Saying goodbye to Bryan and Marshawn: While We’re Waiting…

Daniel Bryan Seahawks

Happy Wednesday, Blawg Pound. First, a couple things that happened that people will be talking about. Then, some talk about WWE’s Daniel Bryan and the NFL’s Marshawn Lynch retiring, and why those are both bummers.

Okay so first, Kanye West tweeted the following thing: “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” complete with a space after the last word followed by ten exclamation points. (I hope by the time you read this he’ll have deleted it, but I don’t expect that to be the case, and I don’t know what good that would do anyway.) Far as I can tell, there is no context to go along with this other than the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, which have seen some 46 women come forward publicly.

Perhaps Kanye alone possesses some exonerating evidence.

Next, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won their respective presidential primaries in New Hampshire. I wholly understand if you have tried to avoid this entire election process because everything about it is awful and oh god the whole world is going to hell, but we still oughta pay at least a little bit of attention. This is still a country we’re living in, after all.

There are plenty more primaries where that came from — and just wait until it’s Ohio’s turn! TV will be loaded with even more political ads before you know it! (We’re all gonna be okay, people. Try hard, do your best, hug your folks, don’t do heroin, and you’ll be just fine.)

Alright, now I’d like to get to the topic of the day: Retirement. The sports world saw two of its most popular athletes call it quits this week, at a combined age of just 63 years old. Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch announced his retirement via tweet during the Super Bowl, while WWE star Daniel Bryan explained his own retirement on WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw. (Bryan tweeted his own announcement earlier on Monday as well.)

Marshawn was never my favorite player, but I always enjoyed him. I liked how he ran. His 67-yard run against the Saints in the 2010 playoffs was the best run ever. It has to be tied for the best, at least. There might be other runs as good, but there aren’t any that are clearly better. There can’t be. The whole thing should have ended as a garden variety two-yarder. Instead he broke eight tackles, by my count. It was a game-clinching touchdown in a home playoff game. He stiff-armed Tracy Porter (No. 22) so bad that Porter totally gave up when he could have had another shot at him.

(It took about 10 tries to find a YouTube video that would play while embedded. There are tons of videos of that run on YouTube, but most will not play on any site other than YouTube because the NFL says so. I understand that this sort of thing is common and the NFL is not alone on this matter, but I still think it’s stupid and it should be described as such.)

Lynch could be prickly with the media and generally did not play along with the games that professional athletes are expected to. He famously made a mockery of Super Bowl media day, as though that were possible. Given the recency of this year’s SB50, the unceasing ridiculousness of the entire affair should be clear in your mind. Rather than sit there and field questions about exactly how important the game is or what winning would mean to him, Lynch repeated the same answer to every question: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” If you have the slightest hint of stick-it-to-the-man-ness in you, if you’ve ever had a boss or a teacher or a parent, that alone makes Marshawn at least a mild folk hero.

It seems he was destined for great things from birth. From Danny Kelly at SB Nation:

Delisa Lynch, Marshawn’s mother, was told during her pregnancy that her son had absorbed the placenta of a twin brother and that fetus had been nourished by both in utero.

The midwife told her at the time — and I’m not making this up — to not be surprised if Marshawn turned out to be an “amazingly strong child.”

So, Lynch’s real-life graphic novel origin story is that he was born with the strength of two men. He’s used his inherited powers almost purely for good. Well, for the good of the Seahawks, anyway.

Last, Daniel Bryan has retired from professional wrestling. (If this does not matter to you at all, I will attempt to make an argument why it should.) He tweeted as much Monday afternoon, but fans held out hope that it was somehow untrue. Work me, they begged in wrestling parlance, hoping for it all to be part of a scripted storyline, let there be a swerve. But there was no script. There was no swerve. The unscripted nature of Daniel Bryan’s retirement is what made it so compelling — and so heartbreaking. He had to retire, in short, because he’d had a lot of concussions.

Appearing at the end of Monday night’s Raw in jeans in a flannel shirt, Bryan explained why he had to walk away. (There were two very good pieces of writing about Bryan that I intended to include excerpts of, but I got carried away and don’t expect you to read another thousand words on the topic. One was by Brandon Stroud at Uproxx, and the other was by David Shoemaker at ESPN. They both know the business way better than me, and I recommend them both.)

I’ve been wrestling since I was 18 years old. And within the first five months of my wrestling career, I’d already had three concussions. And for years after that, I would get a concussion here and there, and it gets to the point that when you’ve been wrestling for 16 years, that adds up to a lot of concussions. And it gets to a point where they tell you that you can’t wrestle anymore. And for a long time I fought that because I had gotten EEGs and brain MRIs and neuro-psychological evaluations and all of them said this: That I was fine and that I could come back and I could wrestle.

I trained like I could come back and I could wrestle. I was ready at a moment’s notice if WWE needed me, I wanted to come back and wrestle because I have loved this in a way I have never loved anything else. But, a week and a half ago, I took a test that said that maybe my brain isn’t as okay as I thought it was.

The mention of concussion, not to mention three of them within five months of an 18-year-old’s life, brought solemnity to the proceedings. Even a couple years ago that might not have sounded like cause for retirement. Now it does. The crowd still pleaded with Bryan to stay, but more out of respect than anything. They follow the NFL, they know what’s in theaters; they know the score. They understood why he had to go.

Wrestlers are meant to be superheroes. This was a rare moment in which the performers’ very humanity was in the spotlight.

What made Daniel Bryan special, what connected him with fans, was this very real sense that he was living the dream

More than that, the spotlight was on the unique relationship between wrestlers and wrestling fans. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s its own thing, different than that between players and fans in any other sport. If you have the time and the inclination, a YouTube video called “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling” sums up wrestling’s appeal as well as anything. One line captures it all: “Don’t get me wrong, a lot of wrestling sucks. But when it’s good, it’s fucking great.”

Daniel Bryan did a lot of good wrestling, most of it before he was ever on national television. He slogged away in the lower promotions, working high school gyms and bingo halls and armories. He was never destined for the world once inhabited by Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant — he’s 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, if that. But as more fans discovered him, the more they learned about and disseminated his journey. They learned how he was a real-life Rudy. They saw how he left a bit of himself in the ring every time he entered. There was an ineffable joy in his work, a magnetic energy that took hold. What made him special, what connected him with fans, was this very real sense that he was living the dream. Once upon a time he was just a kid who loved wrestling, just like all of the other kids out there. Then one day, boom, he’s winning the championship at WrestleMania.

Bryan is so beloved because he shared so much with the fans. Indeed, his very presence at the top of the WWE pyramid only happened because of his fans. WWE brass was not itching to put a guy the size of Doug Flutie in the main event, but the fans made it so. An entire television segment, and eventually an entire championship storyline, were derailed because the fans demanded it be. They demanded Daniel Bryan be given a shot at the title. They demanded to see him on the biggest stage. They demanded to see their underdog overcome the odds, because damnit, that’s what wrestling is about. He did what every wrestler seeks to do with the crowd, and to a degree that few could ever replicate: He got over.

Bryan embraced the spotlight as much as he could when he got it, which people respected because the spotlight is the greatest wrestling currency there is. His passion and work rate never let up. What made Daniel Bryan great — and the past tense is regretfully necessary at this point — was how much of himself he gave in the name of his sport. You never watched him with a sense that you were being gypped. You never felt like he performed in a way that anyone else could. You never felt like anyone cared more than him. You never felt like anyone gave more than him.

Watching this, a man forced to walk away from the thing he loves the most, had me weeping like a baby Monday night. Precious few among us get the chance to realize our greatest aspiration, let alone actually do it. Daniel Bryan did — and he did.