Early in his NFL career, an overzealous Bobby Wagner tried to punch the ball out of Marshawn Lynch’s hands in practice, but instead of forcing a fumble, Wagner dislocated Lynch’s finger.
Lynch held up his hand, Wagner recalled, and said “See, this is why I told you you need to stop going so damn hard.”
But despite an accidental injury, Wagner never had a chance to actually tackle Lynch in their four seasons as teammates, so when the Seahawks face the Raiders in Oakland on Sunday, the All-Pro middle linebacker is very much looking forward to testing himself against one of the NFL’s hardest backs to bring down.
“Never got a chance to tackle Marshawn,” Wagner said. “He talked a lot of trash, so we get to finally go against each other. It’s going to be fun.”
Wagner, like just about anyone else who played with Lynch or coached him during his six seasons in Seattle, had nothing but great things to say about the running back, both who he is as a player, but especially who he was as a teammate and leader. So while everyone will be focused on trying to beat Lynch and the Raiders, they’re also looking forward to seeing him on Sunday.
“I have tremendous respect for that guy and it’ll be fun playing against him,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I like playing against guys I like.”
And facing Lynch isn’t just about nostalgia; even at 32, he’s still a big part of Oakland’s offense, leading the Raiders with 331 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 77 carries.
“He looks good, he looks really good,” Carroll said. “He looks healthy and aggressive. He wants the ball more, you can tell that. His running style and everything about him looks good. He’s caught some balls already. It’s a well-rounded offense for him with Tom Cable there as well knowing how to bring out his strengths. They’ve got a nice running game and he looks great.”
Added Wagner, “He looks like he got faster. When he was here, he wasn’t breaking away from people; now it looks like he can break away from people. He looks quicker, he looks stronger, so it’s going to be a dope challenge if they give him the ball a lot. They haven’t really been giving him the ball all that much. I don’t know if it’s because of scores or whatever, but I definitely know he’s going to want to run the ball against us, so we’ve got to be ready.”
Everyone who was around between 2010 and 2015 has a favorite Lynch run, be it his famous “Beast Quake” touchdown run in a playoff win over New Orleans or his equally impressive touchdown run at Arizona when, as Wagner put it, Lynch was, “throwing Pro-Bowlers across the field,” before punctuating his run with a now well-known, um, grab. But what’s telling is the way everyone is quick to point to the person Lynch was off the field when asked about their favorite memories of him.
“He was amazing because he just brought a uniqueness, he was old school,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “You live in a world where everybody is projecting this façade, you see it on Instagram you see it on Facebook, you see it on Twitter, everybody is trying to project this façade, and he was not about that. He was genuinely who he was whether it was in the media, at my house on my birthday, in the locker room, out on the street with his family, it didn’t matter. He was who he was and I think that speaks more volumes about the fun or the type of person that he was that he brought to this locker room more so than anything.”
Added guard J.R. Sweezy, who was teammates with Lynch for four seasons. “He really cares about his teammates, he’s a great guy. Just a great overall guy, not only a football player, but I have a lot of respect for him as a man.”
That respect players have for Lynch is why there will be nothing but love for him this weekend, even if he now plays for another team having retired, then come out of retirement to be traded to his hometown Oakland Raiders.
“You guys make a big deal out of football, but truth be told at the end of the day when we are on our deathbeds, football means nothing,” Baldwin said. “It really means nothing at the end of the day. I was talking to K.J. (Wright) about this earlier today, I don’t care how many tackles he makes or how any interceptions he has, I want to know is he a good husband, is he a good father for his children, those are the most important things. So honestly I don’t really care about how it ended (for Lynch in Seattle).
“Because I know the man. My relationship with Marshawn and his relationship with guys that he has spent time with in this locker room, that doesn’t change, no matter if he is in a different uniform, in a different country, it doesn’t matter, it’s still Marshawn, and at the end of the day that’s our brother.”
Asked for a favorite Lynch story, Baldwin pointed to the running back’s unselfishness, recalling a locker-room interaction between Lynch and a young receiver.
“Marshawn had a backpack, and the young receiver was like ‘Dang, that’s a nice backpack, where did you get it from?’ And he literally takes it off his back, dumps out all his stuff and says ‘Here you can have it,’ grabbed his stuff and goes to his locker. Just as simple and plain as that. With Marshawn it didn’t matter who you were if you respected and love him for him as a person and who he was he would literally give you his backpack off his back. I thought that was just the epitome of the man that he was.”
That young receiver, as you might have guessed was Baldwin, who eventually passed that same backpack on to Paul Richardson.
Yet as much as the Seahawks still revere Lynch, they’ll do everything they can to stop him on Sunday. And no, defensive players won’t be conflicted when it comes time to tackle an old friend.
“Not him,” Wagner said with a grin. “He talked so much trash. I told him, if we ever go against each other, I’m going to make sure I hit him.”