Cal Athletics

Marshawn Lynch's injury cart bobblehead is so much more than just a toy; it's an icon

Marshawn Lynch has become a bobblehead ... again. This time, he's riding the injury cart. If there was a moment when Beast Mode was born, Oct. 21, 2006 was it. It was that day when the iconoclast became the icon.

NOTE: This story was originally published on July 29, 2016, and as this weekend, California will be giving out the 10,000 Marshawn Lynch bobbleheads, it is being re-published. 

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The word icon comes from the Greek eikon, meaning 'likeness,' or 'image.' It had generally been used in religious contexts -- referring to wooden paintings of Jesus or saints -- through the mid-19th century. Then, the word took on a new meaning. No longer exclusively religious, it became more abstract, more akin to a symbol or a totem, an exemplar or singular representation.

Iconoclast has always meant the same thing: Literally, one who shatters icons; figuratively: one who breaks with tradition.

When it was announced that there would be 10,000 Marshawn Lynch bobbleheads available on Nov. 5, 2016, commemorating Lynch's 2006 joy ride on a golf cart after an overtime win over Washington, it was the Cal Twittersphere that broke.

For a Bay Area kid like California inside receiver Ray Hudson, Lynch's Oct. 21, 2006 game against Washington -- 150 yards, two touchdowns (including the game-winner in overtime) on two sprained ankles -- is an indelible memory. 

Ten years later, with the Huskies on the opposing sideline once again, Lynch -- ever the iconoclast -- will be receiving his very own icon.

Hudson has a suggestion for the Cal marketing department: Make more. Lynch's mother has already called longtime Lynch confidante Kevin Parker -- Cal football's Director of Player Development -- to request several.

“They have to. Social media blew up at that," Hudson said. "People are booking flights for it. I mean, I would book a flight for it, too. I’m going to start buying tickets for all of my friends. I’m going to have a stack of them. I may keep them and sell them, too."

The bobblehead features Lynch siting in the driver's seat of the injury cart -- commemorating a moment that was so formative not only to Lynch's Beast Mode legacy, but for current Cal football players. It was the moment that Lynch became more than a Cal running back. It was the moment he became an icon.

'Please don't leave your keys in the golf cart'

The joy ride on that injury cart was pure Lynch. There was no premeditation. There was no affect to the act. It was motivated simply by Lynch wanting to pick up linebacker Desmond Bishop, who had just run back a 79-yard interception to seal the game, after Lynch's 22-yard overtime touchdown gave the Bears the lead.

"He scores on the first carry he had in overtime, Des picked the ball, and I remember going into the staff meeting the next day, and coach [Jeff] Tedford was like, 'Marshawn, I got thousands of calls about you riding in that golf cart. Please don't do that again,'" recalled Parker, who has known Lynch for 16 years, and has been at Cal for 15. "I remember going down to 'SC the next weekend and all the golf carts we walked by had a note on them: 'Please don't leave your keys in the golf cart. Marshawn Lynch might drive off on it.'" There are myriad reasons why Lynch has become such a cultural touchstone. He is unapologetic. He does not perform or put on airs. He is who he is, and that's that. Football is only a small part of his magnetism.

"It was just a spontaneous thing, he ran by, was so excited, saw the keys there, and jumped in there," Parker said. "I was on the field, and somebody was like, 'Go get Marshawn! He just got in the golf cart!' I'm like, 'What?' I looked behind me, and he was whipping and doing what he's doing, from Oakland, and I ran down the cart and we embraced."

Hudson wasn't at Memorial Stadium 10 years ago, but he watched the game live. It left a mark.

“I don’t know how – I may leave the locker room, go buy a ticket, and come through to get it," Hudson said of the bobblehead. "I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to find a way. You’re going to see me in full pads going through the entrance. I mean, that’s understandable, right? I’m going to be focused on the game, but I’m going to need one of those bobbleheads."

Cal running back Vic Enwere -- who happily confesses to picking Lynch's brain over the past two years, and even trying to incorporate parts of Lynch's inhuman running style into his own -- did not grow up in California.

Enwere did not watch the 2006 game. But, Enwere said, “there was a point in time, and I can’t necessarily pinpoint when, but there was a time when I went, ‘Wow, this is the premier big back right now.'"

Since then, Enwere -- who will be a part of Cal's three-headed running back monster this season, after rushing for 505 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns in 2015 --hasn't been able to get enough.

“Honestly, I may have someone get one for me. I may not be as extreme as Ray, but I may have someone get one for me," Enwere said. "I need to get one somehow, some way. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get one.”

That one moment, that perfectly-distilled moment of unadulterated Lynch, served as a thunder clap.

More Than Football

Beast Mode: It's a movement. It's a way of life. Now, it's a brand. One could peg that fateful Saturday afternoon in 2006, when many glossed Lynch's creative re-appropriation of the injury cart as ghost riding, as the genesis. In point of fact, ghost riding requires the vehicle to be put in neutral, and the driver to be dancing alongside it as it rolls along. It comes from Oakland rapper E-40's song, "Tell Me When To Go." The preceding paragraph is undoubtedly the stiffest, most square description of ghost riding on record.

The joyful, euphoric spontaneity that put Lynch in the driver's seat is, like Beast Mode itself, so deeply, earnestly, authentically Lynch.

"That's Marshawn," Parker said. "You can't label him. You can't put him in a box. He's his own person. He's going to do it his way, in a respectful way. He's not going to change. You can't dangle any dollar amount in front of him and think he's going to jump through the hoop to become more famous or to get something. He sticks to what he believes in. I think that's shown other athletes that you can be the person you want to be by not changing, by being the person you are." Enwere has been as zealous a disciple of the School of Lynch as anyone, and it started before he even met the man.

"I gravitated towards watching his film, learning as much as I could from him," Enwere said.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Enwere first met Lynch the summer before his freshman year, when he worked at Lynch's Family 1st Camp at Lynch's alma mater, Oakland Tech -- a camp he's run for nine years. Parker who has known Lynch since he was 14, is on the board of the Family 1st Foundation, in addition to his duties at Cal (which include holding the rope on the sidelines). Every year, he makes sure to take Bears players to volunteer at Lynch's camp, to work with inner city youth.

“Going out there with him and K.P., I got to be around him, and see his background, which has given me a lot of perspective on who he is, as a person, outside of the media and things like that," Enwere said.

"They were kind of star-struck," Parker said. "He's like, 'I'm normal, just like y'all. We walked the same hallways. I ain't no different than y'all. I'm just here for the kids,' and they realized, 'Man, he really just cares about these kids.' I think that's what struck Vic. He's just a genuine person. He's no different. He doesn't want to be treated any different than anybody else. That really touched those guys ... When people get to tap into him, to know who he really is, when he lets someone in, he's really genuine. He really cares about other people, other than himself."

That day, Lynch began to let Enwere in.

Since then, the junior tailback has only grown closer to the enigmatic, erstwhile Seattle Seahawk. He's worked the Family 1st Family Youth Football Camp every summer he's been at Cal.

For Enwere, a big back like Lynch, there's certainly the brain-picking that goes on when one of the greatest players of this generation is just hanging around.

"Being a big back, a lot of it is mentality," Enwere said. "It may not be the shiftiness, it may not be making people miss all the time, but it’s the mentality that you have to have to know how to get out of certain situations and create positive match-ups for yourself. That’s helped me tremendously.”

It has been between the ears, not between the tackles, where Lynch has truly made the difference, most pointedly with Enwere.

Far from the lights and the cameras and the microphones, off the field and away from prying eyes and ears, Lynch is more than a walking Skittles advertisement. He's more than a sound byte (or lack thereof). To Enwere, he's professorial.

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“Marshawn, with me – with all the running backs – I would say he’s like a professor," Enwere said. "He’s very objective. He does teach us, he does have a fun time with us, he’s very comical, just like we all are. Lot of comedians in the room, a lot of comic value in the running back room, and he’s the same. I would say he gives us a lot of insight into the world. [He’s] very intelligent, very intelligent. A lot of times, we are around him with football, but there are a lot of things that he speaks to us about, outside of football.”

'You get a chance to rewrite the script'

Parker -- a former running back for Oregon -- had heard of Lynch through his old high school coach, who also coached Lynch at Oakland Tech.

"I used to see him running around the neighborhood, and I knew of him, but didn't really know him, yet," Parker said.

It turned out that a member of the Lynch family lived down the street from Parker. Has Lynch changed at all since then? Parker laughs.

"Nope. Still the same," Parker said. "When you can't know something, everybody's always trying to get in and see what the hell's going on, and tap into it. That's why everyone wants to know about him."

He's a little bit richer, and a little bit more famous, but, "He's still the same Marshawn."

"When you come to a place like this, you get a chance to rewrite the script. That’s what Marshawn did, and that’s what a lot of guys are doing now. I believe that’s what I’m doing now. I’m getting an opportunity to rewrite the script, and people don’t get a chance to see that, to see that there’s a lot more to the guys that wear the helmets." -- Vic Enwere, Cal Running Back

In February, while the most expensive Super Bowl on record was being held in a billion-dollar palace in Santa Clara, Lynch opened a Beast Mode store in Old Oakland, with all of the opening-day proceeds going to the Family 1st Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of children by mentoring them on the importance of education, literacy and self-esteem, and providing football camps for local youth, many coming from the most hardscrabble neighborhoods in the Bay Area.

"He will always give to others before he gives to himself," Parker said. "He wants the kids to better their lives by showing his generosity, and getting other companies to try to. It takes a village and corporations to help raise kids out of the inner city. Everybody needs a hand. Everybody needs help, at some point. All he's trying to do is get others to tap in. The kids running around in our communities are our future."

Lynch was one of those kids running around the neighborhood, after all.

Parker won't speak to the possibility that Lynch meant to intentionally juxtapose his cause -- opening two days before the Super Bowl -- with the money just down the road, but, he said, "I know he's a very smart guy."

When strength coach Damon Harrington was the target of a faculty petition sparked by a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, it was Enwere who delivered a scathing indictment of those who deigned speak for him, and his teammates.

It's hard not to see fingerprints of the critiques Lynch has faced in the stereotypes to which Enwere gestured: He's an athlete. He's not here to learn; he's just here to play football. He probably didn't take any Advanced Placement, if his school even offered them. 

Implicit in those stereotypes, those heuristics, even if it's not said outright, are coded words like urban and inner city.

The tutelage of Lynch -- even more basic than that, his mere presence -- has shown Enwere and the current Bears that they have a voice, and they can use it. Lynch may not have spoken out in the traditional sense, but what he did do, was show, by strength of will and force of action, that he would not be dismissed. It's rubbed off.

"I think a lot of people fail to understand that your circumstances, the things you grow up with, the community you come from, doesn’t necessarily have to define you, within the confines of whatever people feel about that area," Enwere said.

Lynch doesn't fit into any box, and whenever he's been put in one, it breaks. It's easy to see the Skittles and the elaborate grills and the stilted interviews and the cryptic retirement tweet -- just a pair of cleats on a telephone wire -- and fall back to those easy, coded words. But, Lynch has never been anything approaching 'easily considered.' 

During his career, he is estimated to have earned roughly $5 million per year through endorsements with Nike, Pepsi, Skittles, Progressive and Activision, according to Forbes. He reportedly did not spend a dime of his on-field earnings during his career. He saved it.

In a time when so many good works are equal parts charity and performance, and are announced in press releases, Lynch, on Fridays before Seahawks games, would pick up a child and his family from a disadvantaged background in Seattle, and bring them to the team practice facility, introducing them to coaches and players. He did not allow media relations staff to seek coverage for that. Ever.

"A lot of people look at it, like, ‘He’s from this area, so he’s that. He talks a certain way, he dresses a certain way,’ and they fail to realize that there’s a lot of intelligence behind all that," Enwere said. "Those things, where he’s from, don’t define him. Where I’m from, where I grew up, wasn’t one of the best places. Where Khalfani [Muhammad] grew up wasn’t one of the best places, and that doesn’t define us. Even where Tre [Watson] grew up wasn’t the best place. It wasn’t Beverly Hills. But, those things don’t define us."

The bobblehead is fun. The fleet of Lynches will sit proudly on mantles and desktops for years to come. It's a toy, a collectible, a remembrance, but Lynch -- especially the honesty with which he lives his life -- cannot be boiled down into moldable polystone or plastic. He has defied definition. He's defied convention. He's written his own story.

"I think that’s why the majority of us came to Cal," Enwere said, "because, regardless of where we’re from, whether we’re from Texas, from Mississippi, Alabama, Pleasanton, whether we’re from L.A., Inglewood, wherever we’re from, regardless of where we’re from, we came to Cal for an opportunity."

That, Enwere said, is what he has taken from Lynch: More than the touchdowns, more than Beast Mode, more than an image, indelible as that image may be. The moment was iconic, but it cannot touch the man, himself -- the iconoclast.

"When you come to a place like this, you get a chance to rewrite the script," Enwere continued. “That’s what Marshawn did, and that’s what a lot of guys are doing now. I believe that’s what I’m doing now. I’m getting an opportunity to rewrite the script, and people don’t get a chance to see that, to see that there’s a lot more to the guys that wear the helmets.

"There’s a lot more to guys that are driving the carts, that are having fun now, that are at the parties, that are at the events, that are celebrating at the game. There’s a lot more to those guys, and people fail to realize that, sometimes. At the end of the day, we are human. The circumstances that we were put in by birth are not things that we can control. All you can look at, is: How is that person writing their story? I think he’s done a great job of rewriting his story. All of us are trying to rewrite our own stories, and make our own names. A lot of people don’t get to see that. We do. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to see what it really is, behind the camera.”

So, if you're lucky enough to snag one of the 10,000 bobbling Marshawns on Nov. 5, consider this: It is a piece of molded plastic, modeled after a man who broke the mold; indeed, it is a symbol that one can take the iconoclastic, and make it iconic. How very Berkeley.

Since this story was originally published, Lynch has made himself a regular around the Cal football facilities, been a mentor to one of the Bears' top commits, traveled down under to be with Cal in Australia (where he learned rugby), taught blocking to some campers and partnered with Cal on a Bears-branded clothing line from his company, Beast Mode. Running back Vic Enwere, quoted in the story, is out for the season due to a broken foot, and will not play.

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