Sports Football

SUPER BOWL

Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski two very different beasts

By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks (left) and Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots (right) are two of the more physically intimidating players set to suit up for the Super Bowl game on Sunday. (USA TODAY Sports/Files)

Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks (left) and Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots (right) are two of the more physically intimidating players set to suit up for the Super Bowl game on Sunday. (USA TODAY Sports/Files)

PHOENIX - 

They couldn't be more different, Rob Gronkowski and Marshawn Lynch.

In size, shape, public persona and position played.

They couldn't be more different -- the outlandish kid from a middle class Buffalo suburb who stars for New England, the life of every party and then some; and the paranoid runner from the projects of Oakland, short, squat, intimidating, smiling with gold teeth and sporting dreadlocks.

One hasn't spoken a meaningful word this Super Bowl week and the other hasn't stopped talking, singing Katy Perry tunes, even reading from a self-inspired erotic novel called 'A Gronking to Remember.'

The book isn't, for the record, much to remember. But know this: Rob Gronkowski is a big Marshawn Lynch fan. He said so early Wednesday morning. He said so while answering questions, something Lynch won't partake in.

Gronkowski did say he likes the way Lynch plays, appreciates the Beast Mode mentality. Said he was an admirer of Lynch's going back to the early days with his hometown team, the Buffalo Bills.

He just wished Lynch was playing for someone other than the Seattle Seahawks, the opponent of Gronkowski's New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX Sunday.

"I don't know how anybody wouldn't be a fan of his, the way he plays," said Gronkowski. "All of us appreciate football players. He's a football player."

Had Lynch chose to share his thoughts this week, which he has determined not to -- he has mostly disdain and mistrust of media -- he might have answered similarly.

"You know why I'm here," he said Wednesday.

That's all he said.

But really, you don't know.

If you listen to the way his Seahawks teammates talk about him, if Lynch and Gronkowski aren't kindred spirits, they are certainly kindred players at their respective positions. Teammates go into detail about Lynch's dedication, his ridiculous work ethic, his passion for the game, how much and how hard he pushed his teammates. The way the Seahawks describe Lynch sounds somewhat familiar to the way in which the Patriots describe Gronkowski, at least when they do it with straight faces.

And here we are at Super Bowl XLIX, and the matchups couldn't be more intriguing.

Super team New England playing super team Seattle. Super coach Bill Belichick opposing super coach Pete Carroll and the all-time great quarterback Tom Brady facing the kid who rarely loses, Russell Wilson.

But the real fascination should come down to this: In a battle of Beast Mode vs. Beast Mode, unstoppable force vs. unstoppable force, a one-of-a-kind game-breaking running back against a one-of-a-kind game-breaking tight end, who winds up winning?

"We have to stop him," said Vince Wilfork, the Patriots veteran defensive lineman, talking of Lynch. "That's where the game starts and ends. I think he's the best back in the game. He's amazing when he gets the ball in his hands.

"Everybody focuses on how physical he is, but I focus on his feet. He's like a dancer our there. You don't hear people say that. To me, he's like a quarterback who throws for 300 yards a game. And he plays better in the fourth quarter, which makes him more dangerous. I don't think anybody out there does it any better than him."

Lynch has scored 64 touchdowns in less than five seasons in Seattle. No running back in the NFL has scored more consistently over that time. In four playoff seasons, he has eight post-season scores. And in between, has made some of football's most stirring runs that led to scores.

"Marshawn is an extraordinary character," said Carroll, who gushes over all of his players but even moreso Lynch. "He is the most giving, most loved and one of the greatest teammates you could have. His sense of loyalty runs deep and his teammates know that and appreciate that."

Said New England defender, Chandler Jones: "You don't game-plan for Marshawn Lynch. You don't beat him with schemes. It comes down to tackling technique. You have to hit him and you have to wrap him up. It sounds easy but it isn't. If we don't wrap our arms around him and get help, we've got trouble."

The bonus for New England: they have a strong rush defence, especially in the red zone.

Then there's Gronkowski.

The Seahawks may have the best secondary and best defence in all of football -- at least that's what Belichick says -- but do they offer an answer for Gronkowski? Earl Thomas, Seattle's team-leading free safety, is 5-foot-10. That's nine inches shorter than Gronk. That's just part of the challenge. Seattle had the best passing defence in football. That works in the Hawks favour.

So does strong safety Kam Chancellor who is tall, but still four inches shorter than Gronkowski, who happens to run patterns with precision and is Brady's go-to target when healthy, which he announced with a broad smile, he is.

It has been difficult for Gronkowski in recent seasons. Serious injuries all of them. He broke his forearm, sprained his ankle, hurt his back, damaged his knee: Six operations later -- or was it seven? -- Humpty Dumpty, the tight end, has been put back together again.

"After all that's happened, I don't take anything for granted anymore," said Gronk. "It feels good to be 100% healthy and 100% ready to roll for this game."

With a willing but unhealthy Gronkowski, New England lost to the New York Giants in his last Super Bowl appearance three years ago. He was basically a non factor in that defeat. Many have assumed the Pats win the 2012 Super Bowl had Gronkowski been healthy.

He's ready to put that behind him now.

And like Lynch, he has the numbers that work in his favour. Only Gronkowski's are more even more impressive than Lynch's numbers of magnificence.

If you break down Jerry Rice's touchdowns into single units, he scored in 68% of the NFL games in which he played. Emmitt Smith, who is second all-time in touchdowns behind Rice, scored in 77% of the games he played.

Gronkowski is, to steal from Lynch, a beast: He has 55 touchdowns in 65 NFL games. That's touchdowns in 84.6% of games played, in single units. That is unheard of.

When Gronkowski scores, the Patriots win 86% of the time: They have never lost a game in which he has scored more than one touchdown.

"Listen, it's going to be a challenge to play him," said Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. "I look forward to these type of matchups. He's a big guy and he's had a little juke to him. To consider yourself one of the best, you have to handle guys like that. I look forward to it."

So does Gronkowski, who has waited for this very opportunity.

"I remember a few years ago, being here, and every single question was about my ankle," he said. "Every four seconds somebody asked me about my ankle. It's cool to come here and just chill, just worry about the Seattle Seahawks, just worry about practice and see what I've got to do. It's a lot better feeling. It's awesome."

There are no questions about Lynch's health, only about his ability to stay out of the NFL's firing line. He seems to be the target du jour.

A year ago he was fined for not doing media responsibilities at the Super Bowl. Last week he was fined for a crotch grabbing motion after scoring a touchdown. Wednesday, it was hinted he would be fined for wearing his Beast Mode cap at a league-sanctioned event. In the NFC title game, Lynch wanted to wear a golden cleats and was informed he couldn't.

This has gotten personal between the running back and the apparent authorities but it has also gotten rather petty and silly from both ends. What happens, for example, if Lynch wins Super Bowl MVP: Will he spurn the interviews then? Will he embarrass the NFL on its largest platform?

We do know this: He will do his job. He will make a difference. He is capable of changing the Super Bowl.

And until his contract comes into play in the off-season, that seems to be all Carroll and the Seahawks are concerned about.

"I think what you're seeing is a demonstration of a guy being himself and not what everybody else wants him to be," said Carroll. "He's being true to himself and we understand that. I understand that people would like to see him do different things. He's not comfortable with that. So that's what he's telling you.

"This environment just isn't one that you get to see him the way you want to see him. You're seeing him as he is and in that regard, it is what it is."

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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