CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Marshawn Lynch weaved through the locker room Sunday with his arms sticking out, clearly imitating an airplane.
And while there probably wasn’t a whole lot of thought behind the motion, there may have been some symbolism.
It was with the Seahawks, after all, that Lynch truly got to spread his wings – emerging as an A-list running back who put up A-plus statistics. And it is from the Seahawks that Lynch will likely depart, as he jets off to either a new team or retirement.
Yes, the general feeling is that Beast Mode played his final game for Seattle on Sunday. Lynch will be 30 in April, and cutting him would save the Hawks $6.5 million in salary-cap money.
But if and when he does go, there will come a question that has no simple reply: What is Marshawn Lynch’s legacy as a Seahawk?
If we were to focus squarely on his on-field achievements, the answer would be “the greatest running back in franchise history.” The numbers alone make that much clear.
Lynch put up at least 1,204 yards in each of his four full seasons in Seattle, including 1,590 in 2012. He also had at least 11 touchdowns per year over that stretch, and led the NFL in 2013 and 2014.
More than anything, though, Lynch allowed the Hawks to thrive with a run-first offense in a pass-first league. Seattle would wear down defenses one Beast bash at a time and keep turnovers to a bare minimum.
Simply put, the Seahawks wouldn’t have gone to back-to-back Super Bowls without him. But with Lynch, that’s about the only thing that can be put simply.
For better or for worse (and which one depends on who you ask), Lynch’s off-the-field actions were every bit as noteworthy as his contributions between the lines. Nobody in sports history has gained such notoriety by simply refusing to talk.
It was frustrating for those of us with notepads and microphones, but entertaining as hell to all who looked on. It also sparked fervent discussion as to the media’s role in this increasingly digital world.
Lynch may not have intended for his defiance to become such a phenomenon, but it amplified his celebrity in ways first downs or broken tackles never could. “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” was probably the most memorable sports quote from 2015.
Still, while those anti-establish antics were generally embraced, you have to think others weren’t.
Lynch, remember, was the Seahawk who wore Kam Chancellor’s jersey at practice during his holdout, which couldn’t have pleased Hawks coach Pete Carroll. He also mocked Seattle’s final play from last year’s Super Bowl on an episode of “The League.”
What prompted the most eyebrow-raises, however, was that Marshawn did all of his rehab in California and never traveled with the team when he was hurt. From the outside looking in – and that’s the only perspective non-Seahawks employees have – it appeared there were two sets of team rules: those for Lynch, and those for everybody else.
But even if that’s true, should that negatively affect the way that he is remembered? If Lynch’s behavior annoyed his teammates, the answer would probably be yes, but it always seemed like he was one of the most respected players on his team.
The thing is, you can’t dole out punishment the way Lynch did without absorbing it as well. He ran angrily, relentlessly – as if being tackled was some great stain upon his dignity.
On his first carry this season, Marshawn dragged about six St. Louis Rams with him for 8 yards before the play was ruled dead. And his Beast Quake run against New Orleans – not to mention the sequel three years later vs. Arizona – is in the “Nobody Else on the Planet Could Have Done That” realm.
There are plenty of diva-like athletes who back their attitudes up with world-class play, but few do it with the brute force that Lynch does. In other words, even if there were jealous teammates, few wanted to trade places with him.
Obviously, Lynch has a different type of appeal than someone like Russell Wilson. If Marshawn ever poses on a beach or steps up to the podium in a scarf, consider that part of the Apocalypse’s opening ceremony.
He isn’t necessarily the hero, nor is he the villain. He’s just somebody who always insisted on doing things his way.
But when it comes to his legacy, you have to acknowledge all the good Lynch did for the Seahawks – all the yards he gained, the linebackers he pummeled, and the wins he helped produce. This organization wouldn’t be where it is without him.
Few will dispute that, at certain times, having Lynch around was a burden. But at the end of the day, it’s best to remember him as the Beast.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.