In the past decade, the running back position has become marginalized as NFL offenses have become ever more vertical.
With the emphasis on passing, and finding players that will stretch opposing defenses, running backs have taken a back seat.
Those teams that do employ a game changing back, however, would argue that having a good run game is just as valuable as a stellar passing attack
Take Marshawn Lynch for example.
After three plus years as a Buffalo Bill, Lynch was traded to the Seattle Seahawks and helped that franchise appear in two Super Bowls.
Along the way, “Beast Mode” had four consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, led the NFL twice in rushing touchdowns, and was voted to four consecutive Pro Bowls.
He also had one of the most memorable runs in Seahawks (and league) history in the 2010 playoffs.
On this date in 2011, Marshawn Lynch erupts for a 67-yard rush TD that helped the 7-9 Seahawks win a Wild Card Playoff game against the Saints 41-36.
The Seattle fans’ celebration is so loud and raucous that it registers on seismographs as a minor earthquake. pic.twitter.com/WlH0ACaXAf
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 8, 2021
Since retiring from the game, Lynch has become a pitch man for several companies and has appeared in several television shows and movies.
This is the story of Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch.
Growing Up in Oakland
Marshawn Terrell Lynch was born on April 22, 1986 in Oakland, California.
He was the last of four children born to a mother who was quite the athlete herself when she was young.
When she attended Oakland’s Technical High School, Delisa Lynch was the school record holder in the 200-meter dash.
Evidently, she passed on her running skills to her son, Marshawn.
By the time he, too, arrived at Oakland Technical, Lynch was a burgeoning athlete in four sports, football, basketball, track, and wrestling.
Oakland Tech has a long reputation for producing sports and entertainment stars and political figures.
Lynch was the next great to put on a Bulldogs uniform and was a blur as a sprinter and competitor in the long and high jumps for the track team.
Lynch Becomes “Beast Mode”
During his tenure with the Bulldogs’ football team, Lynch played quarterback, receiver, defensive back, and running back.
When he was a sophomore, a USC football player, Sultan McCullough, was working out near Lynch when he spied the prep player.
“We were running hills and Sultan asked me ‘Who was that?’” former McClymonds coach Alonzo Carter recalled. “I told him it was Marshawn Lynch from Tech. He said, ‘He’s going to be the real deal.’ That was a starting tailback in the Pac 10 talking about a sophomore in high school. People don’t know about that man’s work ethic.”
In 2003, Lynch displayed his work ethic by rushing for 1,722 yards and 23 scores in eight games.
Oakland Technical High School (Oakland, CA)
Marshawn Lynch ’04
John Brodie ’53
Josh Johnson ’04
Pervis Atkins ’54
Proverb Jacobs ’54
Bill McKalip ’26
Brick Muller c/o 1919
Al Andrews ’65
George Wells ’65
Ray Horton ’56
Howard Christie ’29@BayAreaPrepsHQ pic.twitter.com/0XyMpuwZ7N
— Prep2ProDB (@Prep2ProDB) March 8, 2022
He added 375 more yards and 10 touchdowns in the playoffs.
Oakland Tech advanced to the Silver Bowl of the Oakland Athletic League and faced local power Skyline High School.
The Bulldogs were underdogs before the contest, but Lynch took it upon himself to change the narrative.
During the game, he busted loose for an astounding 233 yards and six touchdowns.
His best run of the day came on a 46-yard touchdown dash in which Lynch eluded several tackles.
That play was the impetus for his “Beast Mode” nickname that Lynch carried with him for the rest of his life.
Tech’s surprising 55-47 victory over Skyline was the Bulldogs’ first league title since 1951.
As the second rated prep running back in the country, the San Francisco East Bay Player of the Year, and a high school All-American, Lynch had his choice of colleges.
He decided to stay close to home by taking a scholarship with the Cal Golden Bears.
Lynch Starts Strong
As a freshman in 2004, Lynch teamed up with junior quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch, Cal 2004 pic.twitter.com/oJJioYxhIZ
— College Teammates (@NCAATeammates) October 1, 2018
He played in 12 games for the Golden Bears while backing up J.J. Arrington and bullied his 6’0, 215-pound frame through defenders.
In back-to-back games against Washington and Stanford near the end of the year, Lynch ran for over 100 yards in both contests.
He also tore off several long runs during the season on the way to 628 rushing yards and eight rushing scores, 147 receiving yards and two more touchdowns, and 372 kick return yards.
Lynch was named a freshman All-American by Rivals.com and The Sporting News.
Cal went 10-2 that year and lost to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
During the game, Lynch scored a five-yard touchdown to put the Golden Bears up, 14-7.
In 2005, despite missing two games to injury, Lynch more than doubled his freshman rushing total by racking up 1,246 yards along with 10 touchdowns, 125 receiving yards, and 271 kick return yards.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 4, 2014
Remarkably, Lynch seemed to get better as the season wore on, posting five 150 plus-yard rushing games to close the year.
He also had seven total 100 plus-yard rushing games.
The Golden Bears’ final contest of the season was a Las Vegas Bowl date with BYU.
Lynch was named the game MVP after running for 194 yards and three touchdowns in Cal’s 35-28 win.
Junior Year and NFL Decision
Cal continued rolling along in 2006 when Coach Jeff Tedford’s crew went 10-3 and defeated Texas A&M by 35 in the Holiday Bowl.
Beast Mode had another productive year by rushing for 1,356 yards, 11 touchdowns, and catching a career-high 34 passes for 328 yards and four additional scores.
He also mixed in 101 yards on kick returns.
During the Holiday Bowl, Lynch contributed two short touchdown runs and was named a Co-Offensive MVP.
Lynch’s back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons marked just the second time in program history an athlete accomplished such a feat.
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 5, 2014
He was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American for 2006.
Although Lynch still had a year of eligibility, he declared for the NFL draft in early 2007.
In his college career, Lynch had 3,230 rushing yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, 68 receptions, 600 receiving yards, six receiving scores, and 744 kick return yards.
Lynch left the Cal program as its all-time leader in 100-yard rushing games with 17.
Buffalo Selects Lynch
The Buffalo Bills were in need of a running back.
Willis McGahee had been the team’s primary ball carrier from 2004-2006 but he moved on to the Baltimore Ravens after the ‘06 season.
Buffalo also needed some punch in the offense as their squad finished a woeful 23rd in 2006 even with McGahee in the lineup.
With the 12th overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Bills took Lynch.
He began his career with a bang as Beast Mode started 13 games as a rookie and rumbled for 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns, producing a PFWA All-Rookie Team nod.
— NFL_Central (@Central_NFL) June 25, 2015
Despite a productive year from their new back, Buffalo’s record was 7-9, the same as the year before.
Even more baffling, the offense got worse and dropped to 30th in the league.
The following summer, Lynch made national headlines after hitting a woman with his car when he was driving through a Buffalo intersection.
According to Lynch, he didn’t realize what had happened and continued driving.
“It was raining real hard, there was a dancing pedestrian in the middle of the street,” the 22-year-old Lynch said before the hearing. “I slowed down to let her go and continued on my way home. I didn’t know my car had hit anyone or anything.”
The woman suffered a bruised hip and required stitches.
Lynch went to court for the matter and had his driver’s license revoked.
More Trouble with the Law
In 2008, Lynch was voted to his first career Pro Bowl after running for 1,036 yards, eight touchdowns, and adding a career-high 47 catches and another score.
Old enough to remember seeing Marshawn Lynch on the Bills pic.twitter.com/LP7n9mWkYp
— 𝑴𝑶𝑪 🏜️ (@MOC_dude) December 29, 2020
For the third year in a row, the Bills could only muster seven wins while the offense slightly improved to 23rd.
Then, in February of 2009, Lynch was home in California when he was confronted by police.
The officers searched his vehicle and found a loaded firearm in the trunk.
Lynch was released on bail after being charged with possession of a concealed firearm.
“We can confirm that Marshawn was arrested in California and has retained an attorney,” Bills vice president of communications Scott Berchtold said in a statement. “We are in the process of trying to gather the facts and will not offer a comment while that process is ongoing.”
Beast Mode returned to Buffalo for the ‘09 season but was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for three games due to the gun charge.
Lynch found himself competing with Fred Jackson for playing time and ended his third year with 450 yards and two scores.
Buffalo Trades Lynch
Lynch began the 2010 season on the sideline after spraining his ankle during training camp.
Meanwhile, the Bills had drafted Clemson running back C.J. Spiller with their first pick in the 2010 Draft and the team also had Jackson ready to play in Lynch’s absence.
When he was healthy, Lynch started three games and rushed for 164 yards.
Then, on October 5, the Bills traded Lynch to the Seattle Seahawks for two draft picks.
— Seahawks Legends (@SeahawksLegends) October 5, 2021
Seattle was in desperate need of a good running game and Lynch was the player the team needed to get to the postseason.
“We bring a guy into the program that we think is going to give us a little boost,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “You know that we’ve emphasized trying to get this running game in order. We hope that he’ll help in that regard. We’re going to bring him in to play a lot,” Carroll said. “We’ll wait and see when we get him here but we’re bringing him in here to play a bunch.”
Lynch was reunited with his good friend and former Cal teammate, Justin Forsett, and Forsett was excited to run roughshod over opponents.
“We’re different backs but I think they complement it well. If you go back to Cal, we had a nice little one-two punch there and it’s always exciting,” Forsett said. “Any given moment, any one of us could break and it was pretty fun. We just have fun together.”
For the remainder of the regular season, Lynch started 11 times and had 573 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
The “Beast Quake” Run
Even with Lynch and Forsett in the backfield, the Seahawks could do no better than seven wins in Carroll’s first year.
However, the NFC West as a whole was not very good and Seattle’s 7-9 record gave the franchise an unlikely first place finish.
That marked the first time in NFL history that a 7-9 team qualified for the postseason.
By virtue of winning the division, the Seahawks hosted a Wild Card playoff contest against the 11-5 New Orleans Saints.
Seattle was given no chance to win against the Saints, yet the Seahawks were ahead at halftime, 24-20.
In the third quarter, Seattle scored twice more to increase its lead to 34-20.
New Orleans roared back in the fourth quarter and scored two touchdowns to cut into the Seahawks’ lead, 34-30.
On this date in 2011… Marshawn Lynch caused a Beast Quake. 😤 pic.twitter.com/n3o4aE0bNZ
— theScore (@theScore) January 9, 2022
On Seattle’s next possession, the team found itself at second and 10 when Carroll called “17 power” a running play that wasn’t altogether sound.
“[The coaches] don’t think we’re good at it,” then-quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said in 2021. “And they were right. We weren’t doing it right.”
Sure enough, when the play began, everything fell apart and Hasselbeck handed the ball to Lynch who looked like he would be stopped for no gain.
Suddenly, Lynch engaged “Beast Mode” and began bouncing off defenders.
He should have been tackled multiple times, but continued bowling over tacklers.
“[17 Power] is not designed to hit for a home run like that,” says former Seahawks offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus. “Power is really designed to get 3, 5 yards, and not a whole lot more than that. So the fact that it busted as far loose as that one did was pretty insane.”
By the time Lynch hit the third level of the Saints defense, the crowd was on its feet and the Seahawks could sense greatness.
One of the greatest runs in NFL history 💪
Marshawn Lynch unleashed the "Beast Quake" nine years ago today. (via @nflthrowback)pic.twitter.com/kQebCzRfI4
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 8, 2020
Finally, after 67-yards of earth shattering hits and forceful running, Lynch leaped into the end zone while grabbing his genitals.
“Being in that atmosphere after that play, it was pretty surreal,” Forsett said. “Hair standing up on the back of your neck.”
Improbably, Seattle would win the game, 41-36, aided by Lynch’s timely “Beast Quake” run.
Their season ended the following week against Chicago in the Divisional round.
The victory over New Orleans appeared to wake up the Seattle franchise.
In 2011, the team went 7-9 again and missed the postseason.
Lynch, though, endeared himself to fans all over the league when sideline cameras caught him eating Skittles during a game.
Marshawn Lynch into the Skittles already pic.twitter.com/3iRc8YBwuP
— NFL Access (@NFL_Access) February 1, 2015
Mars Incorporated, the company that owns Skittles, saw the footage and sent Lynch a two-year supply of the candy and a dispenser for his locker.
In 2012, Seattle won 11 games with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and defeated Washington in the Wild Card round before losing to Atlanta in the Divisional round.
By then, Beast Mode had returned to form and rushed for over 1,000 yards both years while also racking up 25 combined touchdowns.
He was named to his first All-Pro team in 2012 while also playing in his third Pro Bowl.
“In my experience he’s the toughest guy to tackle in the league,” said San Francisco linebacker Larry Grant.
“It’s like getting knocked down by a building,” added Grant’s teammate, Ricky Jean Francois.
In 2013, the stars aligned for the Seahawks and the team won 13 games, which tied a franchise high.
Lynch ran for 1,257 yards, tied for first in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12, caught 36 passes for 316 more yards, and two more scores, leading to his fourth Pro Bowl.
Is Marshawn Lynch the “coolest” Seahawks player ever?? pic.twitter.com/T9fFWzXs9f
— Sami ON Tap (@SamiOnTap) May 29, 2023
As he established himself as one of the best runners in the game, Lynch also alienated himself from the media.
He refused to give most interviews and barely answered questions from reporters post-game.
That practice continued for the next several years.
Seattle took its first round bye after the ‘13 season into the playoffs where they dispatched New Orleans and San Francisco to reach Super Bowl XLVIII against Denver.
Lynch and the Seahawks Win a Championship
Lynch’s fourth season in Seattle cemented his leadership on the team and his coaches and teammates knew what to expect from Beast Mode during every game.
“There’s never any question what he’s going to bring on Sunday,” said running backs coach Sherman Smith. “He’s gonna run hard every time. He’s gonna hit people. He’s gonna punish people. In a lot of ways he’s become the heart and soul of this team.”
The Seahawks kept their foot on the gas in Super Bowl XLVIII and Lynch scored on a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put Seattle ahead, 15-0.
— Cal Football (@CalFootball) January 20, 2014
At the same time, quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos had no answer for the Seahawks and its “Legion of Boom” defense.
By halftime, the game was over and the final score was a lopsided 43-8 victory for Seattle’s first ever world title.
During the contest, Lynch contributed 39 yards and one touchdown.
Seattle Returns to the Super Bowl
In 2014, Seattle retained its core group of players including Wilson, Lynch, and receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.
The group hung 12 victories on opponents and returned to the postseason where the Seahawks beat Carolina and Green Bay for the right to return to the Super Bowl.
That season, Lynch ran for 1,306 yards, a league-best 13 rushing touchdowns, a career-best 367 receiving yards, and four receiving scores.
In a game against Arizona that year, he produced another “Beast Quake” style run by rumbling for a career-best 79-yard touchdown.
He was named an All-Pro and voted to his fifth Pro Bowl after the year.
During the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Lynch continued being truculent with the media.
Marshawn Lynch wasn’t a fan of media day (Super Bowl XLIX) pic.twitter.com/mRSeFyv1Cz
— The Fantasy Source 🍥 (@FantasySource_) February 3, 2023
His time with the press during Media Day was spent saying, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” multiple times.
A Dog Fight
When the big day arrived, the media talking points included Lynch’s non-answers and the fact that New England hadn’t won a Super Bowl since 2004.
It was foolish to count out Brady, of course, and the two teams were deadlocked at 14 by halftime.
Lynch scored in the second quarter on a powerful three-yard run.
During the third quarter, Seattle scored 10 more points to lead 24-14.
Then, New England captured the lead, 28-24, after scoring 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
After the Pats second score, Seattle took possession and began driving toward a game-winning score.
Wilson found Lynch for a nifty 31-yard pass that flummoxed the New England defenders.
Four plays later, Wilson connected with Kearse on one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history.
Kearse and Pats’ corner Malcom Butler jumped for the ball and the receiver corralled the reception while lying on his back.
One of the greatest catches in NFL history
The #Seahawks' Jermaine Kearse makes an impossible juggling reception for a 33-yard gain with just over a minute remaining in Super Bowl XLIX.
This date in 2015 pic.twitter.com/jlAtmtboi3
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) February 1, 2023
Kearse then got to his feet and started running to paydirt before Butler caught up and pushed him out of bounds.
One play later on first down at the New England five-yard line, Lynch took a handoff and was about to crash in when Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower tripped him a yard short.
Everyone in the world believed Seattle would run Lynch from a yard out on the following play, including Lynch.
“Everybody had the thought, like, we was gonna run the exact same play again,” Lynch recalled in 2023.
The Winning Play that Wasn’t
Only that didn’t happen.
Carroll decided to get a little tricky and called a pass play intended for receiver Ricardo Lockette.
Most of the offensive players were stunned, but lined up for the play.
After the ball was snapped, Russell passed the ball in Lockette’s direction before Butler stepped in front and intercepted the ball.
Marshawn Lynch is stopped at the one, setting the stage for one of NFL history's most shocking moments.
As Seattle eschews the run, Russell Wilson's pass is picked off by rookie Malcolm Butler
8 years ago OTD pic.twitter.com/ZSKIyEsCof
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) February 1, 2023
That sealed the game for New England.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t believe the call. … I cannot believe the call. You’ve got Marshawn Lynch in the backfield,” said television commentator Cris Collinsworth. “You’ve got a guy that has been borderline unstoppable in this part of the field. I can’t believe the call. If I lose the Super Bowl because Marshawn Lynch can’t get it in from the 1 yard line, so be it. So be it! But there is no way… I don’t believe the call.”
Years later, Lynch was still upset with the outcome.
“…if you give me the ball, we’re gonna score,” said Lynch. “But more just what we had built in Seattle: tough-ass defense and strong-ass run game. If we were going to win or lose, you would want to see it go down that way…especially given the opportunity of how it could have played out.”
Lynch Retires For the First Time
“What we had before [the Super Bowl play] was a belief system,” said Lynch. “The belief system was tarnished after that.”
Seattle continued winning the next two years but were eliminated in the Divisional round by Carolina in 2015 and Atlanta in 2016.
Lynch missed a good portion of the ‘15 season due to sports hernia surgery and collected 417 yards and three scores.
When the ‘15 season concluded, Lynch retired.
Back for More
Lynch remained retired for the 2016 season before signing a two-year deal with his hometown Oakland Raiders in the spring of 2017.
In two seasons with the Silver and Black, Lynch started 21 games and had 1,267 total yards and 10 total rushing touchdowns.
He retired again after 2018 before Seattle asked him to return for the final game of the season in 2019 when the Seahawks running backs were decimated by injuries.
— NFL (@NFL) December 24, 2019
Lynch took the opportunity and ran the ball for 34-yards and a score.
The following week, he played in the Wild Card round against Philadelphia and scored a touchdown.
Then, in the Divisional round, he scored twice against Green Bay, but Seattle lost, 28-23.
Lynch retired for good after the game.
During his career, Lynch had 10,413 rushing yards and 85 rushing scores, 287 receptions for 2,214 receiving yards, and nine receiving touchdowns, and set several Seahawks rushing records.
He was a one-time Super Bowl champion, appeared in two Super Bowls, was a five-time Pro-Bowler, two-time All-Pro, and led the NFL twice in rushing touchdowns.
Lynch has since been named to the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team.
Life After Football
Since leaving the NFL, Lynch has stayed close to football by being a co-owner of a team in the Fan Controlled Football league and another team in the Indoor Football League.
He has also become part owner of a professional soccer team in Oakland and with the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.
Lynch has lent his likeness to a number of video games and is actively involved in charity (Fam1st Family Foundation) for the Oakland community.
For someone who hated talking to the media as a player, Lynch has spent the past few years speaking a lot as an actor in television and movie projects.
He’s been seen in the Netflix comedy Murderville, HBO’s Westworld, and the movie 80 For Brady.
— NFL Rumors (@nflrums) June 6, 2023
Lynch plays a major role in the movie Bottoms that is due to be released in late August of 2023.