Marshawn Lynch is retiring, and looking at the trajectory of his NFL career, it’s somewhat of a miracle that he made it this far. Before he was chewing Skittles and playing video games with Conan O’Brien, the then-Bills running back was on his way to being another example of a player with immense talent hampered by his trouble off the field.
Lynch and Fred Jackson gave Buffalo a powerful combination at the running back position, but it wasn’t ever reliable, partially due to Lynch’s legal troubles. After a hit-and-run charge in 2008 and a misdemeanor gun charge which led to a three-game suspension in 2009, Jackson took the starting spot, and in 2010, the team shipped Lynch to the Seahawks.
The Seahawks knew what they were getting with Lynch. He was sticking defenders and breaking tackles in Buffalo, just like he would in Seattle. The gamble wasn’t what they gave up—a fourth-rounder and a conditional fifth-rounder—it was whether Lynch would avoid trouble long enough to stay on the field. Outside of a DUI in 2012, he did.
Lynch’s appeal was his tenacity. He was a nightmare to take down. The stouter power runners in the NFL—think Mike Tolbert—lower their shoulders on tacklers to try and stay up, but Lynch would normally use a humbling stiff-arm. The scariest part, however, was when he didn’t extend his arms. In these situations, Lynch would tighten his grip on the ball, and focus all of his effort in staying upright. Maybe he’d furiously kick up his legs to shake them loose, spin, or do something, anything else to keep moving. At his best, Lynch was Fury Road in shoulder pads. When someone was fortunate enough to finally take him down, Lynch would leave a mark on him, sometimes literally. Here’s a story:
I’ll never forget — and this is crazy — I broke my hand in the second series of the game against Seattle in 2010. And later on in that game, they threw a ball out to Marshawn Lynch. I swear to God, I was running and I was saying, ‘I know I can’t wrap up, but I’m going to hit him as hard as I can with my shoulder and I hope it’s enough to knock him down.’
If you understand football, you know that a shoulder tackle or an arm tackle isn’t going to bring him down. You have to hit and drop and wrap and hope that somebody else is coming with you. That’s just the truth.
So I just hauled up and hit him with everything I had in my body at that time. He went back, kept his ground and kept on going. I said to myself, ‘Yeah, this man, he’s got something special in him.’
The most famous instance of Lynch’s elusion, of course, is his 67-yard run against the Saints in the 2011 playoffs. I watched the game on TV, and his run is one of the greatest NFL plays I’ve seen live. Lynch broke what seemed like 57 tackles, put Saints cornerback Tracy Porter on the ground, and still had the energy to clutch his crotch as he fell backwards into the end zone.
There’s another run that comes close to the Beast Quake’s glory, though the stakes were lower. During a 2014 dismantling of the Cardinals, Lynch took a handoff left, and cut back right after getting through the first level of defenders. He almost had Patrick Peterson beat, but when the Arizona cornerback did catch up, Lynch stuck his arm out and pushed forward. At the same time, safety Rashad Johnson came in with the worst timing, as he was trampled while Lynch kept moving forward. Linebacker Alex Okafor made a dive for a shoestring tackle, which would usually have an acceptable success rate in that situation, but against Lynch, it was futile. Once again, Lynch had the presence of mind to finish his touchdown run with a dick grab. That all happened after he barfed earlier in the game.
And after that game happened, Lynch gave a series of non-answers:
After his running style, Lynch’s most notable trait was his attitude towards most of the media. “I’ve never seen anybody win the game in the media,” Lynch told Mike Silver, one of the few reporters he trusted, before the 2014 Super Bowl. “But at the same time, I understand what it could do for you, if you wanted to be someone who talks a lot. But that’s not me.”
When the NFL threatened his wallet, he showed up with a rehearsed phrase which he’d repeat: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” or “You know why I’m here,” or “I’m thankful.” He would occasionally pick his spots. Maybe he’d open up on Turkish TV or in a victory parade for the Warriors. Lynch did his best to keep things on his terms. His retirement announcement, and his retirement itself, were on his terms too.
Who knows if Lynch will stay retired. He’s 29, and although that’s old for a running back, plenty of teams would offer him good money for a short-term deal. Lynch won’t need the financial support, though; he reportedly hasn’t spent any of his contract money, instead living off of his endorsement deals. He got his life together, and the Seahawks were thankful.
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