Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Quake, as told by a Saint who 'melted like soft butter' trying to tackle him

Henry Bushnell

Jabari Greer can still hear the roar. He couldn’t quite feel Seattle tremble. But he remembers the noise. The crescendo as Marshawn Lynch bounced off one tackle, then a second, then his. The soundtrack to one of the most iconic runs in NFL history.

He remembers a lot about that day, Jan. 8, 2011, but most of all the play it is known for, because he lived it. He was on the field for it. He played an unfortunate role in it. And because his son won’t let him forget.

Greer was a starting cornerback on that New Orleans Saints team, the one that went to Seattle expecting to win and instead left devastated by the Beast Quake. Now he’s an NFL analyst for TSN in Toronto. So occasionally he’ll make an off-hand comment, reacting to a game. “Ooh, that cornerback should make that tackle,” he might say.

But where Greer sees innocuous commentary, his teenager sees bait.

“Oh, yeah, kinda like you shoulda made that tackle against Marshawn Lynch,” the 15-year-old might shoot back.

Whatever the mischievous joke, Lynch is invariably the punchline. And whenever he is, Greer’s up-close view of the play is the inescapable context.

With Beast Mode back in Seattle, and with another Seahawks playoff run near, replays of his legendary moment have returned. As they flooded screens of all kinds across North America, Greer shared his unique perspective with Yahoo Sports. “That was one of the top three loudest moments I’ve ever experienced in football,” he says. “It was deafening. It was intimidating. And you knew – I kinda felt I was in the middle of something. I was in the middle of something special.”

This is the story of Lynch’s seismic run, as told by one of the many defensive players who could do nothing about it.

‘There’s no way we’re gonna lose’

“First of all,” Greer says, “there’s no way we should be traveling.” Not as an 11-5 menace, with what Greer calls “one of our best teams.” And certainly not to a 7-9 pretender who snuck into the playoffs out of a feeble division. But rules are rules, and much like the 2019 Seahawks will travel to Philly despite winning two more regular-season games than the Eagles, the 2010 Saints hit the road.

Still, though, Greer remembers thinking: “There’s no way we’re gonna lose.”

And sure enough, as 10-point favorites, they took an early 17-7 lead. Seattle, after all, was ranked 30th out of 32 teams in DVOA. It had the league’s fourth-worst offense. It had no business being in the playoffs. A 10-point deficit to the defending Super Bowl champs should have drained Qwest Field of any and all hope.

Yet the game suddenly developed into a shootout. Matt Hasselback threw three touchdowns. The Seahawks went up 14, and clung to a four-point lead with under four minutes remaining in the fourth.

That’s when Hasselbeck called 17 Power. Lynch thought, “Oh my god, I’ve been trying to get a power for so long!” Hasselbeck told him to “hit it downhill.” Lynch did that and much, much more.

Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch (24) breaks away from a tackle by the New Orleans Saints defenders to score a touchdown in the second half of an NFL NFC wild card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Nine years ago, Marshawn Lynch broke away from the New Orleans Saints in one of the most improbable touchdown runs in NFL history. (AP)

‘Why can’t they get him down?’

The Saints, Greer says, were in zone coverage. “He breaks through our defensive line,” Greer recalls. “And I wonder, like, wow — they shoulda made that tackle.”

Then, Greer remembers, Lynch “breaks through our linebacker corps. And next thing I know, I see him coming straight at me.”

Greer, No. 33 in white, had never tackled Lynch before in an official game. He had, though, been teammates and locker-room neighbors with the running back in Buffalo. They’d come face-to-face in practice. Greer remembers Lynch as someone who “turned it on during the game. But you knew that if you brushed up against him in practice, you were gonna feel it.”

Still, though, as he collapsed down from his left corner position to meet Lynch ... “I’m thinking, obviously, it’s gonna be an easy tackle.

“I go and try to make a tackle at like a 45 degree angle, and just literally melt like soft butter, man. And next thing I knew, he keeps on running, and then he stiff arms a teammate of mine, and next thing I know, the stadium is going crazy.

“It’s one of those things where it kinda happened in slow motion. You see all your players missing these tackles, and you wonder, ‘Why can’t they get him down?’ And then you [try to] make the tackle, and you realize … Oh, OK. That’s why.”

Greer popped back up from the turf in an instant, and continued his pursuit. He thought he might get a second shot. “We all took off around him,” he remembers. “But they had good blocking on the backside. The guys ran with him. And they kinda created a wall.”

In the moment, as Lynch leapt over the goal line, Greer says he didn’t quite realize how remarkable the play had been. Then he got back to the sideline. And the video boards at Qwest Field did their thing.

It’s more impressive now

“Once we saw the replays, we kinda understood the impact,” Greer says. “As soon as they scored, they would keep on showing replays on the jumbotron over and over and over again. And we see how many times he broke tackles. We see the strength and the force he was running with. It was one of those things where you knew it was gonna be on SportsCenter Top 10 later that day.”

They tried to watch it back for educational purposes. But “really, the coach didn’t have anything to say,” Greer recalls. “The corrections were, ‘You gotta make the tackle. You gotta make the tackle.’ ” There was nothing schematic about Lynch’s Beast Mode brilliance.

“On the sideline,” Greer continues, “we were making fun of some of the guys who had a less than fortunate encounter with Marshawn. We all missed. But not everybody looked bad. The guys that looked bad, we kinda poked fun at them a bit.

“We were still in the middle of the game. But it kind of built up, the further that we got away from that play, we got to have a little bit more fun with it.”

Nine years later, there are no regrets. No sour feelings. “I think it’s more impressive when you kinda remove from it,” he explains. “It wasn’t impressive being there. Because there’s so many different emotions that was tied into that. But the more I’m removed from it … it really is impressive, the further I get away from that guy that missed the tackle.”

Most of Greer’s teammates, understandably, would prefer not to talk about it. Several declined or did not respond to interview requests. Greer, though, has nothing to shy away from. After all, if a reporter didn’t remind him about it, his son, who’s a Seahawks fan, probably would.

And besides, Greer says, “it was kind of pre-destined.” He now sees the bigger picture, and what the Seahawks have done since. The Super Bowl and the consistent success. “Obviously the organization needed that push,” he says. “This was Pete Carroll’s [first] season. It was the start of the program. It was the start of what they have right now.”

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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.