RENTON — From the standpoint of electrifying a fan base, Marshawn Lynch’s arrival has already been a smashing success. Few people were talking about anything else in the buildup to Christmas.
When it comes to firing up the Seahawks’ locker room, mission accomplished. Lynch, along with fellow returnee Robert Turbin, got a round of applause in the team meeting on Tuesday. And the younger players no doubt were sneaking peaks to see how the legend went about his business
“Everybody’s a little star struck,” said linebacker K.J. Wright on the first official day of the second Beast Mode era.
But when it comes down to the heart of the matter — how Lynch will perform on Sunday and beyond, and whether he can still summon the ferocity and explosiveness that made him a superstar — well, that remains a gigantic mystery.
Lynch’s return to Seattle after more than a three-year absence is a great storyline. It’s a jolt of adrenaline for a Seahawks team that needed one after being manhandled by Arizona and devastated by injuries.
Yet for this to rise above the level of heartwarming diversion, the Seahawks need Lynch to actually perform. The true evaluation of this noble experiment will come when No. 24 trots onto the field on Sunday and starts taking handoffs from Russell Wilson.
That doesn’t mean he has to be vintage Beast Mode; that’s asking too much. But for the Seahawks to beat the 49ers on Sunday for the division title, and to make noise thereafter in the playoffs, they need at least some flashes of the guy that the entire Seahawks squad once fed off for energy. Even the defense.
“I remember being in awe on the sideline watching him on the Jumbotron,” Wright said. “We were witnessing a Hall of Famer do his thing. When he’d go out there, and they ran that clock out, we’d get a surge of energy, and go back out there and handle our business. It’s going to be amazing to watch him. I can’t wait to see him perform.”
“Watching him run the ball, and then you see some of the defensive players that you look up to get ran over by him, it definitely sends some energy into the building,” added linebacker Bobby Wagner. “You see him break a long run after breaking four or five tackles, it’s pretty dope. I’m pretty sure he can do that again.”
Considering that the Seahawks’ whole identity is predicated on a grind-it-out running game, and all that’s behind Lynch now is a raw rookie in Travis Homer and the even rustier Turbin, it’s close to a necessity that Lynch can still provide some sparks.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talked at length on Tuesday about how Lynch, at 33, seems like a much worldlier, wiser, and mature person than in his previous incarnation. And perhaps one who needed to be away from football to realize how much it meant to him.
“He’s been through a lot in his life, and he’s taken on a lot of responsibility in his life, in his community, and his family and all that,” Carroll said. “I think it has affected him. He sees the world in a new way.
“Things that he had never done before and things he now understands are different than he may have thought in the past. Like I said, he has grown. It comes across when you visit with him.”
The new Lynch actually addressed the media after Tuesday’s practice — for all of nine seconds. Here is the transcript in its entirety: “Happy holidays, merry New Year. You all have a great day. It’s a great feeling to be back.”
Hey, it’s a start. And if “Merry New Year” is not an instant meme, well, people are slacking. But the Seahawks hope that the new Lynch still contains enough remnants of the player that Carroll called, “as physical a player as I’ve ever been around, and as great of competitor I’ve ever been around” to propel them forward.
The good news is that Lynch is coming back for a lot of great reasons. He wants to complete what he called in a video the “unfinished business” of bringing another title to Seattle.” He still craves the competition and the camaraderie. By all accounts, he’s dedicated himself to preparing his body for this return, with the loftiest of aspirations.
“He’s highly motivated to do everything you can do in this game,” Carroll said.
The better news is that before Lynch ever steps on the field, he will pay dividends for the Seahawks, as a mentor and as a motivator (“He has so much knowledge to pass on, if you let him,” Wagner said). Players are fired up he’s around — those who have never played with him just as much as his former teammates.
“I think guys definitely saw what he did on the TV screen, in the playoffs and Super Bowls,” Wright said. “They do understand his presence and how important he is to the city. I believe it’s going to be cool…they’re going to see in the next few games we play how impactful he was and how much of a legend he is to this city.”
Carroll said he has been thrilled at the frenzied reaction of Seahawks fans to Lynch’s return, but joked that he’d be even more thrilled if he knocked out 110 yards on the ground.
Wagner said that “whenever (Lynch) puts his jersey and pads on, he’s a guy no one wants to tackle, no matter how long he’s taken off.”
Wright said he believes that on Sunday “he’s going to be looking like the Marshawn we know him to be.”
But therein lies the great mystery of Lynch’s comeback, beyond all the instant exhilaration: Just how much of Beast Mode remains.