DA: Beast Mode’s Career in Perspective

I’m still not quite buying it. Marshawn Lynch, just two weeks past his 30th birthday, is really retiring? A guy who averaged nearly four yards per carry in limited work last season, a running back just two seasons removed from being the workhorse on back-to-back Super Bowl teams, will sit on the couch for the rest of his life? It just doesn’t seem believable.

On Thursday the Seahawks placed Beast Mode on the reserved/retired list, which does appear a tad more official than just a mercurial player holding out because he’s upset with his contract or wants to avoid training camp. This list means the Seahawks retain his rights should he unretire, as the team still owns the final two seasons of his deal. But it still feels like Lynch will impishly grin through that gold grill, pour back a bag of Skittles, and announce “it’s all good,” sometime late this summer before throwing a helmet back on.

If it’s not though, it’s time to size up his career. The obvious question is just how great was it? The answer is pretty damn great. He did not have the iconic resume of Jim Brown or Walter Payton. He’s just 36th on the all-time rushing list. He wasn’t a compiler like Emmitt Smith, playing only ten seasons. His was not a lightning bolt career cut short dramatically like Gayle Sayers or Terrell Davis. Lynch was really good for a short time, and that may just have to be good enough.

Because the fact is there may not be another for awhile after him. I cringed when reputable baseball media suggested Tom Glavine would be the last 300-game winner ever. It just seemed like complete hyperbole to predict how starting pitchers will be used, what the next iteration of “wins” will be in the sabermetric community, for the rest of time. What if sports medicine and longevity surged this century meaning pitchers could throw into their 50s? What if managers start maneuvering starters for victories like closers are for saves? It seems absurd to predict anything into sports infinity.

But for Lynch, he is certainly a dying breed for this generation of football. There may come a time where the pendulum swings back the other way, and NFL front offices feed a horse 30 times per game. But for now, in an era of splitting carries and tossing backs to the side of the highway by their late-20s, we may not have another Marshawn for awhile. Adrian Peterson will be the gold standard for this generation of running backs. But after that? The 20-something running backs next on the career rushing list are LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles. Very good players, but not the bell cows Lynch and AP have been.

The amazing thing about Lynch’s career – the Super Bowls, the media standoffs, the league feuds, the candy endorsements – is that it nearly never happened. There were three and a half seasons of football in Buffalo, a pair of 1,000 yard campaigns, but hardly the stuff Canton considers. The market value for Lynch? A fourth rounder and a fifth rounder by Seattle, a pittance for a 24-year old back that turned into one of the league’s best. But Lynch had a misdemeanor weapons charge in Buffalo, was obviously uncomfortable with local media (a theme in his career), and the Bills had drafted CJ Spiller.

Is Lynch worthy of a gold jacket? More than you might believe. As Yahoo Sports pointed out, his numbers actually most closely parallel one of the league’s greatest ever: Earl Campbell.

Campbell: Eight seasons, 115 games, 2,187 rushing attempts, 9,407 yards rushing, 74 TDs (806 yards receiving, 0 TDs).

Lynch: Nine seasons, 127 games, 2,144 attempts, 9,112 yards rushing, 74 TDs, (1,979 yards receiving, 9 TDs).

The Tyler Rose did his damage during a time of the workhorse back in the NFL. The 1970s saw Franco Harris, Tony Dorsett, and Larry Csonka all help carry their teams to Super Bowl victories. The game was more punishing then to a back like Campbell. Running against 8-man fronts and grinding on cement painted green, he was used up after only six brilliant seasons (he gained just 1,100 yards over his final thirty games).

To any NFL historian, Campbell is a greater figure in the history of the league. But Lynch’s Beast Quake run against the Saints is a lot like Campbell’s dash to victory on that historic Monday Night in ’78 against the Dolphins or lining up a hapless Rams defender and driving a helmet into his sternum. Marshawn helped his team to two Super Bowls, while Campbell fell short in two AFC Title Games. Both were men of short soundbites, but whose physical running styles spoke everything words could not. I still don’t believe we’ve seen the last of Lynch on the field. It feels like a negotiating ploy, another battle against the front office, a culture-clash personality that refuses to be predictable. But if this is it, Marshawn had a greater career than we realized as it was happening.

D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.

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