In the days before the Super Bowl in 2015, Marshawn Lynch taunted the media — and the N.F.L., which requires all players to speak to reporters before the championship game — by proclaiming, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”
It was peak Lynch: Defiant, funny, original. He got away with it, too, because he was a superb running back, a cornerstone of the Seattle Seahawks teams that made it to the Super Bowl in consecutive years.
Now Lynch is back in Seattle after an uneasy departure following the 2015 season. Not to avoid getting fined, but to save the team’s precarious playoff chances.
Lynch, according to his agent, signed a contract with the Seahawks, who have lost several of their top running backs to injury in the past several weeks, including Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise in a loss on Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals.
Lynch’s arrival comes just days before the Seahawks face the San Francisco 49ers in Seattle on Monday night, with the winner taking the N.F.C. West crown, while the loser will enter the postseason as a wild-card team.
Lynch characteristically spoke on his own terms this week, saying in a video on YouTube before his deal was signed that he hears from fans all over the world that he “should have two Super Bowl rings.”
At 33, Lynch is well past his peak, when his grinding and creative running style fit his nickname: Beast Mode. After retiring and sitting out the 2016 season, he returned to the N.F.L. with his hometown Oakland Raiders for two seasons. He appeared in just six games last year because of a groin injury that required surgery. He has not played this season, and his outside pursuits have included acting in the upcoming season of HBO’s futuristic show “Westworld.”
As desperate as the Seahawks are, it is unclear how much Lynch can contribute on Sunday. While he is familiar with the Seahawks’ playbook, Seattle’s offensive line has been mediocre, ranked 19th in the league by FootballOutsiders.com. Lynch will also be facing the 49ers, who have one of the best defensive fronts in the league.
Still, the Seahawks need just one good game out of Lynch to earn a week off. They also have quarterback Russell Wilson, who is having an M.V.P.-caliber season, and they will be playing in front of their home crowd against a 49ers team that has less postseason experience.
There are also the intangibles that only Lynch can bring to a locker room. He was immensely popular with his Seattle teammates during his five and a half seasons there, bringing a unique swagger with his larger-than-life persona.
His love of Skittles resonated nationally. He turned his Beast Mode moniker into an apparel line. He announced his retirement in 2016 on Twitter with a peace-sign emoji and an image of his football cleats tied to together and hanging from a wire. (It was retweeted nearly 200,000 times.)
When players across the N.F.L. knelt during the playing of the national anthem to protest police violence against African-Americans, Lynch went further: He sat on the bench. In 2017, that earned him the wrath of President Trump, who criticized him for sitting during “The Star-Spangled Banner” but standing while the Mexican anthem was played before a game in Mexico City.
His ever-present yet sometimes inscrutable presence was the subject of a documentary, “Lynch: A History,” which premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival this year.
Then there was the fiery end to the 2015 Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. With less than 90 seconds left, the Seahawks were on the 1 yard line, needing a touchdown to all-but-secure a second consecutive title. Instead of giving the ball to Lynch, who had 15 rushing touchdowns that year, Coach Pete Carroll called a pass play.
Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Wilson’s intended pass to Ricardo Lockette, earning Carroll a lifetime of questions, including from some of his own players.
Lynch said in his YouTube video that he wanted to help the Seahawks win the Super Bowl he said they ought to have won five years ago.
“At my age, this is a great opportunity, coming in and help when needed,” he said in the video. “Hopefully be able to help them go ahead and get the Super Bowl that they should be playing for.”
He was asked: Why Seattle?
“We got history, we got unfinished business,” Lynch said.