By Michael Silver | July 23, 2020

It lasted less than three weeks, but Marshawn Lynch's surprising late-season return to the Seahawks last year helped heal broken hearts, mended fences and supplied a sense of closure for all parties involved.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some of the quotes in this story contain language that may be offensive. The language was preserved to present the speaker's message as the speaker intended.

The familiar figure emerged from the double doors and ambled onto the indoor practice field at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, a triumphant smile on his face and a dark blue hoodie layered underneath the "24" jersey on his back. The jersey had a nameplate, but it wasn't necessary. With 2Pac's California Love blaring from the sound system, all eyes were on Marshawn Lynch as the iconic and iconoclastic halfback stepped onto the turf last Christmas Eve day, more than 14 months removed from his last NFL action -- and nearly four years since the last time he'd suited up for the Seattle Seahawks, the franchise with whom he'll always be inexorably linked.

Five days before the game that would decide the NFC West title, Lynch had a hood over his head and his hands in a front sweatshirt pocket as everyone in his midst waited anxiously to see what the future Hall of Famer, four months shy of his 34th birthday, still had left. Lynch was anxious, too. An almost freakish rash of December injuries had created a massive need at the running back position as the Seahawks closed in on the postseason, and Lynch -- who'd actually begun to plant the seeds of his unlikely return as far back as training camp -- had arrived to provide the 2019 NFL campaign's most dramatic plot twist.

For the story to sizzle, however, he had to show that this was more than a nostalgic romp -- that Beast Mode was not yet extinct.

A few minutes later, the Seahawks got their answer, and so did Lynch. It was the ultimate Blast From the Past.

Lynch took a handoff from quarterback Russell Wilson and hit the hole, and it was as if time stopped. He got to the second level, quickly. He looked good. Like, 2014 good. Agile and spry, Lynch put on a show, making quick cuts, bouncing off defenders, catching the ball in traffic and rambling into the secondary. As the practice continued and Lynch kept charging, coach Pete Carroll, general manager John Schneider and virtually everyone else on the field felt the energy and vibed off of it. There were oohs and aaahs and shouts of "OG!" as the unique combination of burst and power and furious defiance was blessedly resurrected for all to see.

As Lynch would recall months later while vacationing on Hawaii's Big Island, "They were really on some hype, like, 'Damn, OG, your old ass can still move.' It was always that 'OG' s---. But s---, I ain't gonna lie: I oohed and aahed my damn self. I wasn't expecting to be able to move and get down like that.

"But I guess it was just like once I got plugged back in, I was in The Matrix or something."

Five nights later, in front of 69,162 revved-up fans and a rapt Sunday Night Football audience, Lynch emerged from the end-zone tunnel at CenturyLink Field and felt the magnitude of the moment. He had been on quite a journey with this franchise, from the Beast Quake run in January 2011 that marked the first great moment of the Carroll Era, to the unrequited yard that separated the Seahawks from a second consecutive Super Bowl victory and ultimately tore the team apart at its seams. Now, improbably, he was back. He took a deep breath and took it all in; the moment felt surreal.

Two Sundays earlier, Lynch had been tailgating in the Oakland Coliseum's C Lot, pouring tequila shots for fans as he prepared to watch his most recent team, the Raiders, play in his hometown for the final time before their move to Las Vegas. And here he was, 800 miles to the north, preparing to get meaningful touches in a game against the San Francisco 49ers, with the NFC West on the line.

"It was such an extraordinary story. Could it possibly be that he could be part of this thing? And sure enough, he scored the touchdown. I teared up. I was so fired up." PETE CARROLL

"To be from one week sitting down, kicking back, drinking hella Hennessy, and then the next week to ... Beast Mode," Lynch marveled. "That s--- felt hella good."

His presence wasn't merely ceremonial. He got the first of his 12 carries on the game's second series, rumbling for 5 yards. Later, with 9:55 remaining in the game and the Seahawks at the 49ers' 1-yard line, Wilson handed the ball to Lynch, who leaped over the line and into the end zone, cutting the Niners' lead to 19-14 and sending the stadium into a state of delirium.

There were plenty of non-dry eyes in the house, including some on the Seattle sideline.

"It was such an extraordinary story," Carroll recalled. "Could it possibly be that he could be part of this thing? And sure enough, he scored the touchdown. I teared up. I was so fired up."

As fans and teammates celebrated wildly, Lynch, too, got emotional.

Damnnnnnn ... I'm hella old, and I just scored. What the f--- is going on?

Then things got even crazier. With 22 seconds to go and San Francisco now leading 26-21, the Seahawks, once again, were a yard away from the end zone. There were goosebumps everywhere -- from the luxury suite containing part of a cheering section (including California Gov. Gavin Newsom) that, in the estimation of Lynch's agent, Doug Hendrickson, amounted to "half of Oakland," to the back of Carroll's neck. This was the coach's chance to make an emphatic statement: Though he and Lynch can never claim that Lombardi Trophy they were so close to grasping in Super Bowl XLIX, the sight of the running back blasting in from a yard out in this context would have constituted a euphoric cleansing for all parties -- and, in Carroll's words, "a story for the ages."

Alas, it didn't happen. A delay-of-game penalty moved the ball back to the 5, Lynch jogged to the sideline, and the Seahawks were held inches short of a winning score.

Two weeks later, at Lambeau Field, Lynch had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs against the Green Bay Packers, but Seattle fell 5 points short again, this time in a Divisional Round playoff game. Afterward, Lynch paid a visit to the home locker room to catch up with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, his old Cal teammate, before giving a heartfelt speech to the Seahawks that several witnesses said gave them chills.

Finally, he took the podium for a postgame press conference, dispensing additional advice to young players throughout the league in his inimitable style ("Start taking care of y'all mentals, y'all bodies and y'all chicken") and quickly cashing in with T-shirt and hoodie sales bearing one of his newly coined slogans.

In other words: vintage Marshawn Lynch.

The fairy-tale ending that he and Carroll had both desperately craved never happened. Yet, looking back, the Return of Beast Mode was pretty damn satisfying -- surely, it was one of the more uplifting stories of the 2019 season. And it all began with a chance meeting at a Bellevue steakhouse in the heart of summer.

The first thing Lynch noticed as he entered the private room in the back of the restaurant last August was the size of one of the men who stood up to greet him.

"I remember big-ass Chris Berman came over, big as a mother------, like, 'Hey, how you doing?' " Lynch recalled. "And I'm like, 'Holy s---!' "

The famed sports broadcaster was enjoying dinner with Schneider, the team's GM since January of 2010, and longtime senior vice president of communications Dave Pearson -- an annual training camp tradition. Earlier, during a bathroom break, Schneider had stopped to say hello after spotting Lynch, who was dining with family members in the restaurant's main area. Now, as the four men exchanged pleasantries, the banter was decidedly lighthearted.

During Lynch's final few years with the Seahawks -- leading up to his first "retirement" a few weeks after a 2015 playoff defeat to the Carolina Panthers, via a tweet (with peace-sign emoji and photo of hung-up cleats) in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50 -- these relationships hadn't been so rosy. Contract issues and general workplace dissatisfaction had crossed up Lynch's connections with Carroll, Schneider and Pearson. He barely spoke to the coach and GM and openly referred to Pearson as "The PO-lice," routinely rebuffing the PR executive's efforts to get him to speak to reporters.

"It was time for him to move on," Schneider said. "The message had gotten old. There were a lot of people in his ear about how he'd gotten screwed in the Super Bowl (XLIX)."

Earlier this offseason, Carroll referred to the fallout from that Super Bowl XLIX defeat as a grieving process, later elaborating: "It was such an emotional way to lose for everybody, and we had to rebuild everybody's brain. We just bludgeoned our way through that. I tried to just make sure that I was unwavering. So, that was the challenge: To allow for the grieving and all of that, and then see what the issues were, and then put it back together. Yeah, that was hard. It was a hard challenge. It was really hard on some players. And some of us will never get over it."

Suffice it to say, that heartbreaking sequence was especially hard on Lynch. Yet long before his head coach's confounding decision not to hand him the ball at the 1-yard line and the absurd conspiracy theories that followed -- including speculation that Carroll was motivated by a desire to have Wilson, rather than the enigmatic running back, win Super Bowl MVP -- the strain between Lynch and his superiors had become conspicuous.

At one point during the 2014 season, on the eve of a road game at Washington, Lynch got on an elevator at the team hotel with two other passengers: Schneider and Schneider's wife, Traci. As the trio ascended, Lynch spoke cordially with Traci while declining to acknowledge John's existence.

Flash-forward to last August. On that night in Bellevue, the upscale business area east of Seattle, on the opposite end of Lake Washington, there was nothing but love.

"It was time for him to move on. The message had gotten old. There were a lot of people in his ear about how he'd gotten screwed in the Super Bowl (XLIX)." JOHN SCHNEIDER

"You look like you're still in shape," Schneider told Lynch. "Like you could play a little bit."

"Maaaaan," Lynch shot back, "you don't think I can play anymore. You think I'm washed up."

"No, I think you could still play. But, I mean, you'd never want to play for us again."

Lynch just laughed, not taking the conversation seriously.

Schneider told Lynch that, in theory, he'd be well-suited for a late-season role as a third-down/short-yardage back, given his ability to catch the ball, block and run in tight spaces.

"You never know how it goes. Maybe you could get yourself in shape and come in around Week 9."

"Nah," Lynch said, "maybe Week 13 or something."

Schneider knew Lynch wasn't being literal. As the running back recalled, "That was just busting jokes and s---."

Yet, as far back as the spring, Schneider had pondered the late-season-comeback scenario in conversations with Hendrickson, Lynch's agent. Lynch, who'd retired a second time after an injury-shortened 2018 season with the Raiders, had been working out with then-Rams (and current Ravens) cornerback Marcus Peters and well-traveled quarterback Josh Johnson, his close friends, cousins and fellow Oakland natives. After Lynch told Hendrickson how good he felt during those sessions, the agent brought up the idea of a Seattle return with Schneider, saying, "Listen, if Marshawn came back, he would want to play for you guys."

Recalled Hendrickson: "I don't think (Schneider) believed me. I think he thought, 'Come on, man, really?' The way things ended there, it was a difficult time for a lot of people."

Yet, for Schneider, any sense that there was lingering resentment on Lynch's part was put to rest on the night of Sept. 23, when he and Traci attended former Seahawks defense end Cliff Avril's charity event, Dining to Make a Difference, at the W hotel in Bellevue.

"Traci and I bumped into Marshawn right away," Schneider remembered. "And it was obvious at that point that whatever angst he had toward the organization, or Pete or myself, he had let it go. It was the first time we had really opened up to each other like that in several years.

"I said, 'You getting ready? You staying in shape?'… kinda messing with him a little bit. And he said, 'Shoot, I can be ready to go. You ain't serious, anyway.' "

Schneider was at least semi-serious: He had recently gone back and watched tape of each of Lynch's touches during the 2018 season, the running back's second with Oakland, and liked what he saw. Confident that Lynch could still play at a high level, Schneider assured the running back his interest was real.

"You never know," the GM told him. "You don't know how this is gonna go. We don't have a real great emergency list of running backs this year, and shoot, man, if you're ready to go, you can still run it."

They talked for a few more minutes before Lynch told Schneider, once again, "You're not serious."

"I am, man," Schneider insisted. "I think you should stay ready."

Despite hard feelings still remaining from the disappointment of Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks remained interested in re-signing Lynch, who had shown he still had something left while in Oakland. (Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports)
Despite hard feelings still remaining from the disappointment of Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks remained interested in re-signing Lynch, who had shown he still had something left while in Oakland. (Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports)

Two months later, with Chris Carson having established himself as one of the NFL's top runners and the Seahawks in the thick of the chase for the NFC's top playoff seed, Schneider and Hendrickson had another conversation about the possibility of Lynch returning.

"How long would he need (to get ready)?" Schneider asked the agent.

"Good question," Hendrickson said. "Maybe two weeks?"

From the agent's perspective, it seemed like an extreme longshot. Heading into a Week 14 Sunday Night Football showdown with the Rams in Los Angeles, Seattle was 10-2 and tied with the 49ers atop the NFC West; four weeks earlier, the Seahawks had gone on the road and dealt San Francisco its first defeat of the season. Carson ranked among the NFL's rushing leaders, having just registered his fifth 100-yard game of the season, and second-year backup Rashaad Penny, a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, was two weeks removed from a breakout game (14 carries, 129 yards) against the Philadelphia Eagles.

And then, on the first drive of that Dec. 8 game against the Rams, everything changed: Penny caught a screen pass, charged ahead for a 16-yard gain and went down in obvious pain. He had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, casting a pall over Seattle's 28-12 defeat. The next day, having slept very little thanks to the late flight home, Schneider left the team facility to trade in his leased car at a nearby dealership. As he prepared to head back to Renton in his new ride, Schneider got a text from Mo Kelly, the Seahawks' vice president of player engagement: "Hey, you know Marshawn's in the building right now and is looking for you and Pete?"

"WHAT?" Schneider texted back, then called Kelly and said, "You gotta get him out of there."

"It was a hard phone call to make. I said, 'Look, bro, it's not gonna happen. They feel good about their (running back) situation, and a lot of things would have to happen for this to go down.' " DOUG HENDRICKSON

The issue was this: Because Lynch, who hadn't filed retirement papers, was technically an unrestricted free agent, his presence at the Seahawks' facility would have to be reported to the league as an official visit, which would potentially create a premature storyline Schneider and Carroll weren't ready to address. Schneider, of course, had no idea Lynch would be visiting; nor did Carroll, who was told during a meeting that Lynch was walking around the building and wondered what the heck was going on.

For that matter, Lynch's visit was news to Hendrickson, too.

Lynch, who traveled to Seattle semi-regularly to check in on the Beast Mode Apparel retail store near CenturyLink Field, had a legitimate reason to swing by the VMAC: His uncle, Lee Lynch, is a facilities assistant for the team. Still, the timing was curious. Schneider suggested that Marshawn and Uncle Lee meet him at Dino's, a burger joint and bar near the facility -- and he got no objection.

"My uncle's spot is Dino's," Lynch said, laughing. "He's at Dino's maybe seven times a week. I got word that I could get them put in harm's way if I were in the building, and all that technical s---, so my uncle just said, 'Come on, let's just go talk over there.' So we went over there, s---, and got loaded."

(The Seahawks nonetheless reported Lynch's visit to the league office, in compliance with the rules, a move later confirmed by an NFL official. The team also shared the news with local media members, depicting it as little more than a former player swinging by to greet some old friends.)

As they sat at a table near the dartboard, Schneider and Lynch, in the GM's words, "went through a whole litany of things. 'Do you really want to do this? Do you want to be around? Can you handle A, B and C? What are the rules of engagement? What are you doing? Where are you physically? Why do you want to do this?' He was amazing. We had a great conversation."

Recalled Lynch: "It was, how was I feeling? Is this really for real? Is this something I'd really be interested in and want? And, 'There is an opportunity for it to actually happen, so would you make this situation go if we had to pull the trigger?' And I said, 'If y'all really serious about it, then yeah.' So then they sort of put me on standby."

It was getting real -- and it was time to get the head coach involved.

Schneider kept Carroll apprised of his interactions with Lynch, but talks intensified when the team started to lose one running back after another to injury. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)
Schneider kept Carroll apprised of his interactions with Lynch, but talks intensified when the team started to lose one running back after another to injury. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

When Schneider got back to the facility, Carroll immediately asked him, "Why did you meet with him outside the building?"

"I didn't want anybody seeing us meeting here," Schneider answered.

The GM had kept Carroll loosely informed about his previous interactions with Lynch, but now, in the wake of Penny's injury, the conversation turned more substantive.

"Is he legitimate?" Schneider remembers Carroll asking. "Is he not legitimate? Does he really want to do it?"

"Yeah," Schneider answered, "he's saying he really wants to do it."

Carroll's next question? "How'd he look?"

"Good!" Schneider answered.

Recalled the coach: "It seemed a little bit inappropriate that all of a sudden he showed up in the building, not because of anything other than it might stir other people up. John and I had kind of come to expect the unexpected, you know? Yeah, I was surprised. But it did mean that he was serious, that he was serious about doing something. That set the stage, really. He had a really good thought in mind and a good strategy of how he was trying to get what he wanted. He figured that out."

Carroll wasn't yet sold. The scars from that Super Bowl XLIX defeat to the Patriots still stung, and even before that, his relationship with Lynch had deteriorated. In a Nov. 2014 game at Kansas City, Lynch remained on a sideline bench for the entirety of the 12-minute halftime period while the rest of the Seahawks filed into the locker room. After that 24-20 defeat to the Chiefs, in a phone interview conducted on the team bus, he voiced his frustrations to NFL.com about his uncertain future with the organization.

"He was laying on the bench in Kansas City at halftime," Carroll remembered. "It was freezing butt, now. Cold as you can get. And he stays out during halftime because (he later explained) his back was sore. It made no frickin sense at all. He was freezing his ass off and he stayed on the bench, which made no sense. (But) he needs to be the individual that he is."

While Carroll pondered the pros and cons of bringing back an estranged star, Lynch got serious about a comeback. After his unannounced visit to the VMAC and the subsequent conversation with Schneider at Dino's, Lynch flew back to the Bay Area and began ramping up his workouts under the supervision of longtime trainer Tareq Azim.

The following Sunday, Carson ran for 133 yards in the Seahawks' 30-24 road victory over the Carolina Panthers. Lynch remained in limbo.

Two days later, Schneider told Hendrickson, "Listen, as much as we love him and want him, we're not gonna do anything."

The agent took a few deep breaths before phoning Lynch to pass along the news.

"It was a hard phone call to make," Hendrickson said. "I said, 'Look, bro, it's not gonna happen. They feel good about their (running back) situation, and a lot of things would have to happen for this to go down.'"

Lynch said he understood -- and booked a flight out of the country, heading up to Toronto to visit some friends. He had moved on, physically and psychically.

Then, on Sunday, as Lynch was obliviously enjoying himself north of the border, s--- happened on the other side of the continent.

Hendrickson was on a bike ride with two of his children, traversing the verdant hillsides of Marin County, California, when his phone began blowing up. He finally pulled over and saw the most recent of many text messages from Schneider: "Call me."

Hendrickson had watched the first quarter of the Seahawks' home game against the Arizona Cardinals before getting on the bike. What he missed, in the words of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, was a "s---storm." In the second quarter, Carson suffered a broken hip. His backup, C.J. Prosise, entered the game -- and went down late in the first half with a broken arm. That left rookie Travis Homer, a sixth-round draft pick, as the Seahawks' lone healthy back, with receiver David Moore as a makeshift backup.

Recalled Schottenheimer: "It was, what do we do now?"

At halftime, Schneider left his luxury suite and headed to the locker room. He checked on Carson and Prosise in the training room and conferred with the team's medical staff: Both players were, as feared, lost for the season. Standing in a hallway right outside the coaches' locker area, Schneider and Carroll were shellshocked.

"Holy s---," Carroll said. "What just happened?"

Quickly, the subject turned to Lynch.

"Do you think he'd still want to do it?" Carroll asked.

"He said he did," Schneider answered.

"A lot of guys grew up watching him, and they didn't know him. I don't know if they were scared or intimidated, but they certainly didn't know how to deal with him. He knew that, and so he made it easy for them." PETE CARROLL

Once upstairs, Schneider finally heard back from Hendrickson, who texted, "Call me after the game."

The agent was home by then, having cut short the bike ride, but he still hadn't been able to get ahold of Lynch. More time passed. The Seahawks lost, 27-13, and Schneider and Carroll waited for an answer. By then, they had put aside their fears about Lynch's conditioning and the possibility that old baggage would resurface and fully embraced the idea.

In this case, necessity was the mother of reconciliation.

"To me, we turned the corner on it when we just realized that this could be really special," Carroll said. "At that point, it was kinda like, 'What the heck? Let's go for it.' "

Three hours after learning of the injuries to Carson and Prosise, Hendrickson finally got Lynch on the phone.

"By then, the whole world knew what had gone down," Hendrickson said. "He had no clue. I told him and said, 'You gotta be there tomorrow.' He got a late-night workout in and booked a flight for Monday morning."

Lynch missed the flight. When he rebooked, his seating options for the long, transcontinental journey were not optimal. Hendrickson remembered that the muscular running back sat in 35E; Lynch had a slightly different recollection. "Nah, hell no -- I wouldn't get in no middle seat," he said, laughing. "I did have a f----- up seat (in coach, toward the back), though."

By the time Lynch cleared customs and rolled up to the VMAC for the second time in 13 days, it was 4:30 p.m. Now, the only obstacle standing between him and a triumphant return to the Seahawks was a conversation with the head coach.

"You know, Pete has his ways," Lynch said. "But I've worked with Pete enough to know what's what. I knew what I was coming in for, so there really wasn't too much to be spoken on."

Still, after entering Carroll's office, Lynch did his best to assure the coach he was coming back for the right reasons -- to help the team in a time of need and do anything he could to uplift the franchise. And it played out like the famous scene at the end of Jerry Maguire: Carroll, essentially, told Lynch, "You had me at 'Hello.' "

"It was a very memorable conversation," Carroll recalled. "Really, the first 30 seconds, I could feel him and what he was conveying, and I said I was good. I knew his heart was open to the opportunity. He wanted to do it for all the right reasons. As he went on and on and on to try to convince me, I said, 'Look -- I already know. I got you. I've just been waiting for you to come back. I never thought that you couldn't, but I just didn't know if you would.'

"So, as he was talking, I was kinda laughing. It was funny to me that he cared enough to try really hard to make that point that he was gonna come do everything for the right reasons. I said a couple of things: 'I expect you to do everything and be involved with all of it.' And then I said, 'I've got no problems; you're in.'

"It really felt like my heart was open, like it is to all of our guys. Once our guys go for it with us and give us everything they've got, they're on my good side forever. I don't care what they say or what they do -- they had given their service and they had worked with us and they had won my heart over, and it didn't matter what they did or what they said from that point forward. As soon as I heard Marshawn start to really just open his heart to it, then I said, 'OK -- the guys are waiting for you. Let's go.' "

And off he went. Lynch's arrival gave the organization an emotional jolt at a tenuous time. The Seahawks were in the midst of an injury wave that extended far beyond the running back room; star left tackle Duane Brown, key defensive backs Quandre Diggs and Shaquill Griffin and standout defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were also dealing with health issues.

"It wasn't just the running back position," Schneider said. "We had contact injuries, non-soft-tissue injuries at the end of the season. And he came in and he gave us a boost, man. He gave us some hope."

Lynch also had an innate understanding of his own aura. Though he had a comfort level in the building and saw a lot of familiar faces, the roster had undergone a significant revamping since his departure. Only five Seahawks had been Lynch's teammates during his previous stint in Seattle: Wilson, linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, wide receiver Tyler Lockett and tight end Luke Willson. (Offensive lineman Justin Britt, another holdover from that era, was on injured reserve by the time Lynch rejoined.)

Said Carroll: "A lot of guys grew up watching him, and they didn't know him. I don't know if they were scared or intimidated, but they certainly didn't know how to deal with him. He knew that, and so he made it easy for them. He made it easy for everybody. He nailed it. He's an extraordinarily instinctive person and a savvy guy about a lot of things, and he picked right up on what was necessary and pulled it off."

In Lynch's words: "I mean, I ain't never had no problem with being able to wiggle my way into any situation. You woulda thought that I had been there the whole year, and been f----- with them my whole life, like I had always done with any of my teammates."

Lynch, who had once been openly disdainful toward Pearson's efforts to get him to comply with his media obligations -- and irate over the subsequent NFL fines that followed when he bucked them -- made a point of telling the PR chief upon his return, "You won't have any problem with me."

Said Schneider: "He was awesome to everybody in the building. He was really cool to the equipment guys, the trainers, the chefs, the people that he didn't really know yet. It lifted the organization. He just brings a certain juice about him. The fact that we went through everything we did with him, with the Super Bowl and all that, it was pretty awesome that everybody was kinda just letting bygones be bygones, and it's about trying to win football games and his legacy."

On Dec. 24, the day after he officially rejoined the Seahawks, Lynch hit the practice field, got in touch with his inner O.G. and, in his words, got plugged back in and reentered The Matrix. When practice was over, and the oohing and aahing had subsided, Lynch began walking off the field, saw Pearson and stopped.

"You don't know how much I appreciate this place," Lynch said, smiling.

Carroll and Schottenheimer both wondered how things would work out with the outspoken Lynch, but the running back quickly put the coaches' concerns to rest. (Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports)
Carroll and Schottenheimer both wondered how things would work out with the outspoken Lynch, but the running back quickly put the coaches' concerns to rest. (Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports)

Schottenheimer, the Seahawks' second-year offensive coordinator, wasn't sure what to make of his new running back. The day Lynch signed, Schottenheimer found him in running backs coach Chad Morton's office, introduced himself and stuck out his hand.

Lynch didn't reciprocate.

"He looks me up and down and just says, 'What's up, dawg?' " Schottenheimer recalled. "That's an intimidating-looking dude, now."

Five days later, following the Seahawks' walkthrough practice on the morning before the regular-season finale, Schottenheimer went to greet his wife, Gemmi, and their kids Sutton and Savannah, who, like many family members, had attended the session.

"Hey, there's Marshawn," Gemmi said. "Let's go meet him."

Recalled Brian: "I walked them over and introduced them and kind of got distracted, and when he left, (Gemmi) was grinning from ear to ear. I asked her what he said. And he'd told her, 'Damn, you smell good.' "

The following afternoon, with the Seahawks gathered in their locker room before the nationally televised division-title showdown against the 49ers, Lynch approached Schottenheimer and said, "Hey man -- lemme holler at you real quick."

Oh, s---, the coordinator thought to himself.

"We go in the back," Schottenheimer remembered, "and he says, 'Hey, listen, there's a lot of history with me and this team. I don't want to ever let that affect how you call the game. If you need to use me as a decoy and just run play-action, if that's the best way for us to win, I'll do it. Also, I play the game a certain way, which means I'm gonna need a lot of breaks, so don't worry about taking me out.'

"That just showed the maturity. At that point, I was sold."

As he paced the field before the game, Carroll walked behind the Seahawks' bench area to say hello to Hendrickson and Newsom, the California governor, who has been close friends with the agent for decades, and who has also grown close to Lynch.

"Listen," Carroll told Hendrickson, "this has been one of the most special weeks of my coaching career."

Then things got even more special. Lynch made a point of having the Seahawks' other backs, Homer and Robert Turbin (another former Seattle runner who'd been re-signed following the injuries to Carson and Prosise), be introduced along with him before the game, and the trio ran out of the tunnel together. There was no question, however, which one of them was the crowd favorite. The first time Lynch touched the ball, the roar was deafening.

And when he scored that touchdown? Years of pent-up emotion were released with full-throated exuberance, from Bellingham to Walla Walla.

"I remember most of all how excited the team and the coaching staff was," Schottenheimer said, "whether it was the symbolism of, 'Hey, we've moved past this,' or just how cool the moment was."

For Lynch, it underscored the bond he feels with an organization, fan base and city near and dear to his heart. Though his love for Oakland, his hometown, is undeniable -- and was a major reason for his decision to come out of retirement and play for the Raiders, in the wake of their announcement of an eventual move to Las Vegas -- his deep regard for Seattle is real.

"WHAT?" Lynch asked. "You goddamn right! I f--- with Seattle, though. Seattle has been very, very, very, very, very, very, very tight with me."

Lynch's emotion was magnified by the absence of one highly accomplished Seattle resident with whom he felt a deep connection: former Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died in October 2018 due to complications from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Allen's death shocked Lynch, as the two had been engaged in an ongoing conversation via email in the weeks leading up to the 65-year-old's unexpected passing.

"I had a real n---- on my side ...," Lynch said. "And I want you to write that s--- just like that, too: 'He said Paul Allen was his real N-word.'

"Paul Allen took care of us, from facilities to travel to eating. Well, s---, he was Paul Allen -- what you expect? That mother------ was a genius. My respect for him is why I respect the organization so much.

"They say he was shy, reserved, or whatever, but I know when [he saw] me he'd come holler at me. ... That gave me a whole different little feel about the whole organization, like I could get on the horn and call him and just talk to him about anything, like, 'What's happening? ... How you doing?' type s---. So, I just respect what he had going on."

As the frantic, final minutes of the Seahawks-49ers game played out, it seemed as though all the supernatural forces Seattle could muster had aligned to create the perfect climax.

Taking over at his own 27 with 2:27 to go and the 49ers leading by 5, Wilson had adeptly driven the Seahawks to the San Francisco 12, where they faced fourth-and-10 with 42 seconds to go. Wilson received a shotgun snap, drifted to his right and fired a pinpoint pass toward the right pylon. Receiver John Ursua went low to grab it just in front of the goal line -- his first catch of the season. For a variety of reasons (coaches thought there might be a replay review to see whether Ursua crossed the goal line; tackle George Fant had gone down on the play and had to get up and limp to the line), it took the Seahawks a long time to spike the ball, setting up second-and-goal.

The Seahawks were 1 yard away from an epic comeback victory and an NFC West championship, with 22 seconds left in the regular season. Nearly five years after the Super Bowl XLIX fiasco, there was no question who all of Seattle, and most of the football-watching world, wanted to see with the ball in his hands.

Was the play call a handoff to No. 24?

"They spike the ball. I go, 'Oh my God. They're gonna hand him the ball. This guy's gonna run it in. The entire stadium is gonna carry him off the field and into downtown Seattle.' " DOUG HENDRICKSON

"The thing is," Schottenheimer said, "nobody will ever know."

Well, we pretty much know.

"They spike the ball," Hendrickson recalled. "I go, 'Oh my God. They're gonna hand him the ball. This guy's gonna run it in. The entire stadium is gonna carry him off the field and into downtown Seattle.' "

Said Carroll: "Had that come true, it would have been a story for the ages -- for us, anyway. I don't know if anybody else would have cared, but it would've been an all-timer."

Alas, confusion reigned. In an effort to sub out of their "01" package (four receivers, one tight end, no backs) and into an alignment featuring Lynch, there were communications issues, exacerbated by the fact that Lynch -- whose football aptitude is legendary -- may have been unfamiliar with some of the new terminology. The play clock ran down, and the Seahawks, out of timeouts, were called for delay of game.

Now it was second-and-goal from the 5, which took Lynch off the field.

Two incompletions later (one of which seemingly should have triggered a booth review for potential defensive pass interference in the end zone), it was fourth-and-goal. Wilson zipped a pass across the middle to tight end Jacob Hollister, who was stopped just short of the goal line -- a subsequent replay review showed that he was inches shy of breaking the plane while being tackled by linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner.

"Two inches from being everything," Carroll said. "I was really, really disappointed that we weren't able to capitalize on that. And I was hoping that whole (Lynch) storyline would give us a boost going into the playoffs, where we might be a team that other teams can't figure out. It was a really cool moment, though -- that whole finish to the season. One big moment. It was really fun."

Lynch -- and the Seahawks -- kept pushing forward. Seeded fifth, they went into Philadelphia and defeated the NFC East champion Eagles, 17-9, with Lynch's 5-yard touchdown run giving Seattle a 10-0 lead shortly before halftime.

That set up the Divisional Round clash against the Packers at Lambeau Field. As was the case against the 49ers, Seattle fell into an early hole -- in this case, trailing 21-3 at halftime -- before Wilson led a comeback that fell 5 points short.

Lynch had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs during the rally, the second of which, with 9:33 remaining, brought the Seahawks to within 28-23, but those proved to be the game's final points.

And then, suddenly, it was over: The Return of Beast Mode had been a 19-day whirlwind of promise, payoff and pent-up passion, but the dream of a Lombardi-hoisting celebration and pandemonium-filled parade was not to be.

Lynch, still in uniform, walked down a flight of stairs, across a hallway and entered the Packers' locker room.

"Gimme your f-----' jersey!" Lynch yelled at Rodgers, laughing.

"Hey," Rodgers said, "gimme your f-----' jersey!"

By the time Lynch got back to the Seahawks' locker room, Carroll was getting ready to address the team and feeling melancholy.

"I just regretted the fact that we didn't pull it all off," the coach recalled, "because it was such a storybook opportunity for this guy, our program, for our season, for our players and all that."

Carroll spoke, and then Wilson followed with a short speech. A quick prayer would follow. This was it.

"Hey coach," Lynch said. "I've got something to say."

And then Lynch, in Schottenheimer's words, gave a speech that was "incredibly powerful. His message was something I will remember for the rest of my life. I get chills thinking about it.

"He just wanted to share with everybody what a special place this is, and what a great organization the Seahawks have. He said it in the style only he can, but the message was this: When you go other places and have a chance to see what that's like, and then have a chance to come back, you really understand what a special place this is. And also, how proud he was to be part of this team, the way the young guys compete and played, that he was proud to be in this locker room, and that he's got everybody's back.'"

Lynch's message also included a fitting prelude to his uproarious "Take care of y'all chicken" podium appearance that followed, as he tried to impart the wisdom of his experiences -- good and bad -- to his younger teammates.

Most of all, he exhorted the 2019 Seahawks not to live in the past.

"It was just about us making history in that locker room, and now you've got a new team in that mother------, and they're trying to do the same," Lynch said. "Just telling them, mainly, 'S---, don't get held up on trying to recreate what we had. Go find what it is that y'all have. Y'all go create your own s---.'

"Because, you know, I've seen a lot of mother------- trying to compare them to us, and I don't feel that's fair. At the end of the day, I believe that when I got there and I saw it for myself, like, you know what? Y'all got something. I believe that y'all can create your own s--- and not recreate something that was. Because at the end of the day, there is no Brandon Browner on that team, there is no Byron Maxwell, no Red Bryant, no Brandon Mebane.

"But what y'all do have is y'all have y'all. So y'all gotta remember that y'all mother------- are special, and that y'all can do this s--- just as well as anybody else."

Lynch had an overall profound effect in his 19 days with the Seahawks last season, which ended with him imparting wisdom to the team's younger players. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)
Lynch had an overall profound effect in his 19 days with the Seahawks last season, which ended with him imparting wisdom to the team's younger players. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

A week later, the Packers were in Santa Clara, getting crushed by the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Lynch was across the Bay in Oakland, having completed a stirring and unexpected epilogue to his Seahawks story and, presumably, embarked upon a third and final walk off into the sunset.

Or had he? In affirming he's still got it while reinforcing his locker-room value, Lynch left the Seahawks pondering the possibility of another in-season return, should the opportunity present itself.

In the midst of a global pandemic and so much uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season, Schneider and Carroll say the door remains open to Lynch's possible return. With Penny likely to start the season on the physically unable to perform list, the Seahawks signed free-agent running back Carlos Hyde in May, and he'll join a group of runners that includes Carson, Prosise, Homer and DeeJay Dallas, a fourth-round draft pick out of Miami.

On paper, Seattle should be in good shape. But if the Seahawks get into a pinch at some point during the year? Don't rule out another reunion.

"Yep, it was a great experience, and I think we'll just approach it like we did last year," Schneider said. "We'll continue to stay in touch with him and see how he's doing."

Said Lynch: "You never know what might happen."

Either way, the 34-year-old halfback said he'll always look back fondly on those 19 days, when he reconnected with his past, energized an organization and imparted some life lessons.

"He impacted the team from an unbelievably positive light," Schottenheimer said. "The way he worked, he was amazing. He was so damn good for our rookies and young players -- guys like Travis Homer and D.K. Metcalf -- 'cause he's just so real. Whatever he thinks, he frickin says it. You have to admire that.

"Marshawn gave his whole heart to the opportunity. Not always can we show our best side when we're under siege, but he is such a powerful individual. That was just a great finish." PETE CARROLL

"Talk to any young player -- that guy brought some really cool juice, and that talk he (gave after the Packers game) impacted them and will impact them as far as how they see the game, their brand and the world of football."

To Schneider, Lynch's mindset reflected a perspective the player hadn't necessarily possessed during his previous six-season stint with the Seahawks.

"Not to get too personal with the conversations," Schneider said, 'but I think having been out of football, having gone to a different place, having his own businesses, running his own restaurant, he was like, 'I understand a lot more where you guys were coming from at the time.' I don't want to say it was a maturity thing, but it seemed like it.

"Time heals all wounds. It'll probably take Earl (Thomas, the perennial All-Pro safety who signed with the Ravens after the 2018 season after ending his time in Seattle on bad terms) a bit longer. But at some point, those guys are going to be up in the Ring of Honor."

In the meantime, Lynch wants to stay connected to his Seahawks experience in one important way: honoring the late owner's legacy.

"I know (Paul Allen) did a lot of work giving back and s---," Lynch said, "and I reached out to his team and told them that if they had anything going as far as giving back that I could be a part of to just reach out to me, to keep his name alive in that aspect. That's something that I do on a daily basis, so I wouldn't mind getting behind some of the s--- he had going on, even if it's just to go to an event or something. We'll see how that s--- goes."

It's a touching sentiment -- a reminder that nothing lasts forever, but memories endure. From 2010 to '15, the Seahawks experienced some incredible highs, a wrenching, collective gut punch of epic proportions and a whole lot of exuberance and attachment and strife and regret along the way. There was confetti and conflict and, years later, seemingly out of nowhere, a sense of closure that all parties concerned will forever cherish.

"It was just an extraordinary experience of a guy showing who he is and what he's all about and what he stands for," Carroll said. "Marshawn gave his whole heart to the opportunity. Not always can we show our best side when we're under siege, but he is such a powerful individual. That was just a great finish."

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter at @MikeSilver

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