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Matt Calkins: Nobody intrigues Seattle sports fans like Marshawn Lynch

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 1, 2020

Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, right, embraces former NFL player Chad Ochocinco before last Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers  in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, right, embraces former NFL player Chad Ochocinco before last Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – With Marshawn Lynch re-signing with the Seahawks, these past nine days have been among the wilder ones in franchise history. But they also confirmed something – that nobody intrigues Seattle sports fans quite like Beast Mode.

Right now, I’m picturing autograph tables in the middle of Pioneer Square. Ken Griffey Jr. is at one, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton are at another, Russell Wilson has one for himself, as do Sue Bird and Edgar Martinez. And then there’s Marshawn – however reluctantly – sitting at a table with a longer line than all of them.

He might not even be signing anything, but even the chance to get politely denied by Lynch may be appealing enough for the hundreds of thousands of fans he’s made in this town.

The page views suggest as much. As of Tuesday, six of the seven most-read stories on seattletimes.com over the past nine days centered on Lynch – all with numbers typically befitting championship games.

But this isn’t new. Even when Lynch was retired or playing with the Oakland Raiders, and the Seahawks were dealing with the theatrics of Richard Sherman or Michael Bennett or whatever angst players reportedly felt toward Russell Wilson, Marshawn still ruled the web.

A series of anecdotes on Lynch by former teammates in 2016? No. 1 on seattletimes.com for two days. Speculation on how Lynch would do when he returned to Oakland? Top of The Times’ Sports page as well. Lynch riding a BMX bike through Seattle with hundreds in tow last August? Well, you know that went to No. 1.

Beast Mode is basically a cheat code. Need 25,000 clicks in two hours? “Marshawn Lynch Did Not Make News Today” should suffice.

I’m not trying to make this an “inside the newsroom” column so much as I’m trying to underscore the man’s popularity. Then again, if you were at CenturyLink Field for Sunday night’s game, you wouldn’t need such an explanation.

The two loudest cheers that didn’t involve Seahawks touchdowns were 1) Lynch’s introduction alongside fellow running backs Travis Homer and Robert Turbin, and 2) Lynch’s first carry of the game. The loudest cheer at CenturyLink all season came when Lynch leaped into the end zone for a score at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

The prevailing opinion said the Lynch signing had just as much to do with providing a spark for the ailing Seahawks as it did with him filling a void at running back – and that TD fanned the spark into a full-fledged flame.

The man is simply inimitable.

Sure, much of Lynch’s popularity stems from him being the best running back in football from 2011-14, when the Seahawks went to back-to-back Super Bowls and won one. And honestly, his legend probably grew due to his being denied the ball on Seattle’s final offensive play in Super Bowl XLIX. But in terms of building a following, Marshawn’s between-the-lines prowess pales in comparison to his outside-the-lines antics.

He manages to produce viral quotes such as “I’m just ’bout that action, boss” while being the most tight-lipped athlete in sports. He’ll spend a day handing out Skittles in the Scottish village of Houston while spreading the word about the Super Bowl in Houston.

He’ll BMX through Seattle, play video games with Conan, and yes – miss a team bus, rehab in a different city, and go on “The League” to make fun of Pete Carroll calling a pass play.

On the surface, the actions of the anti-authoritarian Lynch may seem detrimental to morale, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find teammates who don’t love him. And fans? They see an All-Pro, Super Bowl champ who marches to the beat of his own subwoofer. He’ll have them forever.

Who knows how much farther this Beast Mode train will travel in Seattle? Could be one or two more games. Could be three. And if all the burning balls of gas align, it might just be four.

What is known is that nobody captivates folks in this town quite like Lynch. People automatically click when they see his name – and they read to the end, too.

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