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The Beast and Dragon, Adored: How Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson Willed Their Way to the Super Bowl

A glorious run. A dropped onside kick. A miraculous throw.

The tips of two yellow shoes, jutting out from the stall nearest the shower, gave him away. As the rest of the Packers milled around him in silence, Brandon Bostick, all 6-foot-3 of Brandon Bostick, sat inside his locker. His knees to his chin, his face in his hands, he didn’t look like a man trying to hide, but like one trying to disappear. And for the second time that day, a few inches betrayed him.

“I was just thinking about everything,” Bostick said. “The game, my teammates, everybody in Green Bay, my family. I felt like I let everyone down.”

Bostick’s dropped onside kick, which landed in the arms of Seattle’s Chris Matthews and breathed life back into the Seahawks season, was just one in a series of misfires that cost the Packers a trip to the Super Bowl, but it was clear that Bostick was carrying a heavier burden than most. Seventy-three minutes had passed since Seattle’s celebration began, and Bostick, red-eyed, had taken off nothing but his helmet.

In the Seahawks locker room, the same was true for Russell Wilson, if for different reasons. There were photos to take and hugs to give. It was a scene that seemed impossible not long before. For most of Sunday, Wilson was the worst quarterback he’d ever been. His four interceptions matched his total from November and December combined. Wilson wasn’t alone in digging Seattle’s 16-point halftime hole. Two of those interceptions went through the hands of Jermaine Kearse. Doug Baldwin had his own share of drops to go along with a fumbled kickoff during Seattle’s disaster of a first quarter. On a perfectly designed throwback, with the Seahawks down 12 in the fourth, the ball fell from Baldwin’s hands to the ground. After corralling the ball off the bounce, he fired it toward the Seattle sideline. The drive eventually stalled, and if that didn’t feel like the end, Wilson’s interception on the opening play of the next drive did.

But Seattle staved off death in the only way it could — with a combination of suffocating defense and a rumbling Marshawn Lynch. Green Bay went three-and-out on the drive following Morgan Burnett’s pick. Hobbled or not, the Seahawks slowed Aaron Rodgers to a crawl for nearly the entire game. The Packers’ only touchdown pass came with Earl Thomas prone on the turf, and save for Rodgers’s rough outing in Buffalo, Sunday was the worst game of his season. Without the Seahawks’ red-zone heroics in the first quarter — and without some generous decisions by Mike McCarthy — there would have been no chance for a Seattle comeback.

The same would be true if there were no Marshawn Lynch. The few dozen times Seattle’s season looked over yesterday meant a few dozen times for the questions about Lynch’s future to begin. When the Seahawks’ title hopes were plummeting back in October, the chances of Lynch remaining in Seattle seemed to be going with them. But after this season — and after what Lynch did in the second half — it has become impossible to imagine this team without him. The swell of energy that builds on those 10- and 12-yard tears fuels not only the crowd but the entire Seattle offense. Wilson may steer the Seahawks, but Lynch is their power source. Each time Seattle needed a play as the game wound down, he was there with one. His 26-yard catch set up the Seahawks’ first offensive score, and it took only a few steps into his 24-yard touchdown run to see he wasn’t being stopped. “That’s what makes him the best runner in the National Football League,” Russell Wilson said. “He finds ways to make holes, he finds ways to get into the end zone, and I’m glad he’s on our team.”

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Seattle SeahawksTom Pennington/Getty images

The burst to the end zone is what the record crowd at CenturyLink had waited for all day. Most of the afternoon, the stadium notorious for its decibel levels had been kept to a murmur, but as Lynch crossed the goal line, three hours of pent-up frustration flowed out at once. The press box began to shake, the towels began to wave. The craze had returned.

Lynch got Seattle to overtime, but it was those who’d nearly thrown the game away who eventually finished it. Wilson capped off the game-winning drive with a pair of perfect 35-yard throws — one to Baldwin and one to Kearse — to send Green Bay packing. Each was perfect. Each was the sort of ball that had been missing most of the day.

“We ended up winning the ballgame on [Russell’s] arm and our receivers’ hands,” Richard Sherman said. “And that says a lot about him.” Sherman stood with his left elbow bent, his left hand resting in his right. He played most of the fourth quarter with the arm tucked against his body. “I wasn’t going to come out of the game,” Sherman said. “They advised me to go in, get it X-rayed. But at that point in the game, there’s 10 minutes left, I was going to give my teammates 10 minutes.”

Around the wrist of that immobilized left arm, Sherman wore a neon-green bracelet. One side read “L.O.B.” But in place of “Legion of Boom” on the other were three different words: “Love Our Brothers.” That sense of fraternal obligation crept up in each retelling of the comeback, and, in the moment, it was hard to dismiss. When Kearse took the podium after the game, after his second NFC-championship-winning catch in as many seasons, Baldwin was next to him. As Kearse did his best to politely answer each question, Baldwin continued to interject, imploring anyone who’d listen that they’d slept on his man. “You all do remember that Jermaine Kearse was undrafted, right?” Baldwin asked, not actually looking for an answer. He went on to recall how Kearse was cut that rookie season and brought back a few months later. “He got his opportunity, and he’s been showing up ever since,” Baldwin says. “He got back and was destroying our defensive backs, and I mean destroying.”

On the final play of the game, Baldwin was on the sideline. Before the snap, he saw the single coverage that Kearse was getting on the outside. More importantly, he saw Kearse’s reaction. “I’m looking at my man Jermaine, and I see that he’s dancing at the opportunity that just presented itself,” Baldwin says. “I knew that there was no doubt. And he knew that there was no doubt.”

Throwing to Kearse wasn’t the plan. Upon seeing no help over the top, Wilson checked the play at the line of scrimmage, knowing that with the right ball, the game was over. “The funny thing is,” Wilson says, “right when we won the coin toss, I told [offensive coordinator Darrell] Bevell on the sideline, ‘I’m going to hit Kearse for a touchdown on a check.’ Sure enough, we did.”

The endless, mindless optimism that Wilson pumps out can sometimes turn him into a cardboard cutout — the milk-drinking, rah-rah quarterback of our dreams. But Seattle needed that type of quarterback yesterday, even if it needed him in part because of the quarterback it got for much of the game. “He kept coming up to us saying we’re going to win this game, we’re going to win this game, there’s no doubt in my mind I’m going to keep coming to you guys,” Kearse said.

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Seattle SeahawksRonald Martinez/Getty

They did, and in the moments after, as Wilson knelt with a group of teammates, the tears came. The swings of the past four hours would have been enough to push most people there, but Wilson said afterward that it was those of the past 12 months — and beyond — that caught him. “Going through the ups and downs of life in the past year,” Wilson says. “But also, just winning the Super Bowl last year and people doubting what we could do. It’s an emotional time for me. I think about my dad right away. I wish he was here, but he’s got the best seat in the house.”

More than one Seahawk didn’t know how to describe the feeling of those last few minutes. The swing was too much and too fresh to even process. “I’m clueless,” Earl Thomas managed. Pete Carroll, and his decades of moments to hang on, spoke for them. “This is a phenomenal memory that we just were part of,” Carroll said. “A great moment. We’ll always remember this one.”