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Massive run transforms Lynch's image

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

He bulled, blasted and traversed his way through the bulk of the New Orleans Saints' defense and into a new realm of renown, and a few hours later Marshawn Lynch(notes) decided to hit the town. Only then, in a Seattle restaurant abuzz with the Seahawks' stunning 41-36 playoff upset of the defending Super Bowl champs last Saturday and the signature moment that sealed it, did the 24-year-old halfback begin to understand the significance of his act.

"It was crazy," Lynch recalled Thursday night. "One girl came up to me and yelled, 'Oh my [expletive] God!' She kept saying it, over and over. She didn't say anything else but that. I just looked at her, and she kept on going with it."

Beast Mode, meet Blasphemy Mode.

Lord knows she wasn't the only fan who lost her composure in the wake of Lynch's 67-yard scoring run, during which he broke eight tackles. In clinching the biggest game of his NFL career in spectacular fashion, Lynch literally rocked the world of Seattle sports fans, provoking seismic activity at Qwest Field.

In the process, he recalibrated a career that seemed hopelessly stalled a few months ago and embedded a new, indelible image of himself into the collective consciousness of a football-obsessed public. He'll be looked at much differently from now on, beginning with the Seahawks' divisional-round road game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Given the context and the conspicuous passion displayed by the protagonist, Lynch's run was quickly hailed as one of the greatest in NFL postseason history – and perhaps NFL history, period. Lynch didn't realize this until long after he'd left the stadium, when the reactions of others gave him insight into the run's impact.

"I actually didn't get it until I started noticing the responses from people," Lynch says. "I got so many texts and calls from people who were so excited. And Justin [Forsett, his close friend and backup] told me he got some calls. The next day a lot of my teammates were telling me they got calls, too.

"It was just me trying to do my job, and with a lot of help from my teammates it turned out to be something great."

Seldom has a single play had such a momentous effect on a man's reputation. It's not a stretch to say that before he took that handoff from Matt Hasselbeck(notes) and displayed his uncanny combination of speed, power and relentlessness, Lynch was regarded by most casual observers as a once-promising player whose off-the-field issues and curtailing productivity reduced him to irrelevance.

Now? He's the guy who took a routine play called "17 Power" and turned it into something majestic.

This is not to say that this run for the ages came out of nowhere. After a standout career at Cal, Lynch was selected 12th overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 2007 draft. He exceeded 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons and played in the Pro Bowl following his second campaign before things began to sour, beginning with his involvement in a hit-and-run incident and extending to a misdemeanor gun infraction.

When I spoke with Lynch last May, he was dubious about his future in Buffalo. A month earlier the Bills had drafted a potential replacement, C.J. Spiller(notes), with the ninth overall pick, and they also had another 1,000-yard rusher, Fred Jackson(notes), on their roster. In early October, when Buffalo traded Lynch to the Seahawks for a fourth-round pick and a conditional sixth-rounder, he was humbled by the potential for a fresh start.

"When I called him to tell him the deal went through, I thought he might scream with excitement," Lynch's agent, Doug Hendrickson, recalled earlier this week. "But it was like the phone went dead – he was silent for a good 20 seconds, maybe 30. I had to look at the phone to see if it was disconnected. Finally, I said, 'Bro are you there?' It was a somber moment. He was eerily calm, just taking it all in. He'd hoped for something like that, but I don't think he really thought it was going to happen."

Lynch had a few impressive moments in 2010, beginning with a touchdown in the Seahawks' mid-October upset of the Bears in Chicago, but averaged just 3.6 yards per carry behind a struggling offensive line and didn't record a single 100-yard game. That all changed last Saturday as the Seahawks, holding a 34-30 lead and facing a second-and-8 from their own 33-yard line, tried to drain the clock with 3:37 remaining.

Never known as a self-promoter since entering the league, Lynch is quick to point out that he had plenty of help on his way to the end zone. "It wasn't just me," says Lynch, who finished with 131 rushing yards. "You had a guard that beat me to the end zone. Matt Hasselbeck was running into the end zone right behind me. I had so much help around me. You look at football as a team sport; that's what that run was all about."

The setting couldn't have been more perfect. Lynch had several family members at the game, including cousin Josh Johnson(notes), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' backup quarterback. He also had a very special guest: Jackson, his former Bills running mate.

"Having him there was a wonderful feeling," Lynch says. "Coming into the league, that was a guy who took me under his wing, showed me the ropes, showed me how to be a pro on this level. I had a tough road, and he was there every step of the way. It was my first playoff game, and he said it was like his first playoff game, too. And he said that when I scored on that run, it almost felt like he was down on the sideline running alongside me. That was big for me."

Lynch's mother, Delisa, watched the game at home in Oakland, which Marshawn believes was fortuitous. Known for her in-stadium histrionics during his career at Cal, "Mama Lynch" might have ratcheted up the Richter scale reading.

"As she gets a little older, I think she's getting worse," says Lynch, who sports a "Mama's Boy" tattoo that bridges his shoulder blades. "I'm glad she wasn't there, because I'm pretty sure I would've seen her on the video screen. Somebody would've been getting fined for letting her on the field, because she probably would've beat me to the end zone, too."

Watching in a luxury suite, Hendrickson had reason to celebrate as well. The man known to college teammates as "Money Lynch" undoubtedly increased his earning power on the strength of that single play. Lynch, who has a year remaining on the five-year, $19 million contract he signed as a rookie, would seem to be in line for an extension with the Seahawks, though the uncertain labor situation could postpone those discussions.

"I hope we can get something done," Hendrickson says. "He loves it there."

After the game, a group that included Hendrickson and Forsett walked into the Metropolitan Grill and got the royal treatment, as well as a hearty greeting from Seahawks general manager John Schneider. When a replay of the run was shown on a TV screen in the bar, the venerable Seattle steakhouse roared with applause.

Later, the owner approached Hendrickson's table and presented him with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, vintage 2002, with the word "Beast" on the label. "This is for Marshawn," he told Hendrickson.

After a prolonged stretch of career stagnation, Lynch should probably get used to being the toast of the town.

"A lot of people have a lot of good things to say, and if I was one to buy into what they're saying and how they're feeling about me, I probably would've landed somewhere flat on my face by now," Lynch says. "The key is to keep moving forward. The biggest thing to come out of this was that it gives us another chance to line up and try to do something great this weekend.

"I think that run was just the tip of it. There are still some things that need to be done."

Whatever happens in the future, rest assured that Lynch's world has been rocked, too.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

The Bears will clamp down on Hasselbeck, Lynch and the rest of the Seahawks as Jay Cutler(notes) celebrates his first postseason victory on Sunday at Soldier Field. … Now that the Packers have a running game – unlike the last time they visited the Georgia Dome – my preseason Super Bowl pick will win a tight game against the Falcons on Saturday night. … The Ravens-Steelers game, as usual, will come down to a late turnover – and Ray Lewis(notes) will be right in the middle of it as Baltimore prevails at Heinz Field.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Foxborough, for the third and most charged meeting between the rival Patriots (“We do our talking on the field”) and Jets (“We do our talking everywhere”). I covered the first game and watched the blowout of a rematch play out in HD. The rubber match should be highly entertaining, and the postgame locker rooms more so.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. After witnessing wideout Wes Welker’s(notes) news conference on Thursday, Bill Belichick called the receiver to his office and chastised him for “putting your [expletive] foot in your mouth.”

2. There is nothing I love more about my job than groveling for the attention of unresponsive or semi-responsive athletes.

3. Hours after Joe Theismann butchered the name of Patriots running back Danny Woodhead(notes) during an NFL Network taping, Deion Sanders laughed so hard while watching this Billy Bob Thornton movie on DVD that he required medical attention.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in honor of her continued recovery, along with the victims of the horrific Tucson shooting and their grieving loved ones. And for those of you who felt my brief words on the tragedy were meant to target the Tea Party in general, or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin specifically, you might want to re-read the message and reconsider your knee-jerk, defensive reactions. When I do decide to Palin-bash, trust me, you’ll know.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

After a terrific season that ended with an NCAA quarterfinal defeat in penalty kicks to eventual champion Akron, the glory continued for Kevin Grimes’ men’s soccer program, as five Golden Bears were selected in Thursday’s MLS draft. Defender A.J. Soares went to the New England Revolution with the sixth overall pick, followed by defender Demitrius Omphroy (Toronto), midfielder Servando Carrasco (Seattle), midfielder Hector Jimenez (Los Angeles) and forward Davis Paul (Chicago). And on the women’s side, outgoing Cal senior Megan Jesolva was one of 24 players invited to a training camp for the U.S. under-23 women’s national team.

Cal’s defending national champion rugby team opened its season with a 69-3 victory over Sacramento State last Wednesday and continues its drive to have its varsity status restored. Oh, and some UC Berkeley scientists may have discovered a galaxy, meaning they’ll have good reason to root for Jimenez’s MLS team.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

dead body Sapp

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

Last Friday morning, the mood among most of my fellow Cal loyalists was quite somber, what with a Big Game defeat still stinging our rear ends, Andrew Luck’s day-old declaration that he was staying in college and reports that Jim Harbaugh was strongly leaning (oops) toward remaining at Stanford, too. Ah, but what a difference a week makes. Harbaugh went to Ninerland on Friday, and the following afternoon Lynch’s earth-rattling touchdown run kicked off an NFL playoff weekend of Golden Bear-drenched awesomeness. On Wednesday the Carolina Panthers, who own the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, gave their heading coaching job to former Cal great Ron Rivera. Yep, things are turning around – and remember, Luck still has one more day to change his mind. Perhaps he’ll be inspired by today’s homage to the classic "California Love," with former Cal basketball standout (Too Much) Rod Benson and fellow alum and Bangles frontwoman Susanna Hoffs doing the Pac and Dre parts, respectively.

California Love!

California … knows how to party
California … knows how to party
In the citaaaay of Green Bay
In the citaaaay of Seattle
In the citaaaay, the city of Philly
We’ll slap you silly! We’ll slap you silly!

Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west
Where Crows kill them mockingbirds like Gregory Peck
Cannon hits ya eardrum faster than Jahvid Best(notes)
Take some shots back at Henry’s, send The Beaver a text
We down in Lower Sproul with that bomb-ass drum beat
And right up the stairs there was the birth of Free Speech
And drunks be on a mission for Top Dogs
In our scene we go green like Kermit the Frog
Remember The Play? Beat Elway, smashed a trombone
Took Gabe Pruitt down, chanted his cell phone
Now it’s ’11 and we’re fixin’ to win again
In Haas Pavilion with J-Bizzle and Monty
It’s all good, from the homeless to the rich
We’re gonna smack you down like we’re on the rugby pitch
Runnin’ right through you like two-four Money Lynch
Y’all can’t bring him down cause he’s so seismic

California … knows how to party
California … (West Coast) knows how to party
In the citaaaay of Green Bay
In the citaaaay of Seattle
In the citaaaay, the city of Charlotte
Rivera’s on it, Rivera’s on it

Now let me shake, come on …
Shake it shake it baby
Shake it shake it baby
Shake it shake it Marshawn
Shake it Cali
Shake it shake it baby
Shake it shake it shake it shake it Marshawn
Shake it Cali …

Titletown, he’s throwin’ down, California dreamin’
Soon he’ll be rulin’ the league, flossin’ like Willie Beamen
Goes into Philly and beats DeSean
That game-saving tackle made by Desmond Bishop(notes) – yeah Roll On
In Atlanta Gonzalez is waiting (that’s right)
Eatin’ veggies and fresh fruit and ridin’ with DeCoud
Pregame maybe Bartkowski will come down and throw too
Famous because we pound fools leaguewide
Let ‘em recognize from Nnamdi to Alualu
And Tully Banta-Cain(notes) blows by you, the blind side
So you see UC will take down your whole crew
Say what you say
Forsett, Morrah, Gibson, Mebane Think Pete Carroll got some Bears on the brain?
Fujita and Mack now
Rockin’ Cleveland in the background
Cali is where they will come back now
Give ‘em love!

California … knows how to party
California … knows how to party
In the citaaaay of K.C.
In the citaaaay of Washington
In the citaaaay, the city of Berkeley
They keep us thirsty! They keep us thirsty!

Now make it shake …
Shake it shake it baby
Shake it shake it baby
Shake it shake it Marshawn
Shake it Cali
Shake it shake it baby
Shake it shake it shake it shake it…

Uh, yeah, uh Longwell in the tha house, uh yeah
Carter, Andre definitely in tha house hahaha
Syd’Quan, Syd’Quan
Hey, you know KJ is up in this
Mr. Mayor, where you at?
Yeah, Naked Guy, Naked Guy, lookin’ down from the sky
Even Didion tryin’ to get a piece baby
Adam Duritz, Adam Duritz where ya at? Yeah

Throw it up, A-Rod, throw it up, throw it up
Let’s show these fools how we do this on that west side
Cause you and I know it’s tha best side

Yeah, that’s riiight
West Coast, West Coast
Uh, California Love
California Love