Members of the Raider Nation had their hearts broken in March when the National Football League approved the Oakland Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas—a move that comes after the Silver and Black had their best season since the 2002 Super Bowl run, finishing 12-4 before getting booted out of the playoffs by the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Game in January.
But the revitalized Raiders aren’t done trying to bring a Super Bowl back to Oakland before they leave. In an effort to do so—and to keep Raider fans from completely bailing on a team that’s set to leave for Vegas in two years—the Raiders brought a hometown hero out of retirement: Marshawn Lynch.
The Raiders acquired runningback Lynch from the Seattle Seahawks last week, getting him out of retirement and signing him to a two-year, $8.5 million contract after trading late-round draft picks to the Seahawks for his rights. Although Lynch retired, Seattle still held onto his rights, forcing Oakland to trade for him before officially signing him to the current deal. He is expected to play and start for the Raiders the next two years, the last two years the team will play at the Oakland Coliseum.
“I’m hella stoked to have the ambassador of Oakland giving us a chance to really compete for a ring,” said die-hard Raider fan Jenna Daugherty. “Having Marshawn will help ease us into the very uncomfortable reality of moving to Vegas.”
Lynch will be the veteran member of a new, young Raider core that fans hope will get Oakland to Super Bowl LII this season, their first trip to the big game since losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002.
He’s already joined the team during their offseason workout program at the team’s headquarters in Alameda, and, as expected, is already drawing rave reviews from his coaches and teammates alike. “Authentic passion is what I see,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said to reporters and Raiders.com during the NFL draft weekend. “He is a homegrown guy, he’s extremely excited about joining this football team, being a part of the Raider Nation and we’re excited to have him.”
The Raiders’ seventh-round draft pick, Elijah Hood of North Carolina, echoed similar excitement in having the opportunity to work with Lynch in the Raiders’ backfield. “Marshawn Lynch, growing up, watching him play, honestly, as a runner, that’s one of the running backs I tried to model my game after the most,” Hood said in a post-draft conference call. “I have so many questions I need to ask him and learn from him about the game and NFL and what it takes to be successful.”
Lynch has even caught the eye of some of the staff who work at the facility. “The facility is off the charts in terms of morale,” said one Raiders inside source who works at the team’s headquarters, but asked not to be named. “Everyone is beyond excited. His vibe is so natural down-to-earth Oakland at its finest.”
Although Lynch’s signing is predicted to boost the Raiders running game significantly after the Raiders let former starter Latavius Murray hit free agency (and eventually sign with Minnesota), his return home has had just as much of an effect within the East Oakland community. “His influence on the city will be priceless,” said Pendarvis Harshaw, an Oakland native, journalist and the author of OG Told Me, a book and website. “He’ll have little kids wanting to grow up and play for their hometown team. He’ll push other athletes to become more involved in the community.” (Harshaw is a former staff reporter for Oakland North.)
Oakland native, author and activist Joy Elan, echoed Harshaw’s thoughts. “I think it’s a great way to celebrate Oakland’s own,” Elan said. “I am still sad that they’re relocating, but nothing like going out with a native Oakland player.”
Lynch played his high school football at Oakland Tech where he won a Northern California Section championship, NCS Championship, at the Oakland Coliseum in 2003. He then made his way to Cal, where he ran for over 1,200 yards in his sophomore and junior years of 2005 and 2006, earning the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year award in 2006. He was drafted 12th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills where he’d spend the first two-plus seasons of his pro career.
He was traded to the Seattle Seahawks during the 2010 season, finishing the year in Seattle. He spent the next five-plus seasons in Seattle where he helped lead the Seahawks to a pair of Super Bowls, winning one and became known for his very physical, powerful style of running—a style that later earned its own nickname: “Beastmode.” He retired after the 2015 season, after amassing 9,112 rushing yards and 74 rushing touchdowns throughout his career. With 888 yards rushing this season, Lynch can become the fourth active player to reach the 10,000 yards rushing milestone in his career, the 30th overall.
Lynch has also turned “Beastmode” into a successful clothing brand, opening stores in Seattle and Oakland.
Lynch’s return to Oakland is reminiscent of the return of another hometown hero, former Oakland Athletics’ and current Texas Rangers’ pitcher Tyson Ross. Ross, a Berkeley native, was drafted by the A’s in 2008 out of U.C. Berkeley, and pitched with the Athletics from 2010 to 2012.
“It’s a dream come true,” Harshaw said of Ross then. “It was awesome to see a kid I played ball with make it to the majors. I felt like I was vicariously playing through him, especially because he wore number 66, in honor of Greenman Field where we played ball as kids.”
“I presume Marshawn’s impact will be that of Tyson’s, plus so much more,” Harshaw continued. “Marshawn has accomplished so much. He’s won a Super Bowl. He has a brand. He has sayings and slogans. And now he’s coming out of retirement, just to play for the Raiders, prior to them leaving the town—talk about legacy! And his personality is so Oakland. It’s going to be pandemonium.”
Lynch’s acquisition is the latest big-time splash the Raiders have made in the last few off-seasons. They got fan-favorite cornerback Charles Woodson to return to Oakland to finish his career in 2013, drafted quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack in 2014 and wide receiver Amari Cooper in 2015. Although Woodson is retired, Carr, Mack and Cooper have become the core of the team since their arrival.