Marshawn Lynch, Alex Smith and Reuben Foster. Besides having played football in the Bay Area, there is little to connect them. Their personalities are arranged across a vast spectrum. They come from different backgrounds and have claimed different levels of accomplishment. But they do have something in common right now: We don’t know if any of the three will play in the NFL again.
I hope they do. All of them. Really.
I want Marshawn Lynch to play again, because the league is less fun without him. He doesn’t speak to reporters much. Everybody knows that. It’s unfortunate, but it only feeds the Beast Mode mystique. Anyway, Lynch finds other ways to entertain. He shoots videos in which he pranks fast-food customers. He makes Skittles ads that, in the hands of anyone else, would be boring Skittles ads; with Lynch on screen, they’re comedic gold.
Even in his media silence, Lynch is a buoyant presence. He circulates in the Raiders locker room, advising teammates on how to fill out their 401(k) forms. He instructs and amuses the team’s younger running backs. And he’s been really good on the field. Before he injured his groin against the Seahawks in London on Oct. 14, he had been one of Oakland’s three best players in 2017-18, along with center Rodney Hudson and tight end Jared Cook.
Lynch’s un-retirement had been a ray of sunshine for the tumbling Raiders. The native son came home, basked in the love of the Black Hole, danced on the sideline and led the team in touchdowns. And no athlete does more for Oakland. Lynch, largely through his Fam1st Family Foundation, has done things like provide kids with backpacks, school supplies and haircuts as a back-to-school present, and host 25 children for a trip to London to watch the Raiders in action — to watch Lynch get hurt, as it happened.
Lynch will not play again this season. That was resolved when the Raiders designated tackle Donald Penn to return from the injured reserve, their second (and last) such transaction.
Will Beast Mode come back next year? He will be 33 years old, returning from a major injury. The main reason he came out of retirement in 2017 was for a chance to wear silver and black. Now it’s not even clear the Raiders will play in Oakland in 2019. Lynch doesn’t particularly need the money; he’s a successful entrepreneur. And who knows if mercurial coach Jon Gruden even wants him back?
I’d love to see Marshawn barreling into defenders next fall, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
I want Alex Smith to play again, because I’m a little sentimental.
I mentioned Smith in a recent column and referred to him as one of the Bay Area’s most popular athletes of recent years. A professional acquaintance took me to task, arguing that Smith drove 49ers fans crazy. He may have, but I think even those jaded Niners fans can admire Smith in retrospect. He remains one of the humblest, smartest and most approachable football players I have encountered. He was a normal guy in a highly abnormal profession.
Smith’s career has, in many ways, been defined by bad luck. He was drafted by a 49ers organization that was destined to be crummy for years. He rode a carousel of different offensive coordinators. And when he finally got into a groove in 2012, playing the best football of his life, he suffered a concussion. His replacement was Colin Kaepernick, and the NFL wasn’t ready for Kaepernick’s athletic ability. Smith never got the job back.