SEATTLE -- The Seahawks have received a lot of attention for their new-age sensibility – the meditation sessions and yoga class cited as evidence of a nontraditional football environment.
Coach Pete Carroll doesn’t stifle his players’ personal creativity, his surfer-cool persona lending an air of freedom to a sport more accustomed to “my way or the highway” proclamations.
“If you’re a loose guy and you dance at practice like I do, he allows you to be that guy,” Richard Sherman said as the Seahawks prepared for today’s NFC Championship Game against the 49ers.
But all that seeming touchy-feeliness belies a basic truth of Seahawks football: It’s predicated on pure, old-school, bad-guy toughness.
And at the center of all that is running back Marshawn Lynch, perpetually demonstrating a relentless, punishing style of play that permeates the team.
The Seahawks aim to intimidate, to impose their will through tenets of the sport that would have been understood, and applauded, by Pop Warner and Vince Lombardi: hitting harder than the other guy.
When it was noted to Seahawks safety Earl Thomas that even though the defense seemed to bully the Saints receivers last weekend, the 49ers’ receivers are bigger, he replied evenly, “I think we can bully whoever we want to bully. It’s about us. It’s about a mindset.”
Put aside all the Lynch sideshows – the Skittles obsession, the plumbing commercial, the tug-of-war over media appearances – and the former Cal star in his “Beast Mode” (which teammates will tell you never leaves him) is the essence of Seahawks football.
For all the consternation this week about Russell Wilson and the struggles of the Seattle passing game, history shows the game will be determined by the comparative success of Lynch and his San Francisco counterpart, Frank Gore. In the past eight games between San Francisco and Seattle, the team that rushed for more yards won.
Lynch not only galvanizes the Seahawks’ offense, he inspires a defensive unit that takes pride in its ability to deliver a lick.
“When you see what he’s doing for the team, why wouldn’t you want to be part of that?” defensive back Byron Maxwell said. “You feed off that energy. You see him out there breaking tackles, running through people – that’s something you love from your back. You think, ‘I’ve got to do the same thing.’ ”
Carroll has compared Lynch to Earl Campbell, the gold standard of a back who fights for every last inch. Vic Fangio, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, said in 2011 that Lynch was “running angry.”
Maxwell remembers getting juked by Lynch once in practice. “I could feel the energy off him,” he marveled.
On occasion, of course, that style culminates in a spectacular run that becomes a highlight-reel mainstay. More often, and more significantly in the big picture, it means turning a potential loss of yardage into a short gain, or extending a would-be 2-yard run into a 7-yard run, all through sheer force of will.
In 2010, shortly after his arrival in Seattle, Lynch explained Beast Mode: “It’s just a state of mind I follow. That basically, I won’t be denied, and I’m just relentless at what I do, and that’s running that ball.”
Last weekend, after rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle’s 23-15 playoff win over New Orleans, Lynch crystallized that philosophy into an even more succinct edict: “I don’t run to get tackled.”
It’s a punishing way of doing business – both for opposing defenses who have to try to stop him, and for Lynch himself, who pays a physical price for slamming into bodies with little regard for the consequences. It’s telling that Carroll has expressed relief more than once that Lynch has weathered another season of reckless abandon.
“We’re really just so grateful that he feels so good right now,” Carroll said.
Grateful, because Lynch will be critical to the Seahawks’ hopes of beating the 49ers and advancing to their second Super Bowl.
“He represents our style of football: hard, fast and physical,” offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy said.
That’s Beast Mode. The Seahawks’ mode.