way to the game-sealing touchdown against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the 2010 playoffs, sending the Seahawks to the Divisional round while simultaneously triggering an actual earthquake at CenturyLink Field. I still think this is the greatest run in NFL playoffs history. It was one of those "everyone remembers where they were during the Beast Quake" moments.
It was an unbelievable show of toughness and resiliency, and would probably be the defining run of Lynch's career if he hadn't done something damn near identical three years later.
I kid you not -- this was the same play call ("17 Power") as the original BeastQuake play. Lynch did just about the same damn thing, too. I love Cris Collinsworth's "Oh-wow-hoooow! Hah-howwwwww!" as Lynch bowls over Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson during the live run.
Collinsworth's call of the play perfectly encapsulates what makes Lynch such a special player. "Honestly," he exclaims, "Honestly?! It's unbelievable. I don't care if he ever talks to the media. Watching that guy play is remarkable.
"One of the greatest plays I've ever seen right there. An individual effort. Sick. Literally, physically, whatever you wanna call that. Sick! That is absolutely spectacular, and he does it all the time."
And that's who he was as a player. Lynch did things on the football field that didn't look possible. He broke tackles he had no business breaking. He emerged from piles after plays looked long dead. He kept plays alive. He ran over and through defenses. And he did it with a truly unique gait and style.
"He has extraordinary control of his ability to move his feet," Carroll said glowingly last year. "There are really a couple of cool runs where you see him hop over a guy and he's like a skier, like a slalom skier almost. He can hop out and get back on, sometimes the outside foot, sometimes his inside foot. He will hop from the same foot to the same foot, really unusual footwork that you don't see many guys have command of.
"It makes him unusually shifty and then he's a load and he's tough and he's aggressive," continued Carroll. "He has run so physically, consistently tough. It takes marvelous instincts and savvy to do what he does. He also has this ability to move laterally and to navigate through issues that very few people do."
He was a special runner. There will probably never be another player who does the same types of things that Lynch did so frequently during his career.
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At the end of an amazing career, there's no doubt that Lynch has been one of the most influential and talented players of his generation. The Hall of Fame talk will spark up going forward and should create some interesting arguments, but there's no debating the far-reaching impact that Lynch had on the NFL, the Seahawks and the city of Seattle.
Happy trails, Marshawn. It's been a true pleasure watching you play.