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SEATTLE – Marshawn Lynch runs like a man who's late for a liver transplant, taking on defenders with a driven defiance that leaves all parties bruised and battered by game's end.
Yet even though Lynch plays football's most disposable position and tends to get caught up in a disproportionate share of gang tackles, the Seattle Seahawks' sixth-year halfback has zero desire for coach Pete Carroll to lighten his load.
"I gotta earn my paycheck," Lynch said last Monday night as he dined with family and friends following the Seahawks' stunning, controversial and indelible 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field. "I want to earn my paycheck. So yeah, give it to me as much as you want – let's go."
With a rookie starting quarterback and a conservative attack designed to take advantage of Seattle's deceptive defensive dominance, Lynch is the man who makes the Seahawks' offense go. With 98 yards on 25 carries against the Packers, Lynch took over the NFC's rushing lead with 305 yards in three games.
Since Week 9 of last season, Lynch has more yards (1,246 in 12 games) than any NFL running back, making Carroll and the Seahawks' front office feel very good about the decision to sign him to a four-year, $31-million contract extension last March.
Though Lynch, a former Bills first-round pick the Seahawks acquired in an October 2010 trade, had an offseason DUI arrest that rekindled fears about the off-the-field issues that made him expendable in Buffalo, he is all business when it comes to helping the Seahawks (2-1) compete for some lofty team goals.
In an era in which running backs tend to become less productive after cashing in – the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson is the current poster child, while Seahawks fans painfully recall what happened after former league MVP Shaun Alexander signed an eight-year, $62-million deal in 2006 – Lynch seems to be plowing ahead and hitting the hole even harder.
Ask Lynch about his contract extension, and he scoffs at the implication that it might impact his on-field mindset.
"I didn't 'get paid,' " he said, his voice rising. "Getting paid what? No. I don't look at it that way. I love to play football, and I have an opportunity here to do something special.
"My main goal wasn't to get paid. My main goal was to win a Super Bowl. I've been in the league six years, and I've had a losing season every year I've played. I don't really like to lose. Right now, this is an opportunity where something could change for me. So getting paid ain't nothing. I wanna get a Super Bowl. Then we'll talk."
Lynch came up huge in his sole trip to the postseason two seasons ago – his 67-yard touchdown odyssey through eight New Orleans Saints defenders ranked with the greatest runs in NFL playoff history and clinched a shocking first-round upset for the 7-9 Seahawks.
If he seems like a man in a hurry when he totes the rock, it's no illusion: Consider that in the immediate aftermath of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's 24-yard "Fail Mary" to Golden Tate Monday night, as players from both teams drifted onto the field and tried to sort out the situation, Lynch bolted for the Seattle locker room and hit the showers.
"When they came to get us and told us to go back out for the extra point, I was buck naked," Lynch recalled. "They looked at me and said, 'Nah, it's cool – you can stay here.' "
If Lynch was eager to get to dinner at the Metropolitan Grill, it was understandable. Not only was he spending precious time with a woman near and dear to his heart – Shirley Stevenson, his grandmother, who lives in Lynch's hometown of Oakland – but he was also in the presence of more than a dozen other people he'd invited to join him for the game (including one conflicted friend, biotech executive Gregg Fergus, who'd brought his whole family out from Wisconsin).
"People have no idea what a thoughtful guy he is," said Lynch's friend Geoff Callan, a San Francisco-based actor whose wife, Hilary, is the sister of California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, another member of Marshawn's eclectic inner circle. "Not too long ago he got up at 6 a.m. to come to the Avon Breast Cancer Walk with my wife. She thinks he's the sweetest, nicest, kindest guy he's ever met."
Another friend of Lynch's, San Francisco-based real-estate developer Ron Fiore, asked the running back to accompany him to an inner-city youth basketball game a few months ago and was blown away by the powerful message the Oakland native delivered.
"I took him to Potrero Hill, where I'm from, and we have these kids from gangs in a hoops league," Fiore recalled. "Kids are playing with kids they'd be shooting at normally. He walked out to center court and said, 'My name is Marshawn Lynch, and like many of you, I came from humble beginnings. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything you want to do, and the most important thing is education. 'Cause if I hadn't gone to Cal, they wouldn't have found me.' "
Lynch, whose Family First Foundation is facilitating the construction of an Oakland youth center scheduled to open sometime next year, declined to discuss his July arrest in his hometown, citing the sensitive nature of the pending legal situation. It was Lynch's first off-the-field incident in three-and-a-half years, and it made for a rough morning after and beyond.
"He's worked extremely hard the last four years to do the right thing," said Lynch's agent, Doug Hendrickson. "So yeah, he beat himself up for it, no question. He had his camp the next day and ended up talking about his arrest to 600 kids at Oakland Tech [High School, Lynch's alma mater].
"He said, 'Look, I screwed up.' It was a very powerful message. This is a kid that doesn't hide from stuff. He tackles it head on."
Two of Lynch's former campers – and current Washington Huskies football players – also attended the dinner: receiver DiAndre Campbell and cornerback Marcus Peters. The Oakland natives, referred to by Lynch as "my kids," are part of his ever-expanding extended family.
"Look at these kids," said Lynch's uncle, Patrick, a Bay Area realtor. "They came to his camp, and he still keeps in touch with him – and trust me, they're not alone. Who does that? He's a unique guy."
Yet for all his mentoring, charity work and efforts to give back to Oakland, Lynch exudes a childlike excitement when hanging out with those close to him. Perhaps for that reason, the 26-year-old resists any attempts to ascribe the M-word to his current mentality.
"More mature?" he asked incredulously. "No. No. I'm the same. Really."
Said Hendrickson: "He's in a phenomenal place in life. Money's never made this guy – and most of the money he makes off the field he has directed to his foundation. He loves being in Seattle, loves the fans and the organization, and he truly doesn't care about individual awards or yards or any of that. His sole purpose is to lead the organization to a Super Bowl."
While Lynch is thrilled to play a prominent role in Seattle's success, body and career longevity be damned, he's not approaching his situation selfishly, either. In fact, Lynch may have been the first Pro Bowl-caliber running back I've ever heard suggest that his team should pass more, as he did toward the end of our dinner Monday night.
Part of that is because he has faith in his quarterback. When Wilson, a third-round pick out of Wisconsin, beat out free-agent signee Matt Flynn for the starting job this summer, Lynch says he wasn't as surprised as most outsiders and wasn't concerned about having an inexperienced player under center.
"To tell you the truth, I actually didn't [trip]," Lynch said. "He came in and took a professional approach – first one in the building, last one out, coming in on his off days – and remember, he was a professional [baseball player] already.
"What happened out there [Monday night], leading us down and winning it on the last play? That's a fairy tale. You feel me? That [expletive] really doesn't happen too often. And honestly, with the weapons we have, I would like to see us take more shots."
Whatever the Seahawks do, you can bet Lynch will take more shots than virtually anyone in pro football, and he'll dole out his share of punishment, too.
After all, he's trying to earn his paycheck, uplift a community and help a franchise to its first championship – and yes, he's in a hurry to accomplish all of it.
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