SEATTLE — The Seahawks are an organization that has gotten a lot of attention for its new-age sensibility — the meditation sessions and yoga class cited as evidence of a nontraditional football environment.
Pete Carroll is known for not stifling the personal creativity of his players, his surfer-cool persona lending an air of freedom to a sport more accustomed to “my way or the highway” proclamations.
“If you’re a loose guy and you dance at practice like I do, he allows you to be that guy,’’ Richard Sherman said Wednesday.
But all that seeming touchy-feeliness belies a basic truth of Seahawks football: It’s predicated on pure, old-school, bad-ass toughness.
And at the center of all that is Marshawn Lynch, perpetually demonstrating a relentless, punishing style of play that permeates the whole team.
The Seahawks aim to intimidate, to impose their will through tenets of the sport that would have been understood, and applauded, by Pop Warner and Vince Lombardi: hitting harder than the other guy.
When it was noted to Earl Thomas that even though the Seahawks’ defense seemed to bully the Saints receivers last Saturday, the 49ers receivers are bigger, he replied evenly, “I think we can bully whoever we want to bully. It’s about us. It’s about a mindset.”
Put aside all the Lynch sideshows — the Skittles obsession, the plumbing commercial, the tug-of-war over media appearances — and Lynch in his Beast Mode (which teammates will tell you never leaves him) is the essence of Seahawks football.
For all the consternation this week about Russell Wilson and the struggles of the Seattle passing game, history shows that the game will be determined by the comparative success of Lynch and his San Francisco counterpart, Frank Gore. In the past eight games between San Francisco and Seattle, the team that rushed for more yards won.
Lynch not only galvanizes the Seahawks offense, he inspires a defensive unit that takes pride in its ability to deliver a lick.
“When you see what he’s doing for the team, why wouldn’t you want to be part of that?” said defensive back Byron Maxwell. “You feed off that energy. You see him out there breaking tackles, running through people, that’s something you love from your back. You think, ‘I’ve got to do the same thing.’ ”
Carroll has compared Lynch to Earl Campbell, who is the gold standard of a back who fights for every last inch. Vic Fangio, the 49ers defensive coordinator, said in 2011 that Lynch is “running angry.”
“He’s running like he just got out of jail or something,’’ 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2011. “He’s running that ball hard.”
Maxwell remembers getting juked by Lynch once in practice. “I could feel the energy off him,’’ he marveled.
On occasion, of course, that style culminates in a spectacular run that becomes a highlight-reel mainstay. More often, and more significantly in the big picture, it means turning a potential loss of yardage into a short gain, or extending a would-be 2-yard run into a 7-yard run, all through sheer force of will.
Way back in 2010, shortly after his arrival in Seattle, Lynch explained “Beast Mode” thusly: “It’s just a state of mind I follow. That basically I won’t be denied, and I’m just relentless at what I do, and that’s running that ball.’’
On Saturday, after rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns in Seattle’s 23-15 playoff win over New Orleans, Lynch was able to crystallize that philosophy into an even more succinct edict: “I don’t run to get tackled.”
It’s a punishing way of doing business — both for opposing defenses who have to try to stop him, and to Lynch himself, who pays a physical price for slamming into bodies with little regard for the consequences. It’s telling that Carroll this week has expressed relief more than once that Lynch somehow seems to have successfully weathered another season of reckless abandon.
“We’re really just so grateful that he feels so good right now,’’ Carroll said.
Grateful, because Lynch will be critical to the Seahawks’ hopes of beating the 49ers on Sunday and advancing to their second Super Bowl.
“He represents our style of football: hard, fast and physical,’’ said offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy.
That’s Beast Mode. The Seahawks mode.