In an unpredictable afternoon Sunday in Charlotte, one moment regarding the playcalling by the Seahawks was utterly knowable. On the first play from scrimmage, RB Marshawn Lynch was going to get the ball.
The Panthers defense knew it. All of the football nation knew it. I haven’t yet heard David Bowie’s final album, “Blackstar,” released after his death, but I’m willing to bet there’s an allegorical reference to it.
Such is the gravitational pull of Beast Mode.
He was stuffed for a three-yard loss.
Apparently, it was politically impossible for Pete Carroll or offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to call anything else, even if anything else would have been a better play.
That explains why Lynch’s time is over.
When coaches feel compelled to keep one player happy at the expense of the team — or feature him in futile plays — it’s over. Just as with WR Percy Harvin, whom Carroll tried to placate with special plays, it didn’t work.
Harvin already burned locker-room bridges with his uncontrolled rage that led to fights with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. But it was also midseason when the decision was made to trade or cut him. Seahawks bosses needed some cover, so they leaked the fight stories anonymously to national media.
With Lynch, matters are more convenient. The season is at an end. He will be 30 in April. He was twice injured in 2015, including one requiring surgery. And it’s been explained frequently since he signed his contract extension that the Seahawks would save $6.5 million of his scheduled $11.5 million salary in 2016 if he were cut.
On top of that, they seem to have found a reasonable facsimile of a replacement in Thomas Rawls, presuming he recovers fully from a broken ankle.
So the delicate removal of an enormously popular, powerful player is underway. But it is still awkward. That was plain in the way Carroll spoke of Lynch Monday.
“I don’t know how that’s going to go,” Carroll said. “I don’t know how any of these guys are going to go right now. I don’t know.
“Everything is just normal right now. Just everything remains to be known.”
Carroll occasionally can take unplanned exits from his rhetorical freeway, but this time he knocked down some signs and scraped the guardrail.
Just normal? When it comes to Lynch, nothing is ever normal, at least as it compares to other pro athletes.
Lynch is a genius athlete. He knows it and Carroll knows it.
As is often the case with geniuses in other endeavors, he must be indulged in his eccentricities, quirks and defiance. Geniuses aren’t like the rest of us. In order to flourish, they get special rules. Organizations employing them rarely admit it is so, but since success is more likely with outlier talents, managing the pouts of everyone else is worth it.
Thinking about it that way, it is remarkable that Lynch and Carroll made it work so well for so long; almost six years at or near the pinnacle of the NFL. The Buffalo Bills gave up on trying to manage Lynch, as would just about every other coach this side of the Cardinals’ Bruce Arians.
Regarding Carroll’s “everything remains to be known” remark? No. Everything is known. Carroll and general manager John Schneider want to be done with the Lynch drama, especially after the going/not-going pump-fake he gave Carroll before the the flight to Minnesota.
But the severing of ties has to be done carefully, because another part of the Lynch genius is that he has nearly everyone else in the world on his side. This is not the case of a diva who shuns and disparages the lessers, or Steve Jobs intimidating his managers.
Sunday in the visitors’ locker room in Bank of America Stadium, Lynch went out of his way to the corner of the space that held the offensive linemen, and he shook every guy’s hand. No clasping or bro hugs, just the polite, white handshake known to every Lutheran minister standing on the church steps after Sunday services.
Late-night comedians will sell off their chief writers to host Lynch. Students of football are astounded by him. Little kids adore him. Charity organizers can’t say enough about how generous he is with his time.
Some of us in the media can’t stand him for selfish reasons. But how can you not admire a guy who so owned the Super Bowl media day with his “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” meme that the president and every speech-giver in the world over the following week opened with the line?
In a moment of accidental candor in the previous season, Carroll explained Lynch too simply, but it was nevertheless illuminating.
“Marshawn,” he said, “doesn’t like to be told what to do.”
Since nobody else does, either, the fact that Lynch can act upon his contempt for authority and get away with it makes him the prototypical anti-hero of literature and film. Somewhere, somehow, we all want to be Marshawn Lynch.
His teammates love him the way English-lit majors love Shakespeare and the way music fans love Aretha Franklin: Ain’t nobody before or since . . .
On their side, the Seahawks bosses have football logic that impels the urgency to get better in 2016. Everyone else doesn’t want to lose Griffey again.
Once more, with feeling . . .