NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Marshawn Lynch plowed through the line, dreadlocks swaying on a rare cool summer morning in Napa then juggled the football to the delight of hundreds cheering from nearby bleachers.
They raised phone cameras to capture the self-proclaimed MoneyLynch’s every move. A film crew followed, too.
It’s Marshawn Mania in wine country. And Lynch sure seems to be loving the attention of his un-retirement, back in that familiar No. 24 jersey, just different colors now that he’s with his hometown team.
Lynch joined the Oakland Raiders on a restructured two-year deal following an April trade from Seattle, where he had retired following the 2015 season. Now he has a chance to keep Derek Carr and Co. contending for an AFC West title and a shot at the Super Bowl.
“He’s going to run through some people’s faces, I think that’s what he’s going to do,” Carr said. “He’s going to protect the quarterback. … He’s good at that. Very physical. That part of the game is fun to him. I tend to like to slide or go over people, and he likes to go through them, so I don’t have to do it.”
The Raiders returned to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years then lost in the wild card game at Houston last season without Carr, who went down with a broken right fibula Dec. 24 against Denver as Oakland missed out on a division title.
Lynch has brought some new life to an already deep and talented team.
“Let’s go, Beast Mode!” on man yelled as Lynch jogged by between periods.
There’s no question Lynch has boosted the morale of a stung fan base dreading the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas in three years.
Alex King, a 23-year-old lifelong Raiders fan from Salinas, sported his Lynch jersey with a leather vest over it and spiked leather cuff bracelets Friday in a front-row seat off the practice field.
“I really like that he’s doing a real good thing for his town,” King said. “He’s always been good for the city, he has never been a ghost and left his city. For him to come back to the team he’s always wanted to play for, it’s really good for the city and the team itself.”
Lynch has been even more visible in Oakland than ever. He saved a soul food restaurant, led a bike ride through town in May and offered tickets to a water park for 2,000 kids.
On the field, Oakland has a healthy quarterback and Lynch eager to take the ball and run.
The 31-year-old running back has quickly become a training camp phenomenon and big-personality bright spot for that “Just Win, Baby!” fan base.
“When I think of Marshawn, I think of passion because he’s a very passionate player,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “I think of toughness and physicality. I think he brings those things to our football team. He’s been a terrific teammate, been great from Day 1. Everything has been really outstanding with him and him joining us and fitting in with our guys. I think they love him. We love having him, so it’s great. He’s healthy and in good shape and ready to have a good year for us.”
Lynch carried for at least 10 touchdowns every year from 2011 to 2014, including a career-best 13 during the ’14 season to help lead the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl title. Lynch’s 51 TDs rushing are the most in the NFL since 2011 even though he played just seven games in 2015 and was retired last season.
The Raiders can’t wait to see him in pads and when it all counts.
“He’s a fun guy to be around all the time. He’s a great teammate. He’s fun in meetings. He’s fun in the meal room,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “It’s certainly nice to see him out there and running around and moving the way he is. We’re really pleased with where he’s at.”
Lynch already said the reason he even considered coming out of retirement was to give something back to Oakland before the Raiders depart for Sin City in 2020.
“It’s going to be good for all of us. It’ll be especially nice for those that know Marshawn in a personal way that followed him throughout his career, having played right there in Cal and grown up in the Bay Area,” Del Rio said. “It’s awesome, so I’m sure it will be special for a lot of people.”