One last Beast encounter

AP

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There are the stories about Marshawn Lynch they can tell and those that they can’t.

And while we’d all love to hear the stories that his former teammates and coaches prefer to keep to themselves, the ones they let slip are good enough.

They are stories that resonate again this week as the Seahawks come face-to-face with Lynch between the lines for the first time since he retired following the 2015 season, only to return as a member of his hometown Oakland Raiders in 2017. (Lynch was back in Seattle for an exhibition game in August but did not play).

Lynch will lead the Raiders’ rushing attack against the Seahawks this Sunday in London, and the Seahawks players know exactly what to expect from their former teammate who became a fan favorite during his six seasons as a Seahawk.

“He’ll probably be in our locker room at some point talking trash,’’ said receiver Doug Baldwin, one of eight players left on Seattle’s active roster who played with Lynch. “But that’s just Marshawn.”

Lynch is 32 now, but age hasn’t caught up to him yet — he ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing with 331 yards and a 4.3-yard average per carry, just off the 4.4 he had as a Seahawk from 2010-15.

“He looks great,’’ said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “He looks healthy and aggressive.’’

Then Carroll joked that when he saw Lynch in 2017 during an exhibition game between the Seahawks and Raiders in Oakland he mentioned what great shape Lynch appeared to be in and said, “Why didn’t we see that, you know?’’

Such was the yin and yang of Lynch during his Seattle years.

If he was beloved by his teammates and as productive as anyone could ever ask on Sundays, he could be a challenge with the coaches and the organization. (Entertaining as it might have been to those on the outside, many in the organization would have preferred avoiding things like, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” ).

Given a question that suggested Lynch has been “a handful’’ for every coach he has played for, Carroll smirked and said, “I don’t know if that’s the case.’’ Then after a pause, he smiled and added, “I wasn’t there in Buffalo (where Lynch played before his trade to Seattle).’’

But in the locker room, there was never a discouraging word heard about Lynch, nor will there ever be.

Baldwin spent roughly 14 minutes talking to reporters Tuesday, mostly about Lynch, whom he has often called the best teammate he’s ever had.

“There’s a lot of stories,” said Baldwin, who joined the team in 2011, the year after Lynch was acquired in a trade from the Bills.

Then he began to tell one.

“One of the simplest stories was a receiver, a young receiver on the team and Marshawn had a backpack and the young receiver was like, ‘Dang, that’s a nice backpack. Where did you get it from?’ ’’ Baldwin said. “And he literally takes it off his back, dumps out all his stuff and says, ‘Here, you can have it,’ grabbed his stuff and goes to his locker. Just as simple and plain as that.

“Marshawn, it didn’t matter who you were if you respected and love him for him as a person and who he was — he would literally give you his backpack off his back. I thought that was just the epitome of the man that he was.”

Pressed as to who the receiver was, Baldwin paused.

“Um, me,’’ he said. ”It was me.”

Baldwin said he “just liked the color” of the backpack, which he later gave to former teammate Paul Richardson.

Then, Baldwin said, there was the time Lynch bought all the offensive linemen 50-inch TVs when he heard center Justin Britt complain that the one he had at home was too small.

And the stories of Lynch giving financial advice?

All true, Baldwin said.

“I still work with the lady he put me in contact with now doing some real estate investments,’’ he said. “It’s been incredible.’’

A few lockers over, J.R. Sweezy – a starting guard for Lynch’s last four years in Seattle — laughed when asked if he had a favorite Lynch story.

“I’ve got quite a few of them,’’ he said.

He preferred to keep it to football.

“He was just the type of dude that, he never went down,’’ Sweezy said. “It just made you want to go a little extra because you knew he was going to be standing up and pushing that pile an extra 4 or 5 yards … just his style, it was fun to be a part of.’’

Carroll preferred to keep it to football, too, when asked for a favorite memory of Lynch.

“Probably the New Orleans game (the 2011 divisional playoff),’’ Carroll said, a game Seattle won 41-36, highlighted by Lynch’s 67-yard “Beastquake” run.

Then after a pause, Carroll said, “There are a lot of memories I just crossed off the list. I’m giving you the one that’s the most obvious that I don’t have to explain.’’

Maybe for the book, someday.

That Lynch could be “a handful” wasn’t always a secret. There was the time he wore a Kam Chancellor jersey to practice during Chancellor’s holdout to the obvious chagrin of Carroll, who made it clear it would be a one-time thing.

There were Lynch’s almost annual hints at retirement and an eight-day holdout prior to the 2014 season that resulted in a rare concession by the team — if a small one — to guarantee an additional $1.5 million in his contract.

And there was the messy final month of his Seahawks career, when Lynch decided not to accompany the team to a playoff game in Minnesota because he felt he wasn’t healthy enough — and doing so after Carroll had said on his radio show that Lynch was “going to play.’’ (Not to mention the controversy over whether Lynch should have gotten the ball on the final play of Super Bowl XLIX, which added some tension to the relationship).

Lynch played his final game as a Seahawk the following week, in a playoff defeat at Carolina, then retired during the Super Bowl a few weeks later by sending out a wordless Tweet featuring cleats hanging on a telephone line.

Asked about the end of Lynch’s Seattle career, Baldwin responded with an answer that seemed to acknowledge that from the outside it might have appeared a little strained.

“I don’t really care about how it ended,’’ Baldwin said. “Because I know the man. My relationship with Marshawn and his relationship with guys that he has spent time with in this locker room, that doesn’t change, no matter if he is in a different uniform, in a different country, it doesn’t matter. It’s still Marshawn, and at the end of the day that’s our brother.’’

Baldwin said Lynch’s return in 2017 was no surprise.

“I talked to him after a Thanksgiving thing with his family, they were out there playing football,’’ Baldwin recalled. “He called me and said, ‘Man, I think I’ve still got it.’ I said, ‘Sit your ass down.’ But that’s what he wanted to do. He loves the sport. I think the thing that he missed most was the locker room. He missed being around guys who are like-minded, who are striving for something. That part is hard to separate yourself from when you’re away from the game.”

Carroll, also, could never question Lynch’s commitment between the lines.

He recalled how he badgered Seattle general manager John Schneider to try to acquire Lynch months before the team finally pulled off the trade (Lynch had been relegated to backup duty in Buffalo’s offense in 2010 after a coaching change). Seattle finally got Lynch in October 2010 for a 2011 fourth-round choice and a 2012 fifth-rounder (those picks turned into offensive lineman Chris Hairston and linebacker Tank Carder, each now out of the NFL)

The Seahawks had “the need for a guy to bring the attitude and the intensity and the focus and the toughness, and he was all of that,’’ Carroll said of Lynch, who remains fourth on Seattle’s career rushing list with 6,347 yards.

And if maybe the ending wasn’t storybook, it’s a chapter of his history Carroll insists he’d happily relive again.

“I think we did OK,’’ Carroll said. “I have nothing but respect for that guy. It will be fun playing against him. I like playing against guys I like.’’

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