Some people might not understand why others look at the NFL through a statistical perspective. It’s not because it makes them feel smarter than the general public, or NFL coaches, or general managers. (I mean, I can’t speak for everyone, that might be the case for a few).
It’s because it’s actually fun to watch a game and attempt to quantify what happened on the field.
That’s right, nerds are not incapable of having fun. And the most fun thing that happened on a football field in recent memory was seeing Marshawn Lynch walk out of the tunnel at CenturyLink for the first time in 1,505 days.
He didn’t lead the Seahawks to an NFC West title in Week 17. There was no “should’ve given it to Marshawn” redemption story (though not for lack of trying), and there was no new groin-grabbingly good touchdown run to seal a game. In fact, Marshawn Lynch’s rushing opportunities have so far resulted in a negative EPA for the Seahawks, prompting the ugly, even if perhaps correct, assumption that the Seahawks would be better if they haven’t signed him.
But at the end of the day, none of that matters. And not in the “running backs don’t matter” sense of the term. None of it matters because Marshawn Lynch embodies what we all love about football. I didn’t fall in love with the sport because I watched a team utilize data to gain a slight competitive advantage over their opponent, and I’m guessing you didn’t either. Watching your team win games is fun, it’s true, but by the very nature of sports, there is around a 97% chance your team won’t win a championship in any given year. More often than not, the season will end disappointing you as a fan. And yet we come back.
Marshawn Lynch is a reason we come back. There has never been, and never will be, another player quite like him. His interviews generally amount to half a dozen words, and yet we still feel like we know him. I mean, who among us, if presented the opportunity, wouldn’t do everything in their power to snag a free bottle of whiskey while hucking Skittles at adoring fans?
But he’s also more than we will ever be. He’s the guy that every youth running back wants to become. He has his own superhero backstory. Whether he intends for this to happen or not, he’s a role model, and a damn good one.
Which brings me back to his return in the final regular season game against the 49ers. Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown, but that wasn’t the most important moment of the night.
Travis Homer, the sixth round rookie that fought his way to RB4 on the depth chart to start the season, got to play a game with Lynch as a teammate. Lynch’s 67-yard Beastquake run that caused his fame to skyrocket happened when Homer was in 7th grade. If you told 12-year old Travis Homer that eventually the pair would be suiting up side by side for the Seahawks heading into the playoffs, I doubt he would have believed you. And yet it happened, and we were all blessed by this pure, beautiful moment. And it happened again on wild card weekend.
If that smile on Homer’s face doesn’t melt your heart, I feel sorry for you.
Marshawn doesn’t just lift up his teammates either. He knows the city of Seattle loves him, and he seems to genuinely love us back. After playing against San Francisco, he let Seahawks fans know it in the most Marshawn Lynch way possible.
Three years ago this Wednesday, Marshawn Lynch didn’t get on the team bus to go to a playoff game in Minnesota. A week later, he made it to Carolina and touched the ball just 8 times. The Seahawks lost, and the increasing feeling that I’d seen the last carry from one of the franchise’s all-time greats filled me with dread. The next month he tossed his cleats over a telephone wire and confirmed what we all knew but refused to believe. Marshawn Lynch was never going to play in Seattle again.
Here we are, four years, several starting running backs later, and Marshawn came back from the dead. We got to see one more genuine Beastmode touchdown, in that perfect number 24 Seahawks jersey, and in a playoff game no less.
There will never be another feeling quite like watching Lynch come to a full stop in a pile of bodies only to exit from the other side, victorious. No choreographed celebration will match the cordial handshakes Lynch shares with his offensive line after each touchdown. He is a remarkable talent paired with a singular personality, and he is ours to love.
Marshawn won’t be the Lynchpin that turns this team into a Super Bowl bound juggernaut, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter, because he has already reminded us that football can be just plain fun.