NEWARK, N.J. — The scene bordered on the absurd. Super Bowl Media Day is a circus, and the most spellbinding performance came from a mime.
Dozens of reporters pressed in tight to see the show. They were transfixed on the mysterious man hidden underneath a hood and gold-rimmed sunglasses.
He stared back at them – or at least it appeared that way. The shades hid Marshawn Lynch’s true focus. It could have been anywhere else, which is where it looked like he’d rather be.
Ironically, by not talking, Lynch had become the talk. The Seattle Seahawks’ star running back had unwittingly become the ringleader of the media circus.
To be clear, Lynch wasn’t quiet the entire time. He spent a little more than 6 minutes of the hour-long media session on the floor of the Prudential Center answering questions, before his aversion to the whole process won out.
“I won’t be satisfied with this until it’s all over. When we win, that’s when I’ll be satisfied,” Lynch said, when asked if he’s been able to enjoy the moment. “Until then, I’ve got work, but I appreciate all this. Y’all have a good day.”
With that, he was out. He ducked behind a makeshift Super Bowl XLVIII backdrop, but returned later, lingering at the very edge of the fenced-off area where Seahawks players were speaking.
At that point, Randy Moss, the former receiver who now works for the NFL Network, came over to say hello, but had to first assure Lynch that “I ain’t got no camera!”
Lynch did eventually give a two-minute interview to Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders for the NFL Network. He signed a few autographs for some enterprising youngsters who slipped by security long enough to get his attention.
But mostly, he just stood. The whole thing was fascinating to observe. But really, so is Marshawn Lynch. “He’s a guy that you’re automatically put off by when you see him and some of the things that he does,” said running back Fred Jackson, who’s maintained a close friendship with Lynch since their time together with the Bills. “But once you really get to know him, you know that he’s a guy that cares deeply about doing whatever it takes to win and doing whatever he can to help his teammates, put them in the best situation. He’s a consummate team player.”
That’s the thing about Lynch. His teammates and coaches adore him.
“I had him for three years. I love him. I have tremendous respect for him,” said Denver Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville, who held the same position with the Bills from 2004-08. “I love how he approaches the game, how he plays the game. We’re still friends. We still text all the time and talk and things. He’s a tremendous young person and I think so highly of him.”
Studesville said Lynch lived two doors above him when they were in Buffalo together.
“He’s got a great personality, a huge heart. Around me, he’s a big kid,” Studesville said. “He was welcome at my house any time and I loved having him. He was fun to be around, just a good person.”
To many who know him, Lynch is extended family.
“I block so hard for him because I really, truly feel like he’s a brother to me,” Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson said. “You just want to protect him.”
Loved like a brother
The Bills’ Jackson likewise referred to Lynch as a “little brother.”
“He was constantly at our house, around my kids. That’s somebody that I’ll always be a friend to and I’ll always have a great relationship with,” he said. “I think that anybody who gets to know him knows that he’s somebody that you’d want to be around.”
But that’s the hard part. Lynch has made it perfectly clear that he’s not interested in letting people into his life. For not talking to the media at all this season, he was fined $50,000 by the NFL. That fine, however, was not collected – on the condition Lynch fulfill his media requirements going forward.
Lynch was deemed to have done enough to satisfy the league Tuesday, as NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told ESPN.com “players are required to participate, and he participated.”
The Pro Football Writers Association, however, disagreed. In a statement released Wednesday morning, the PFWA said it is “extremely disappointed in the lack of meaningful access to Lynch.”
“Several of our long-standing and high-profile members were appalled by Mr. Lynch’s conduct and refusal to answer any questions,” PFWA President D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote in the statement. “We find the statement by the league that ‘Players are required to participate and he participated’ to be an affront to our membership. However, we are encouraged that the league will continue to closely monitor this situation.”
Lynch’s meeting with the media Wednesday once again lasted less than 7 minutes.
“I really don’t have too much to say, boss. I really don’t,” he said, when asked about the media attention he’s receiving. “I appreciate it, but I don’t get it. I’m just here so I won’t get fined, boss. That’s the only reason I’m here.”
A man of action
Lynch went without the sunglasses Wednesday, and it was clear to see how uncomfortable he was.
At Media Day, Lynch explained why he shuns the spotlight.
“I’m just about action. You say ‘hut’ and there’s action,” he said. “All the unnecessary talk, it don’t do nothing for me. I appreciate that people want to hear from me, but I just go to work and do my thing, you feel me?”
That work ethic is just part of what makes Lynch such a favorite among teammates. They say he’s funny. They say he’s caring. They say that’s the “real” Marshawn.
But Jackson knows that the public perception of Lynch can be easily misconstrued.
“One of the things that’s a thorn in his side is the way he is with media. Any time you have that type of relationship, you’re kind of standoffish with the media, you don’t get portrayed the way that you want to be portrayed,” Jackson said. “That’s definitely something he can work on. I’m not sure he will, though, after seeing how he was at Media Day.
“Outside of that, he does tremendous things. He’s one of the first guys that you can call if you need something. He’ll be there for you. Anybody that’s ever played on a team with him knows that’s the type of player you can expect to have and type of guy you can expect him to be.”
Jackson said he used to take it upon himself to try to get Lynch to open up more.
“There was one point where I did step in and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do this interview.’ I was one of the guys that he would listen to,” Jackson said. “He’d then go and do a couple interviews here and there. I think that’s something you definitely need to do. If I was around him more, I definitely think I could have that effect on him, where I could get him to talk more.
“But it’s one of the things where, I’ve also kind of just took the high road. If it’s something he doesn’t want to do, it’s his decision.”
It’s one the Seahawks are fine with.
“I heard he did a great six minutes,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Some comedians make a career off of that.”
Carroll called Lynch a “great competitor” and “incredible” football player.
“He’s a great team member. He takes great care of himself,” the coach said. “He’s just not real comfortable being in these settings.”
All was decidedly not great during Lynch’s tumultuous three-plus seasons with the Bills.
After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, he slumped to just 450 yards in 13 games in 2009, the year Jackson emerged as the starter.
But it was the off-the-field issues that really became a problem.
Lynch missed the first three games in 2009 due to an NFL suspension handed down after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge in California.
Nine months prior, he was given a traffic violation after striking a woman with his SUV on Chippewa Street and leaving the scene.
There were other transgressions, too, including an allegation by the wife of a Buffalo police sergeant that Lynch stole $20 from her at a TGI Friday’s in Hamburg in January 2010. No charges were ultimately filed in that case, but enough damage was done.
The Bills drafted C.J. Spiller in the first round in April 2010, and three’s a crowd in a backfield. Lynch was traded four games into the 2010 season.
“With the run-ins that he had, I know he’s not that type of person,” Jackson said. “But you’ve got to be held accountable for the things that you do.”
Starting over in Seattle
Lynch welcomed the ticket out of Buffalo.
“It was an opportunity for me to go and see if there was something else out there. I’m glad I got the chance to do that,” he said. “I’m just pleased with the opportunity I have to be a part of this. I just rolled with my gut, straight up. I took that feeling right then and there that this was the best situation.”
In joining the Seahawks, Lynch moved much closer to his hometown of Oakland, Calif. Where he’s from is a huge part of who he is.
“He’s very Oakland, and it’s kinda comical sometimes,” Seahawks receiver Golden Tate said of Lynch, who has a giant “OAKLAND” tattoo across his chest. “The music he listens to, everything about him, we laugh about it.”
Lynch has given back to his hometown by creating the Fam 1st Family Foundation along with his cousin, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Josh Johnson.
The foundation offers literacy programs and scholarships to underprivileged youth in the Bay Area.
“You can tell how much he’s matured and what type of direction he wants to go in,” said Jackson, who has an invitation from Lynch to come to Sunday’s game. “It makes you proud of the player he’s become on the field and the person he’s become off the field.”
Lynch, 27, hasn’t entirely kept his nose clean with the Seahawks. He has a trial coming up next month for a July 2012 arrest in his hometown for suspicion of DUI.
The Seahawks’ workhorse
On the field, however, his career has blossomed. After a slow start with Seattle (he gained just 573 yards in 12 games following the trade, an average of 3.5 yards per carry) he has become the engine that makes the Seahawks go.
Over the final nine games of the 2011 season, Lynch carried the ball for more than 100 yards six times. He signed a four-year contract extension after the season potentially worth more than $30 million.
With the team fully invested in him, in each of the last two seasons, he’s carried the ball more than 300 times, for a combined 2,847 yards and 23 touchdowns. In Seattle’s two postseason wins, he’s averaged 5 yards a rush, accounting for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s a gooooood running back,” said former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, now an analyst for Fox Sports. “You know from Buffalo about the Beast Mode he goes into. He catches the football well. He blocks well, and he’s tough to bring down. The second effort is huge with him.
“There’s a lot of physical running backs in the NFL, some big boys, 220, 230 pounds. He’s only, like, 210, 215. But he is the most physical running back in the NFL, the way he breaks tackles and carries guys. No one guy is going to tackle him. There’s three or four guys pretty much every play bringing him down. His strength, he just runs through most tackles. His will. He does not go down.”
That running style has endeared Lynch to Seattle’s 12th Man. After touchdown runs, fans litter the field with Skittles, Lynch’s favorite candy.
Lynch doesn’t feel his unwillingness to talk with the media damages his relationship with fans.
“If y’all say y’all is our bridge from the players to the fans, and the fans really aren’t tripping, then what’s the point?” he asked about media coverage. “What’s the purpose? They’ve got my back and I appreciate that, but I don’t get what’s the bridge then built for.”
The Seahawks are again available to the media today, the final time before Sunday’s game. Once again, the awkwardness will be painful for all involved.
After that, the attention will shift to Seahawks vs. Broncos. For all involved, that’s for the best.