It didn’t ruin my week when Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle running back known as Beast Mode, lapsed into Least Mode during Super Bowl media sessions. I trust it didn’t ruin your week, either, which is exactly the point. If Lynch isn’t smart enough to use the largest platform of his life — thousands of TV cameras, smart phones and tape recorders and the reporters attached to them — to tell America who he is and why we should invest our attention spans in him, that’s his prerogative.
“No need to talk about it. Was raised like that,” he said in one of his most expansive spurts. “Game time, though, I’ll be there.”
Deal. If Lynch produces Sunday night as maybe the most important of all Seahawks and leads his team to the championship, no one will recall or care that he lasted barely six minutes for each of two NFL-mandated interview gatherings. But because he was so grumpily reticent in those settings, and because he buried himself under his sweatshirt hood while teammates fulfilled obligations for an hour Tuesday and 75 minutes Wednesday, he only placed added pressure and scrutiny on his game-night performance. Should he fumble the ball in a critical moment, or not have the sort of commanding rushing game necessary to control the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field, well, I wouldn’t want to be Lynch afterward.
Not to rile up the Pro Football Writers of America, who exist in part to ensure player access for credible media and said Wednesday that some members are “appalled” by his conduct. But I don’t care if Lynch utters another public word. The issue is whether his stance detracts from his team’s preparation and performance, and based on his output as one of the league’s most productive and explosive backs, it hasn’t thus far. “He doesn’t feel comfortable in settings like this,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained. “And he doesn’t like to do things he’s told to do. Fortunately, it hasn’t been a factor for our team. In this setting, he becomes something of a recluse and he doesn’t want to be part of it. We try to respect him as much as we can.”
But a recluse, whether it’s Howard Hughes or a moody football star, tends to draw more attention simply out of curiosity. Why would a man who is so dynamic in his profession and so adored by Seattle fans — when he scores a touchdown, they litter the end zone with Skittles, his favorite candy treat — become such an uncooperative grouch when it comes to speaking to those fans via media? To emphasize his lack of interest, Lynch ends most answers, however brief, by saying, “Boss.”
“I’m just about action,” Lynch said. “You say, `hut,’ and there’s action. 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?”
I don’t, Boss. I don’t feel you.
Is he enjoying the Super Bowl at all? “A little bit,” he said. “I won’t be satisfied with this until it’s all over. When we win, that’s when I’ll be satisfied. Until then, I’ve got work, but I appreciate all this.
“Ya’ll have a good day.”
He was gone. That was Tuesday. Next day, Lynch turned surly at times and was so eager to flee the media that he climbed over chairs in an interview area. My gosh, could answering a few soft questions about your Skittles, your nickname, your back story and your first (and maybe only) Super Bowl really be that torturous? Somehow, the league is letting him slide though he refused to speak to Seattle reporters most of the regular season. He was fined $50,000 for that offense, but the commissioner’s office agreed to rescind it if he cooperated during the postseason. Showing up for about 13 minutes of an allotted two hours and 15 minutes isn’t the cooperation anyone had in mind.
“I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” Lynch said.
As he scowled in misery, his teammate and close friend, Michael Robinson, tried to help by injecting levity. A reporter asked Lynch, “Can you define Beast Mode and what it means to you?”
“It’s just a lifestyle,” mumbled Lynch, who then noticed Robinson pretending to be a reporter in the scrum.
I heard the tape. It’s hilarious. Here’s how the Associated Press described the scene, and as you read, notice how Robinson mocks Lynch by ending his responses with an emphatic “Boss.”
“Hey, what do you think of your fullback?” Robinson asked. “I hear he’s a cool brother.”
“No!” a grinning Lynch said.
What followed were a few more questions and brief, barely audible answers. That was Robinson’s cue. “I’m gonna slide up in this thing right now, just to break the monotony a little bit,” Robinson said. “You can direct your questions to me.”
And so it began.
A reporter asked Robinson how Lynch felt about his media responsibilities.
“He hasn’t talked to you guys most of his life,” Robinson said. “I think he just said that. He just wants to play ball — Boss.”
Another reporter repeated the question of how Lynch defines Beast Mode.
“It’s a lifestyle — Boss,” Robinson replied.
Robinson also was asked how Lynch feels about Skittles.
“He loves his power pellets before the game — Boss,” Robinson replied.
I couldn’t make this stuff up.
When they were joined by another teammate, Robert Turbin, the scene turned tense for a moment. “Why you wanna block me in, brother?” Lynch told Turbin.
Before you knew it, he was gone again, triggering the ire of the PFWA. Wrote president D. Orlando Ledbetter in a statement: “The Pro Football Writers of America, the official voice of pro football writers fighting and promoting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public, is extremely disappointed in the lack of meaningful access to Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch at the Super Bowl XLVIII media day on Tuesday. Several of our long-standing and high profile members were appalled by Mr. Lynch’s conduct and refusal to answer any questions.”
The organization wasn’t happy when a league spokesman told ESPN.com, “Players are required to participate and he participated.”
“We find the statement that by the league that `Players are required to participate and he participated’ to be an affront to our membership,” Ledbetter said. “However, we are encouraged that the league will continue to closely monitor this situation.”
In one sense, it seems an unnecessary distraction that could take a bad turn, particularly when you see Lynch snap at Turbin. But you also might say Lynch has taken pressure off his teammates by commanding headlines. Last week, Richard Sherman was lambasted for talking too much. Now, Beast Mode is lambasted for not talking enough.
There is one underlying reason why Lynch runs from the media like he’s running from the 49ers. He has a legal mess off the field, including an unresolved DUI case from an incident in northern California in July of 2012. His next court date is Feb. 21, and it won’t help his cause that he admitted to hitting a woman with his SUV in a Buffalo nightlife district in 2008 — he was playing for the Bills then — and then pleading guilty months later to a misdemeanor gun charge in Los Angeles. The NFL suspended him fpr three games in 2009, and the following year, the Bills traded him to Seattle for two low-end draft picks: a fourth-rounder and fifth-rounder.
Consider it a steal, a heist so sweet that the Seahawks and their fans are quick to forgive him for any misstep, big or small. But now that he has become the maximum story of Super Bowl week with the minimum number of words, the burden is on Marshawn Lynch to excel Sunday night in the Meadowlands.
You feel me, Boss?