Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Least Mode

His nickname was Beast Mode, because when they gave Marshawn Lynch the football he ran like a beast, a fearsome creature full of sound and fury who stomped through defenses as if intent on leaving permanent footprints in the earth.

The only thing he couldn't leave his mark on, it turns out, was the game's actuarials.

They are pitiless, those actuarials, and what they say is if you're a running back in professional football, you're going to have three, four, maybe five seasons to make your mark. After that, the clock starts ticking toward career's end. By the time you're 30, 31, 32, unless you're a very rare sort, the game has pretty much used you up.

This is the hard reality of the millennial NFL: It makes you rich and then it uses you up. And so Beast Mode, who clearly gets that as well as anyone, announced obliquely on Super Bowl Sunday -- he tweeted out a pair of empty cleats hanging on a wire -- that he was, well, hanging 'em up.

At 29.

Which is to say, right on time if you're a running back who understands the prevailing realities.

In doing this he follows another NFL star, Calvin Johnson, who's walking away at 30 unless the Detroit Lions can talk him out of it. They will not be the last to decide football beyond the big Three Oh is a futile race against diminishing returns. They are, to belabor a point, only the latest.

The game makes you rich and then uses you up. That's simply its nature. And so the only alternative, if you're Calvin Johnson or Marshawn Lynch or whoever's next to follow them down this road, is to achieve the former and then get out before the latter.

That lonely pair of cleats hanging on a wire?

You can make book on it now: They won't be lonely for long.

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