When Marshawn Lynch arrived in Seattle in 2010, you couldn’t blame Seahawks fans for being pessimistic about his prospects. People tend to forget that optimism was in short supply at the time – one Super Bowl appearance in 35 seasons tends to have that effect – but asking us to believe in Beast Mode, a guy who had been benched in Buffalo, bordered on the ridiculous.
What’s more, it was new coach Pete Carroll – a guy whose NFL resume showed a lot of promise, but little in the way of results – doing the asking. From his first day with the franchise, he had promised to change the culture in Seattle by becoming the best running team in the league. This despite the fact that Drew Brees had just won a Super Bowl at the helm of the high-octane New Orleans Saints offense. And four games into his first season, Carroll traded for the guy he believed would help get his ground game going, seemingly ignoring that Lynch had rushed for only 614 yards since the start of 2009 and had fallen behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in Buffalo’s backfield.
It didn’t matter that Lynch had been the 12th overall pick just three years prior, or that Carroll had established himself as a winner during his run at USC. This was never going to work; and when Lynch averaged a career-low 3.5 yards per carry in 12 games with the Seahawks, that sentiment seemed to be confirmed. The Marshawn Experiment had been a failure, and with Lynch set to hit free agency, Seattle fans were more than ready to move on.
But by chance of playing in the NFL’s worst division, Seattle secured a home playoff game with a 7-9 record, and faced off against none other than Brees himself. It was the defending champs vs. the worst playoff team ever, and the writing was on the wall. Until Marshawn Lynch took a handoff on second-and-ten, rumbled 67 yards for a score and changed football in Seattle forever.
That play, dubbed the “Beast Quake,” literally caused the earth to shake. And it also shook something loose in Seahawks fans. Much like Edgar Martinez’s series-winning double against the Yankees, Lynch’s run legitimized Seattle as a team that would battle to the bloody end, that wouldn’t back down from any challenge, no matter the odds. And if that was the only thing he ever accomplished in a Seahawks uniform, he’d still be one of the franchise’s all-time greats.
Of course, we know he kept going, and his NFL run lasted until the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50, where, in a matter befitting Beast Mode, Lynch announced his retirement with a tweet. (One imagines that if the Seahawks had made it that far, he still would have retired mid-game.) Still just 29 years old, Lynch finishes as the 36th-leading rusher in NFL history, and tied for 24th in rushing touchdowns with Hall of Famers Earl Campbell and Leroy Kelly. As the himself-pin of Carroll’s run-first offense, Lynch went to four straight Pro Bowls from 2011-14, and rushed for more yards and touchdowns than any other player during that time.
As a postseason legend, Lynch retires eighth all-time in playoff rushing yards, behind six Hall of Fame running backs and Terrell Davis (who probably should be in Canton as well). He is one of only ten players in the Super Bowl era to rush for at least nine playoff touchdowns and again, the only other one not in the Hall is Davis.
Certainly his career numbers will earn him Hall of Fame consideration, as will the fact that he led the league in rushing touchdowns in both seasons that the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl. But above all else, his case for canonization can be summed up thusly: How can you possibly imagine pro football from 2010 to present without Beast Mode?
From Beast Quake 1 to Beast Quake 2, from “I’m just about that action, boss” to “I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” from Skittles to grills to Conan, Lynch never strayed far from the forefront of fan consciousness, which is pretty amazing considering he rarely spoke with the media and didn’t seem overly concerned with the way he was viewed by the general public. Like he once said, “I know I’m gonna get got, but I’m gonna get mine more than I get got, though.”
And he proved that in retirement. Marshawn Lynch exited on his own terms. He retired from the NFL without uttering a single word, lending more credence to the idea that he’s much more calculating that anyone seems willing to believe.
And while it seems odd to sum up the legacy of a player who clearly doesn’t give a shit how he will be remembered, as a Seahawks fan, I feel Lynch is owed that much. So let me say that he will go down in history as one of the franchise’s best (and most beloved) players, a guy who helped Seattle fans learn how to believe in a brighter future, and how to keep cheering even when it appeared things were about to collapse. Because Marshawn always kept grinding. Marshawn always stayed on his feet.
He should be remembered as one of the greatest running backs of all time because of how dominant he was during the early 2010s. And he should be celebrated as one of the greatest NFL characters of all time, too, because few others have ever fashioned a more iconoclastic career. After all, Marshawn Lynch is the rarest of things: He is not just a name, he’s a moniker, the kind that resonated beyond the world of football.
He will always be Beast Mode. And Seattle fans will never forget him. Neither will the rest of the NFL.