The most popular man at the Super Bowl walked into media day Tuesday like a prizefighter swaggering toward the ring, fans screaming, reporters staring, smile glistening.
Marshawn Lynch stepped through the crowd, climbed onto a small podium, carefully adjusted a microphone, and began the battle with a warning.
“You can sit here and ask me all the questions you’ll want to, I’m going to answer with the same answers, so you all can shoot if you all please,” he said.
Then he reared back and knocked the stuffing out of decorum, took 29 questions, gave essentially the same answer for every one, jabbed again and again, reporters rolling their eyes, the crowd at US Airways Center roaring in delight.
“I’m here so I won’t get fined,” he said.
“I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” he said.
“Hey, hey, I’m here so I won’t get fined,” he said.
“I’m just here so I won’t get fined, boss,” he said.
He would turn his head to face a questioner, then give that answer. He would lean down and cup his ear to better hear a question, then give that answer. Once he even climbed out of his seat to retrieve a reporter’s fallen tape recorder, placed it back on the podium, and then gave that answer.
With fans now standing and howling at every similar syllable, Lynch ended the fight with the commanding pronouncement of a referee standing over a prone and helpless body.
“Time!” he shouted as the scoreboard clock ticked off five minutes, at which point he stood up, climbed down, and disappeared behind a barrier even though there were 55 minutes left in the session.
Time, indeed. Money time. Fame time. Me time.
Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle Seahawks running back who does constant battle with the NFL over his refusal to follow league rules and speak to the media, couldn’t have choreographed his first act of Super Bowl XLIX any better if he had provided everyone with scripts.
“There’s a great deal spoken in his silence,” Seattle Coach Pete Carroll said.
Initially, that statement was sold as shyness and fear. But increasingly, it seems that through his tight lips, Lynch is shouting about the value of painting yourself as a rebel to separate yourself from your colorful teammates and cash in on your fleeting fame.
Lynch’s refusal to speak during the regular season has cost him $100,000 in fines, and his refusal to speak for all of Tuesday’s required interview session could result in another huge penalty. But consider: How much is it worth to be the most popular man at the Super Bowl?
Granted, the Seahawks are playing the image-deflated New England Patriots, but Lynch owned the building on Tuesday, with every move met with movie star-sounding cheers and howls. After a similar outburst momentarily drowned out Carroll, the coach shook his head and said, “Must have been Marshawn going somewhere.”
From his game nickname “Beast Mode” to his love of Skittles to those gold cleats he attempted to wear in the NFC championship game, Lynch has skillfully captured the hearts of the young sports-loving demographic by casting himself as a rebel who just wants to play football. His Seahawks fans have raised money to pay his fines. In various national polls, at least 80% have supported Lynch’s actions as his fame continues to rumble over all common sense in the manner of his 157-yard, one-touchdown bruising of the Green Bay Packers.
“He is getting the most popularity for doing nothing, so I would tell him to change nothing,” said teammate Doug Baldwin.
Indeed, through actions equally obstinate and outrageous, Beast Mode is plowing everything in sight.
Lynch grabs his crotch after scoring against the Packers last week, the NFL fines him $20,000 and promises a 15-yard penalty in the Super Bowl for similar behavior, and what happens?
First, the league is discovered attempting to sell a photo of the crotch grab as part of a $150 Seahawks souvenir photo montage. Second, as the Seahawks bus is heading to the airport for the Super Bowl, a man, woman and young girl salute Lynch by grabbing their crotches.
“Change one NFL rule?” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson asked. “I wish everyone would stop fining my man, Marshawn.”
Lynch refuses to leave the sideline during halftime of a game in Kansas City this season, refuses to join his team in the locker room or listen to his coach’s halftime speech, and what happens? The Seahawks actually rally around him and use that eventual loss as a springboard to eight consecutive wins and a spot in their second consecutive Super Bowl.
“He’s going to do what he does and he’s going to be himself,” Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said. “Any time you hand it to him, he’s carrying them. He’s not carrying the football, he’s carrying his team.”
Then how about last year’s championship parade in Seattle, when Lynch flung himself across the bow of a rolling duck boat, grabbed a bottle of Fireball whiskey and a Native American drum from fans, and proceeded to cause a scene by drinking and pounding through the ensuing celebration. What happens then? The fans support him during his eight-day training-camp holdout, the Seahawks bump his salary from $5 million to $6 million, and his teammates love him even more.
“He is smart,” Baldwin said. “He is wise.”
His teammates also act smartly in his behalf, still defending him for the media snubs because they claim he is shy. Yet he never had these issues before he played in Seattle and is one of the loudest voices in the locker room.
“As teammates we’re angry because we know what certain people do well and we know what they struggle with,” cornerback Richard Sherman told Sports Illustrated. “Marshawn talking to the press is the equivalent of putting a reporter on a football field and telling him to tackle Adrian Peterson.”
Well, then, Lynch is certainly coming out of his shell, as he recently hammed it up for Internet commercials for Skittles and Progressive Insurance.
He smilingly answered questions while eating Skittles during a fake news conference, saying things like, “Do I think referees keep Skittles under that hood to eat while they’re reviewing plays? I know they got Skittles in there.”
In the Progressive commercial, he actually jokes about the insurance company’s cult hero, saying, “I’m all about that Flo’ boss.”
He was funny. He was charming. He was being paid. Then, early Tuesday afternoon, when asked to speak to reporters for free, with a fan base watching and advertisers to impress, he gave the same answer 29 times and walked away.
“I kind of love his act,” Seahawks General Manager John Schneider said.
Yeah, his act.