NEWARK, N.J. — The biggest unknown entering the Seahawks’ portion of Media Day was not, ‘What will Richard Sherman say?’ It was, ‘What will Marshawn Lynch do?’
Lynch, a bulldozing running back who likes to chomp on Skittles in between embarrassing defenders and scoring touchdowns, loathes being interviewed as much as he loves devouring colored candy. Late this season, the NFL fined him $50,000 for failing to fulfill his media obligations, although the discipline was rescinded on appeal as long as there were no incidents going forward.
Which brings us to Media Day during Super Bowl week, the circus that compels even clowns to shake their heads. Players are required to meet with reporters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to speak. Lynch had been minimal with his words since being fined, so there was legitimate intrigue as to how he would conduct himself at the Prudential Center on Tuesday afternoon.
Would he go out of his way to limit his responses to as few words as possible, as was the case after postseason wins over the Saints and 49ers? Would he be engaging and humorous, like in videos that can be found on YouTube? Or would he fail to make himself available, something his teammates did not rule out?
It was such an issue that commissioner Roger Goodell and Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith discussed the matter leading up to media day. Ultimately it was determined that Lynch, one of the team’s most popular players, would not have his own podium, like other in-demand players. Instead he would stand behind a metal railing with the lesser-known players who needed a name tag for anyone to recognize them.
“I think you’re just taking it wrong,” he said of wanting to avoid the media. “It doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I’m just about that action. You say ‘hut’ and there’s action. All the unnecessary talk — it don’t do nothing for me. I appreciate people wanting to hear from me, but I just go to work and do my thing. Chilling, you feel me?”
For perspective, that comment was longer than some of his recent media sessions. All things considered, he was sensational Tuesday. Despite being hit in the face by a boom mic less than a minute after arriving — an action that would’ve caused him to leave under other circumstances — he answered questions for roughly six-and-a-half minutes, then departed with a variation of his customary, “Appreciate y’all.”
He was in good spirits from start to finish, smiling repeatedly to reveal a gold-capped tooth and staring from behind rust-tinted shades to acknowledge the fans in the upper seats. Later, he reiterated his love for Sundays — game days — but not the other days of the week that require him to step outside of his comfort zone.
“Friendship and football are all that matter to him,” said Chester Pitts, a retired offensive lineman and former teammate. “The man will give you the shirt off his back, no questions asked. But he hates the media. His words would be, ‘F— y’all. I don’t know you.’ But for his team, he’ll bite, scratch, claw, give everything in his body to win. It’s not about him. It’s about the love he has for his teammates. I love that guy.”
It’s hard to know Lynch and not like him, even when he’s being surly. There are individuals that you can tell have a good spirit, a prideful spirit, even if they won’t allow you behind the curtain to see it. Just ask Buddy Nix.
Nix is the man who traded Lynch from Buffalo to Seattle in 2010 for a fourth- and fifth-round pick. You’d think that Nix would have hard feelings toward Lynch, a former first-round pick who requested a trade literally on the first day that Nix was hired as general manager. Lynch and his agent flew to Buffalo, sat in front of Nix, and said they felt it would be better if he were with another team. Lynch even skipped a part of the offseason workouts when Nix refused to deal him.
Finally, 10 months later, both agreed that the situation wasn’t working. After talks with several teams, Nix pulled the trigger on a deal with the Seahawks. He called Lynch into his office, had him take a seat, then informed him of the news. Tears began to fall down the Oakland native’s face. Excitement? Disappointment? Both?
“I said, ‘What is it? This is what you wanted to start with,’” Nix told SI.com this week. “He said, ‘I came here to get this team turned around and see it through and get it in the playoffs, and I failed at that.’ It really bothered him. But that’s the kind of kid he is. It was such a culture shock for him coming to Buffalo, but he had a lot of pride — still does — and didn’t want to fail. He’s a team guy and wants to win. That day told me a lot about him. I really liked Marshawn because when you lined him up out there, you knew you were going to get everything he had.”
There is so much to like about Lynch that it’s disappointing he doesn’t allow the world in. Google his name on YouTube and you’ll see more of his other side, particularly the playful segments when he refuses to speak to teammate Michael Robinson on The Real Rob Report. He’s fun … and funny. He loves his family in particular, and kids in general. He’s also fiercely protective of his hometown and his team, because, like him, so many of the guys had to overcome obstacles to reach the Super Bowl.
For him, it was evading the gangs and drugs of Oakland, and not having a father as a constant part of his life. For some teammates, on a less-dramatic scale, it was not hearing their names called during the draft, or not hearing them called until much later than they expected. Four of the Seahawks’ wide receivers entered the league as rookie free agents, and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman wasn’t selected until the fifth round. There also was Robinson, his fullback and close friend, who lost 30 pounds last summer and suffered from kidney and liver failure after a bad reaction to Indocin, a prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine.
These are all players and situations with which Lynch can relate. You hear it when he speaks, for instance, about Robinson. “That’s a mentor for me. He’s got a lot of knowledge about the game, and he plays with passion. That’s something I can identify with.”
With the exception of Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, there isn’t a more physical running back than Lynch. He has a strong lower body and a powerful stiff-arm, which is a lethal combination for defenders. He has been at his best in the postseason, where in six career games he has run for at least 100 yards in four, including both games this postseason.
“If I go old-school guy, he’s got an old-school game like Jim Brown,” said Broncos outside linebacker Shaun Phillips. “If you think of a new-school player, you have to say Adrian Peterson. He doesn’t have the breakaway speed that Adrian has, but he definitely is tough to bring down and he’s a battering ram. But if we’ve got 11 guys hitting him, we like our chances.”
Lynch won’t delve deeply into his feelings about being in the Super Bowl. He’ll tell you it’s something he has dreamed about since he was playing Pop Warner football in West Oakland on a team called the Saints. That was the first time he told his mother he was going to make it to the NFL, and his dream from that point on was to play on the final Sunday of a season. His athletic highlight to this point was his final game in high school. He ran for 144 yards and scored five touchdowns to lead Oakland Tech to a 55-47 victory over Skyline in the Silver Bowl to decide the section champion.
“That’s pretty big-time for me,” he said.
Winning a Super Bowl presumably would be even bigger. But until that happens: “I’ve still got work to do,” he said.
He then did to the media what he does to so many defenders — left them looking at his back as he moved on.