RENTON, Wash. – Poets and philosophers frequently go unappreciated or misunderstood in their time.
That might be the case with Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, whose public expressions are mostly limited to extraordinary game-day achievements, eloquent exertion and a running style that is fluent and exclamatory.
While quarterback Russell Wilson often says that he likes to be “the calm in the storm,” Lynch prefers, simply, to be the storm itself. Beast Mode, as he calls it.
Saturday against New Orleans, he was the game-saving offensive force, rushing for a Seahawks playoff-record 140 yards. These kinds of performances the past three seasons have made Lynch the heart of the team, and his toughness is the very embodiment of the Seahawks’ identity.
But it’s others who must supply the Seahawks’ voice.
And there are those suited to the task. If you ask Wilson a question about a game, for instance, he might start his extensive analysis by providing the dimensions of the football field.
Cornerback Richard Sherman, meanwhile, has at times offered verbatim quotes from Einstein and executed improvisational dance steps to accompany his answers. He once remarkably identified the precise formula responsible for the global appeal of the National Football League: “Adrenaline and testosterone.”
But Lynch had not uttered a word until recently, when forced by a looming $50,000 fine from the league for his unwillingness to adhere to its policy on media cooperation.
Some suggest his analytic contributions are not worth the effort.
I asked him for only one comment the past two seasons, when fullback Michael Robinson, his traditional lead blocker, returned to the roster. Knowing how important Robinson had been to Lynch, I sought a quick comment for a column on Robinson.
It went like this (near his locker, during appropriate media-access time): “Marshawn, would you have a second for a question about …”
“I’m good, boss,” he interjected.
I assumed he must have anticipated I was going to ask of his well-being, and he supplied a peremptory answer. As for the “boss” part, he might have, as so many others do, confused me with Bruce Springsteen.
OK, no sweat. The brief rejection, though, reminded me of those who are tight-lipped by design. Chinese philosopher Laozi, for instance, wrote: “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.” Silence, Laozi also added, is a source of great strength.
So, I was compelled to consider the fact that Lynch’s comments are rooted in ancient Eastern philosophy and not, as I thought, in contemporary East Bay truculence.
And because the league has pressured him into making public statements the past few weeks, it has given us the chance to study them, to sort through the sparse rhetoric and the occasional existentialism that defines his minimalist doctrine.
Simply, perhaps it hasn’t been Lynch’s unwillingness to speak that’s the problem, but our collective inability to understand his message – to translate the Tao of the Beast.
For instance, as commonly attributed to Buddha: “A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.” A running back gains no yards with his words.
During the bye week before the divisional playoff game against New Orleans, Lynch was asked of the benefit of spending time practicing against the Seahawks’ own talented defense. “When you get to practice against the best, it brings the best out of you,” Lynch said. Or was it Buddha? (“Better to conquer yourself than win a thousand battles.”)
When asked successive questions about the receivers, Wilson, the offensive line, the fullbacks, Lynch provided successive answers that sounded like a mantra. “I love them, I love him, I love them, I love them.”
In this case, he might have been coached by the Dalai Lama, who said, “I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.”
These exposures have not only given us insight to what he’s thinking, but also how he thinks.
Asked one time how he was feeling, he answered, “Smooth.” In this case, he was asked for a qualitative assessment, and he responded with a texture. Upon further consideration, perhaps we should expect an elusive running back to be a master of such non-linear thought.
Besides, Buddha suggested: “Better than a thousand hollow words is one that brings peace.”
So, yeah, “smooth” works.
His existential side came out when asked whether he felt the responsibility to carry the offense. “I just do my job, and everything else takes care of itself,” he said. Or, as French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out: “Commitment is an act, not a word.”
And it is this, Lynch’s obvious profound commitment, that far exceeds the value of his few words.
If the Seahawks defeat San Francisco in the NFC championship game on Sunday, it likely will be a function of Lynch’s jackhammer rushes and the force of his iron will.
And as a reward, he will be forced on Tuesday of Super Bowl week to mount a podium in front of several thousand of the world’s reporters, where he will be tasked with answering questions for a full hour.
It might be more illustrative to those who wish to understand him, to just have a screen show an hour of video highlighting his best rushes.
Because, in the words of an old Chinese proverb: One showing is worth a hundred sayings.