Since Marshawn Lynch retired during Sunday night’s Super Bowl by tweeting a picture of his spikes hanging from a wire, I’ve gotten one question a couple times each day this week from across the country.
What was it like to cover him on a daily basis?
Better than most would have you believe.
The common narrative on the Seahawks’ unique, individualistic star running back and his relations with the media was the product of “national” reporters, guys and gals based in New York, Boston, Chicago, D.C., Florida -- everywhere, that is, but Seattle. The times he got fined by the NFL for not complying with media-access rules came after an out-of-town reporter got affronted Lynch didn’t speak following a road game in Kansas City, Charlotte, Washington or any other location that was shorter than flying to Seattle to cover one of his games. Such a reporter would complain to the league, which then warned and ultimately fined Lynch a couple times costing him up to six figures during the 2014 season. For a while after that, this ticked off more than a couple Seahawks teammates who saw “the media” costing Lynch cash for being himself.
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But the local beat writers who are in the Seahawks’ locker room just about every day from May minicamps through January playoff games and February Super Bowls had no issues personally with Lynch (despite what my e-mail inbox and Twitter feeds often claimed).
When he excelled -- which was often -- we wrote it. When teammates went on about what a great teammate he was, we wrote that. When Lynch practiced all week then told the team he wasn’t playing in the wild-card game at Minnesota and wasn’t even going on the trip last month, I wrote that.
When Lynch messed with Steven Hauschka’s hair and gave him a pick-me-up after he missed three field goals in a game at Arizona in December 2014, I wrote that, too.
That story came from having learned to constantly train binoculars on Lynch when he was not in the game. There was often a story, a funny or insightful one, in what Lynch did on the sidelines. Such as the time during the 2014 season he stayed outside in an Arrowhead Stadium tunnel in a 10-degree wind chill throughout halftime, while the rest of the Seahawks were inside warming for the coldest November game Kansas City ever had.
We understood the deal: Lynch didn’t want to talk to us; he didn’t want to be quoted in print, on television and on radio. Seattle and Tacoma reporters co-existed with him with this common understanding. When I made incidental eye contact with Lynch in passing in the locker room, around team headquarters or off the side of the practice field, we usually exchanged head nods, if that. And that was fine. I and my colleagues had 52 other Seahawks on the active roster plus an entire coaching staff to talk to. Often the subject was Lynch, the team’s foundation for the best string of seasons and only Super Bowl title in franchise history.
To be sure, covering Lynch wasn’t easy, and it was usually far from rewarding. The times he conducted forced interview sessions to follow the letter of NFL law -- non-answers drowned up by the music blaring from his locker stereo, his “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” at Super Bowl 49 -- were silly and frustrating. So was standing outside the back of the team’s headquarters on the Friday before the playoff game at Carolina. We inhaled bus exhaust last month waiting to ensure Lynch indeed got on a Seahawks’ bus to SeaTac Airport for what would be his final game. But that was part of this most unusual deal, too.
I explained this to my radio friend Nick Kapetan out of Midwest on the air this week:
One Wednesday in December, weeks into Lynch’s self-guided rehabilitation away from the team in his native Bay Area following abdominal surgery in Philadelphia, I was walking down a long hallway inside team headquarters. I was going to the indoor practice field for the end of the workout and subsequent interviews with offensive line coach Tom Cable and coordinator Darrell Bevell. When I turned the corner leading to the indoor field, I almost walked into Lynch. After weeks of coach Pete Carroll saying the running back was “off site” and “at large,” Lynch was standing with Seahawks’ communications staffer Matt Johnson, chuckling and talking in a low voice as he watched practice from the hallway through a tall window. We were both surprised to see each other, me far more so than him. We just nodded and I walked on to the field. I wrote that day he was inside team headquarters for what would be the only time in a 43-day span before he returned to practice before the playoff game at Minnesota in early January.
His teammates respected -- make that, loved -- Lynch. A week rarely went by without one marveling at how hard he ran, how he bulled through defenders, how he played hurt, how he gave his time, his money, even his Lamborghini to teammates.
They also admired him for being so much of an individual, thriving in Carroll’s accepting environment. They saw how Lynch hosted disadvantaged kids from his native Oakland, flew them up on his own dime, to attend walk-through practices, tour the locker room and meet Seahawks on Saturdays before home games. Lynch did this hosting on the day of the week the media wasn’t permitted to be at practice or in the locker room, so it happened mostly anonymously.
The Seahawks are now starting life without Lynch, something they didn’t have to address from when they traded for him in October 2010 until midway through this past season. It was the only injury-filled one of his nine-year career that should get him prime consideration for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thomas Rawls will be the new starter once the 2015 undrafted rookie revelation returns from torn ligaments and a broken ankle, perhaps this summer. Starting at the league’s scouting combine in less than two weeks, Seattle will likely seek young, relatively inexpensive backs behind Rawls -- not expensive Matt Forte, despite Friday’s latest blind-shot conjecture. The Seahawks will enjoy having the foundation of their running game making the league-minimum salary, enabling them to spend at other positions (defensive tackle? offensive line?).
But all the Seahawks’ upcoming shopping won’t be able to replace Lynch’s personality, and his teammates’ reverence for it inside the locker room.