Who could possibly have the gall — the sheer attention-seeking audacity — to announce his retirement in the middle of the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl in which he isn’t playing?
Well, for the second time in as many years, the eyes of the nation turned to Marshawn Lynch during the Super Bowl’s fourth quarter, and this time, it was to say farewell to Beast Mode, who went out in a way that was perhaps enigmatic of his entire career: with an announcement and attitude that would rub people the wrong way and seem almost sacrilegious to the moment had it been anyone else, but perfect for Lynch, a man that always strutted to his own beat, regardless of whatever anyone else said — and we loved him for it.
Today’s sports world is full of extravagant send-offs and farewell tours — from Kobe Bryant’s roller-coaster ride through the NBA this season to Mariano Rivera’s and Derek Jeter’s goodbye tours through the stadiums and cities of Major League Baseball.
All of those guys went (or will go out) on top, with fanfare and the adoring appreciation of fans surrounding them as they got one final moment in the spotlight — a moment with the spotlight truly reserved just for themselves, a moment that they can look back on and revel in as the culmination of all of their experiences playing their game at the highest level.
Marshawn Lynch, in contrast, never seemed to enjoy the spotlight, and he never seemed to seek it out — especially not for this announcement, for which he simply tweeted out a picture of the “peace” emoji accompanying a picture of cleats hanging by their shoelaces.
As for going out on top, there had been whispers around the league all season that this might be his last go-around, but he struggled through injuries and didn’t seem the dominant tackle-breaking, swagger-laden Beast Mode force that we’d come to expect even when he did take the field. His final act in an NFL uniform was a 6-carry, 20-yard whimper against the Panthers as the Seahawks were edged by the Panthers in the NFC Divisional Round.
But in the end, the touchdowns and yards aren’t what seemed to matter to Beast Mode — nor were they what mattered to us, as fans, when we were watching him play.
It looked to me that Beast Mode decided to call it quits because the game got to be less fun to him — whether it was because of his injuries or lack of success this season, or because he was just wearing down physically, I don’t know.
During his prime, No. 24 was so unabashedly fun to watch because you could tell by watching him that he was having the time of his life toting the rock into the hearts of opposing defenses. That enthusiasm, swagger and determination gave the game life. Especially given that we live in an era in which the NFL is mired in a heap of Roger Goodell-led institutional bullcrap and newly emerging studies on player safety and concussions cast a dark shadow and asterisks on every face of the game, watching a guy like Lynch bring that naively unbridled enjoyment to every snap and every down allows us to, for just a moment, forget about all of that baggage and revel in the fun of the game that is American football.
From his “hold my dick” dives into the end zone to the Skittles bag he’d dig into on the sideline during breaks to the million-dollar smiles he’d throw at his teammates on the field, Lynch never for a moment let anything get in his way of his enjoyment of the game, and while football may be a championship-oriented business for most players in the league, Lynch always seemed to be, first and foremost, reveling in the experience of living the childhood dream of most Americans growing up: playing in the NFL.
He brought flair and fun to a game that too many people take way too seriously, and for that, I’ll always thank him.
What’s more: Marshawn Lynch always felt real.
As a journalist, I’m all too used to athletes giving the scripted, blasé responses that they’re supposed to give in interviews — to them not speaking their minds and taking the safe route. Because that’s what they’re paid to do.
But Lynch never let that stop him from speaking his mind — or, you know, not saying anything at all — something that almost served to bridge the gap that exists today between fans and athletes. He represented the push-back from the seemingly-impenetrable legion of players to show fans that, yes, we’re not the only ones that are getting jaded by the media cycle and the façade that the league and organizations coax their players into putting up.
In going against the grain, Lynch, a guy that grew up in the streets of Oakland and built his way up to the highest legion of society brick by brick, reminded us that despite being an All-Pro, Super Bowl-winning running back, he still remembers his roots, never takes himself too seriously, and, most importantly, is one of us.
From a Stanford guy to a Cal guy, I’ll miss you, Marshawn — so long, and thanks for the memories. You keep doing you.
Tell Do to get off Twitter and actually pay attention to the biggest sporting event of the year at Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.