To this day, the biggest single difference in the Seattle Seahawks from the glory days is the absence of running back Marshawn Lynch. Coach Pete Carroll and management won’t admit to that publicly, and there’s only eight of his teammates remaining, so the internal eyewitnesses dwindle. But one, wide receiver Doug Baldwin, was willing Tuesday to testify to Lynch’s ability to command a field and a locker room.
“He’s had probably the greatest impact on all of us that have known him,” said Baldwin before practice. “In a world full of people trying to project a facade of their life — you see it on Instagram, you see it on Facebook, you see it on Twitter — he was not about that. He was genuinely who he was, whether it was in the media, at my house on my birthday, in the locker room, out on the street with his family, it didn’t matter. Marshawn was very honest and true about who he was, and where he was.
“We loved that. He was beloved in this locker room because of that. He would speak how he felt. If he was wrong, he would come back and apologize to the people he wronged, for the most part. You respected him for the man he was, not trying to act like something he wasn’t.”
The subject came up because, despite the fact that it is London Week for the first time in Seahawks franchise history, Lynch, now with Oakland, will be waiting for them Sunday in Wembley Stadium.
God save the queen, and the Seahawks.
The storyline of the first regular-season meeting between Lynch and the team he helped take to consecutive Super Bowls overshadows all the argle-bargle (a fine British phrase) about American football’s continued inroads upon the hegemony of futbol on The Continent. (Hint: It’s not happening.)
Lynch’s play spoke for itself — a combination of speed, power, will and intelligence that made him an unparalleled football tough guy. He and strong safety Kam Chancellor gave the Seahawks a quality of menace that made strong men pause. Much of that around the Seahawks has evaporated.
Baldwin mentioned something Tuesday about Lynch’s play that received little appreciation in his time in Seattle.
“He was a savant when it came to his position on the football field,” he said. “He could read defenses getting off the bus. It was incredible, his memory for certain plays and for certain situations.
“Now he’ll play with you (media) and act like he doesn’t know that, because he doesn’t want to talk about it. He tries to be humble in that way. But he’s a savant when it comes to that stuff.”
Lynch was also a hero to his teammates because in-house he was the anti-hero, the contrarian who challenged authority, hyperbole and conventions. Probably 90 percent of the players on any NFL roster have such tenuous holds on jobs that speaking or acting out seems like professional suicide. But the deeply secure Lynch gave so much of himself and did so well in games that he earned leverage with teammates and coaches, which only enhanced his mystique.
He was that fearless kid in school who got away with stuff because he was bright enough to see a step ahead.
As only one example, he had the stones to tell the NFL to drop dead regarding his media-interview obligations (“I’m just here so I won’t get fined”), which made him controversial, which put him on every late-night talk show and all over YouTube, where he could sell himself to a bigger audience.
He pissed off a lot of NFL and Seahawks people, but Baldwin said Lynch figured it was worth it.
“People being pissed off about you being honest with who you are … If you’re being real, then those people shouldn’t really matter in your life,” he said. “My philosophy in life is there are no long-term negative consequences from being honest.”
But short-term, Lynch’s methods made for tension between him and Carroll, despite the wide latitude for expression Carroll gives players. Asked Tuesday how he thought he handled Lynch, Carroll was more expansive than he’s been since Lynch’s awkward departure after 2015 and his non-retirement retirement in 2016.
“We did OK,” he said. “We had a great time together. When we brought him here (in a 2010 trade with the Bills), he wasn’t the first in line at Buffalo. Things changed, and he was available months after we started trying to get him. He was a real target for us. I bugged (general manager John Schneider) for months and months to keep making those phone calls.
“He got a fresh start. He took the opportunity and went with it … the guy to bring the attitude, intensity, focus and toughness.
“There’s a lot of big things that happened, in terms of championships and challenges and contracts. A lot of our guys got married and had kids — not necessarily with Marshawn — and he grew a lot, too, with us. We went through a lot together. I have tremendous respect for that guy. It’ll be fun playing against him. I like playing against guys I like.”
He certainly didn’t like him in January 2016, when Lynch took himself out of a trip to frozen Minneapolis for a playoff game, claiming he wasn’t recovered from an injury, even though he practiced all week. What went down in that episode was never made clear, but he played only one more game for the Seahawks, a playoffs-ending loss in Carolina.
That is past. Lynch again looms in the Seahawks scene. At 32, he’s the Raiders’ featured back under new coach Jon Gruden. His 77 rushes are sixth in the NFL, and his average carry of 4.3 yards a game is 22nd, eight spots behind Seahawks leader Chris Carson (4.6). He has three touchdowns and 12 pass receptions for 70 yards.
“He’s as advertised,” Gruden said on a teleconference call. “He’s one heck of a player. He’s a great teammate. I think he’s misunderstood by a lot of people. But he is a great down-to-down competitor, still as talented as any runner, I believe, as there is in the league.
“He’s become a leader.”
He has always been a leader. The Seahawks miss that dearly.
Now the 2018 Seahawks get to find out what it was like when the 2010-15 Seahawks unleashed the Beast upon the NFL.
Art Thiel is co-founder of Sportpress Northwest.