On the Friday before the Seattle Seahawks’ divisional-round playoff game against the Carolina Panthers, coach Pete Carroll was asked if he knew what to expect from Marshawn Lynch in his return to action.
"Have you been around here very long with Marshawn and all of that?" Carroll asked the reporter. "Not always do we know. He’s somewhat unpredictable in certain ways, but he’s really pumped to play football and play with his team."
On Sunday night, with the football world focused on the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50, Lynch offered one tweet with no words to announce his retirement after nine years in the NFL. There probably wasn't a more fitting way for him to go out.
I covered Lynch for only about six months. Before that, I had watched from afar, marveling at the Beast Quake run and laughing when he told Deion Sanders he was just all about that action, boss.
Lynch was a nonfactor for the Seahawks in 2015. Even before his abdominal surgery in November, he battled through a number of injuries. There were flashes of his old self here and there, but he never looked like the guy who had carried the offense in previous years.
What stood out, though, was his unique relationship with teammates and the organization. Seahawks players always seemed to be protective of Lynch and grew defensive in response to any question that even hinted at criticism. After Lynch had surgery, instead of rehabbing with the team, he stayed with his personal training staff in the Bay Area, which many players would not be allowed by their teams to do.
"We know when that guy comes in the building and he gets on the field, there’s nobody like him," cornerback Richard Sherman said at the time. "There’s nobody who’s giving more effort, who’s going to sacrifice more for their team. There’s no question about his loyalty to the team or his work ethic or anything like that. That guy is exactly who we think he is."
Earlier in the season, safety Earl Thomas was talking about how a big run, one where the back fights through tackles and runs over defenders, can energize the entire team.
"Even when you’re sitting on the sideline, it still gives you a boost of energy," Thomas said. "That’s the passion that anybody can bring to this team. Once they show that their heart is on the line, you can see it in their play, and you feed off of that."
Even in my short time covering Lynch, it was clear to me that he played by a different set of rules. During my first week on the job, I had to chase down a story that dealt with a canceled hearing the league had scheduled with Lynch. The fines he was facing stemmed from two incidents: him grabbing his crotch and him not talking to the media.
After the first game of the season against the St. Louis Rams, Lynch's mom called for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to be fired.
It didn't take long for me to figure out that covering a team with Beast Mode on it was going to be a little bit different.
Carroll's philosophy is focused on crafting individual plans that maximize each player's potential. That means every plan is not the same. But it never seemed like other players had an issue with how the organization dealt with Lynch.
The relationship was far from perfect. Before the wild-card game against the Minnesota Vikings, Carroll went on local radio on a Friday morning and said Lynch would play. Later that afternoon, Lynch informed the team that he wasn't quite ready yet, and he didn't get on the bus.
Now that Lynch's career is over, perhaps Carroll will open up about the challenges of coaching the enigmatic running back. But there's no denying Lynch's impact on the field. The Seahawks made the playoffs in five of six seasons with him on the roster, getting to the Super Bowl twice and hoisting the Lombardi trophy once.
From 2011 to 2015, Lynch ran for 51 touchdowns, tops in the league. According to ESPN Stats & Information, his 2,659 yards after contact during that span was second to only Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. Only seven players in NFL history have rushed for more postseason yards than Lynch (937).
The Seahawks are in good hands going forward. Russell Wilson showed in the second half of 2015 that he's definitely capable of leading the offense, and rookie running back Thomas Rawls was tremendous before suffering an ankle injury. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Seahawks tied with the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers as Super Bowl favorites going into next season.
The window for success is very much open, but without Lynch, there's no doubt that it will feel different.
Probably a little more predictable and a little less interesting.