California's Marshawn Lynch strode into the 2006 college football season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but after he turned in a brilliant performance in an overtime win over Washington on Oct. 21, he became something else, something that would fit into the unique legacy -- "Beast Mode!" -- he established in the NFL.
That "something else" is rooted in one signature moment at Cal: when he commandeered a training cart immediately after the game, weaving through a flummoxed crowd of players, fans and coaches, delighting the home crowd and providing a highlight that is replayed as a foundational moment in the Lynch story.
In the words of those who knew him best, here's a look back at Lynch at Cal, told primarily through that memorable 2006 Washington game.
Ron Gould, Cal running backs coach (1997-2011): He had tremendous ability. He could have probably played wide receiver, safety, corner. He could throw the ball. He could play quarterback. He was an exceptional athlete.
Desmond Bishop, Cal teammate; linebacker, Washington Redskins: I don't think I've ever told him this, but he was a big reason I went to Cal. I was a juco [recruit] on my trip to USC [in 2004]. I wanted to go to USC. That was the height of Pete Carroll. I'm on my trip, I'm in the stands, I'm throwing up the "V." I'm USC'd out. They were playing Cal, and I didn't know much about Cal. But as I'm watching the game, I'm watching Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, J.J. Arrington and all these guys, and I was like, "Who are these guys? They are like warriors out here fighting it out with almighty USC." I just fell in love with Cal. There was something about the spirit of Marshawn -- and he was, I think, a true freshman at the time.
Justin Forsett, Cal teammate; running back, Baltimore Ravens: I remember how freakishly strong he was. We were doing power cleans, and he was lifting what the linemen were lifting -- 315 pounds on the hang clean.
Zack Follett, Cal teammate; former NFL linebacker: I remember we were all in the weight room during the summer and we were cleaning, trying to set the record at 315. We're all doing it, struggling, some guys got it. Marshawn walks in. He's in street clothes -- jeans, his Jordans. He walks up to the bar, just straight out of class, throws his dreads back and cleans this thing, then throws it on the ground and walks out of the weight room. Like no warm-up. He's just on another level.
Gould: Pound for pound, he is the strongest human being I've ever seen.
Jeff Tedford, Cal coach, 2002-2012: He could do everything. He could stand there and do a backflip. He could run with power. He could run with speed. He had unbelievable balance. He caught the ball as well as any receiver caught the ball. He had a good feel for running pass routes. Physical, fast, great balance, really sharp, smart guy. I can't remember any mental mistakes that would stick out.
Follett: Marshawn was just on another level. I was so thankful I never had to go against him in a real game. In practice, I've never seen someone run the way he runs. As a linebacker, seeing a running back coming through the hole, you can kind of judge by their running style if they are coming to run you over or if they are coming to juke you. Marshawn would run so ... nontraditionally. His body would be flying every which way, setting you up for a juke, but at the same time, he had so much power he could just run you over. He was by far the hardest running back I've ever gone against, and I never played against him in a game. I would say Adrian Peterson is the only running back who runs with the same type of tenacity.
Bishop: During camp, tensions were flaring, and Coach says, "OK, we're going to go live. Let's get it over with." I'm such a competitor; I thought this was an opportunity to show them the defense runs the team. The first play, he got the ball and I read it perfectly. He came through the line, and I hit him as hard as I could -- clean, but as hard as I could -- and I just bounced off. I got up thinking that there was metal under his skin.
As a true freshman backup to Arrington, who eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing in 2004, Lynch rushed for 628 yards and scored eight touchdowns and averaged 8.8 yards per carry. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
As a junior, he entered the Washington game averaging 108 yards rushing per game and 6.8 yards per carry, though he'd been battling injuries to both ankles and saw little practice time in advance of the game. Cal, after opening with a dispiriting loss at Tennessee, had won six games in a row, while the Huskies were 4-3, having lost starting quarterback Isaiah Stanback to a season-ending injury the week before.
Scott White, former Washington LB; LBs coach at UCLA: You wanted to get to him before he got going. One of our coaches, J.D. Williams, who came to us from Cal, told us you can't go for the big hit with Marshawn because he's so balanced. You have to gang-tackle. You couldn't arm-tackle him. You had to wrap and bring your feet.
Nate Longshore, Cal quarterback (2005-08): I remember everything that could go wrong was going wrong. We were a much better team, much more talented. They were on their second or third quarterback. We just let them stick around.
Lynch's 17-yard touchdown run gave Cal a 24-17 lead after Forsett's two-point conversion with 1:52 remaining, but the Huskies tied the game on the last play of regulation with a Hail Mary pass from Carl Bonnell to Marlon Wood. In overtime, Lynch scored on a 22-yard touchdown run, and Bishop ended the game with an interception.
Lynch would tell the Associated Press after the game that he jumped into the training cart to pick up the exhausted Bishop, who unnecessarily returned the interception 79 yards. Lynch also reportedly was angry that Washington had run its pregame drills on the Cal logo at midfield.
Avinash Kunnath, 2010 Cal grad; editor of California Golden Blogs and founder of Pacific Takes with SB Nation: I was in the 10th row, pretty close to the field, but we were all moving into the student section for overtime. It was really loud. If I remember correctly, Washington had the ball last, and they threw a pick. Everyone was going crazy. We were doing the "Bear Territory" chant. Then we all started noticing a football player driving this cart around -- we weren't sure if it was Desmond Bishop or Marshawn because they both had No. 10 -- but then we realized it was Marshawn. He was just whirling around the field. We were all wondering if he was going to run into someone. He was going all over the place. It was crazy. He pulled up to the section and saluted us.
Bishop: I got the interception at the end of the game. There was a crowd [on the field], and we were walking back. Then we see Marshawn whipping it, ghost riding the cart. At first, a lot of people thought it was me because we both wore No. 10. He was all excited. We didn't really think nothing of it. It was funny at the time. That was it. But after the game, you found out it was such a big deal.
Follett: I was still on the field. I saw Marshawn in the cart. We all just kind of laughed because Marshawn is a breed of his own. We saw him ghost riding, and at that point the whole "ghost riding the whip" movement was pretty fully in effect. That started with Bay Area rappers like E-40 and Mistah F.A.B. and Keak da Sneak. I think that's what inspired Marshawn. (Editor's note: Technically, Lynch wasn't "ghost riding," which requires a person to exit a moving vehicle and dance beside it.)
Jason Chong, Cal water boy, Class of 2006: I remember seeing Marshawn run to the sidelines and hop into the medical injury cart. He started up the cart and started driving around and celebrating. Of course, all of us in the student section, we loved it. We thought it was great. It was total, typical Marshawn. Having fun. We didn't want it to stop. It was very timely because there were a lot of rap videos out about "ghost riding the whip."
Marshawn Lynch, notoriously sheepish about doing interviews, has addressed the ride only a handful of times, such as with Inside Bay Area, Nov. 8, 2006: I was excited, man. In Oakland, we like to express ourselves in a lot of different ways, and one way is driving.
Forsett: Most of the team was in the locker room. We had TVs in the locker room. I remember looking up and seeing Marshawn in the cart driving around, across the field, going crazy. I didn't see it on the field. Most of us saw it in the locker room. It was just widespread laughter. That's Marshawn, man.
Tedford: I kind of saw it because I went across to shake hands [with Washington coach Tyrone Willingham]. On my way off, I kind of caught it out of the corner of my eye and kind of snickered at it. It didn't look out of control. He had a huge smile on his face. I thought it was about school spirit. To see him enjoying that, and leading that charge at that point, that was good.
Tyrone Willingham, Washington coach, 2005-08: I did not see the cart ride, but of course I heard about it after the game. What I did see was an outstanding performance by a great individual that allowed his team to prevail.
Gould: I was actually getting ready to take a shower. We had a TV in the staff room. I turn it on, and whatever news channel it was has Marshawn driving the cart. I was like, "What in the world is going on?"
Petros Papadakis, Fox Sports Net broadcaster: He was swerving that thing all over the place -- almost dangerously -- but in a celebratory way. It was a joyful day to be up there. He was a lot of fun to cover.
Jim Watson, field reporter, Fox Sports Net: We were at midfield, almost on the bear paw. And I remember this because he went around us like three times. I couldn't move because I was tethered to the camera, and I remember Longshore saying, "We're probably safer staying in place." Meanwhile, Lynch is, like, circling and scattering people. It was funny because the training staff was more afraid of him than anybody -- you know those 20 guys they have in khaki pants and golf shirts? He would go right at them and they'd all scatter. [Lynch] was looking up and screaming and yelling and jerking the wheel back and forth and stabbing at the brakes. It was pretty funny.
He must have gone 50 yards in one direction and something like 60 or 70 yards back. Eventually, he went over to the sideline and finished right in front of the Cal student section. ... Immediately it broke into "Mar-shawn Lynch! Mar-shawn Lynch!"
Longshore: I only saw a small bit of him driving around. I remember thinking, "I hope he doesn't hit anybody." I thought it was all in good fun. It was actually much more exciting to watch on TV afterwards. It didn't seem too bizarre at the time, until you watched it on SportsCenter's Top 10. Then it was, "Yeah, I guess that was pretty silly." It didn't seem too noteworthy at the time, just Marshawn being Marshawn.
Watson: As soon as I got done with Longshore, they told me to go get [Lynch]. We were going off the air, but they were going to use it for news. I ran over to get him, and he goes, "No man, no man. I've got to party." He ran over to the students. He wasn't rude about it.
Chong: I think I remember a staffer, an equipment guy running after the cart trying to get Marshawn to stop. They probably were worried he'd run somebody over.
Kevin Parker, Cal player personnel director (2002-present): I asked him, how did you get the keys to the cart? And he said, "I ran right by and the keys were in there. So I just decided to get in there and drive around." He's crazy, man. I remember Coach Tedford talking to him in the meeting the next day, saying, heck of a job by the team winning the game and him with a great run ... but, please, just don't drive the [training] cart around again because I got too many calls about it.
Watson: The best line of the day, Barry Tompkins, who was calling the game for us, throws out when Lynch gets out of the golf cart, "That was the final drive of the game."
Tedford: I didn't think at the time it was a big deal. Afterward, I realized it could have gone sideways if he'd lost control or ran into somebody.
Watson: If he ran over someone, this story of course would be different.
Jim Muldoon, Pac-10 associate commissioner, communications director: I thought it was very entertaining and very creative. I also thought from a game-management standpoint we shouldn't be doing that. We had weekly calls during football and basketball seasons with our event managers, and we did talk about it there. We said, "Hey, we can't do stuff like this." But as far as anything official from the conference office, no. To the best of my recollection, we did not get involved at all because he really wasn't violating any conference rules.
Tedford: I got in a little bit of trouble from the AD [Sandy Barbour]. She called the next day and said, "Don't let him do that anymore." Like we had planned it. I was like, "OK, I'll tell him."
Lynch, to SI.com, Jan. 30, 2014: My favorite college experience was probably leaving college. But the Ghost Ride was up there, too.
After the game -- immediately and in the days that followed -- there were questions about how to take Lynch's ride. Of course, some Washington players and fans weren't happy. But the backlash was muted.
White: That's Marshawn. He's a free spirit. He was whipping it. He makes things interesting.
I don't think anybody was upset or thought it was bush league. I was always a guy who thought if you don't want someone to celebrate, then beat them. They got us. They beat us. Marshawn had quite a few friends on our team. When he did indoor track, he'd come and hang out with us. Marshawn has always been a cool dude.
Papadakis: I'm kind of an old-school guy, and there's a limit to celebration and stuff, but I found it to be a joyful moment. I knew the kid, and I didn't think of him as anything but a great football player who had a great story, who'd overcome a lot. Didn't bother me.
Perhaps part of this mild reaction is nostalgic hindsight seen through a prism of Lynch's NFL persona -- a great running back who grew into a larger-than-life cult figure for his original mixture of style, humor and defiance.
Forsett: We're still really close. We came in the same year. We were roommates during camp our first year. [He's] just a playful guy who loved people. He loved candy. We'd be laying down after a hard day of practice and it would be him, me and J.J. Arrington, and we'd hear him over there in the pitch black smacking on Skittles and gummy bears throughout the night.
He was a groomsman in my wedding. He's very close to my family. We're like brothers, for sure. He's a giving person. I remember literally seeing him give the shirt off his back to someone who needed it. That's the kind of guy he is.
Watson: If you were talking to him and go, "Marshawn, that's a cool T-shirt," he would take it off and give it to you. I remember he would do that on campus. He had his shirt off one time I was doing a segment on campus and I asked, "What's up with Marshawn?" And someone told me, "Someone said he liked his T-shirt and Marshawn gave it to him." So he was walking around campus with his shirt off. That's who he was. He was different.
Barry Tompkins, Fox Sports Net play-by-play: He's really a good guy. When you get him away from the maddening crowd and just kind of chit-chat, you see that. He does a lot of stuff in Oakland and the community and with the kids. He's not a "Hey, look at me" kind of guy. In fact, he's the antithesis of that.
Chong: I was a new water boy, and I saw him walking across campus. I didn't stop to talk to him. We kind of nodded to each other in acknowledgement. That same afternoon, I went to work with the team and Marshawn was in the training room. He sees me and he comes over and immediately starts giving me all this [teasing]. He's just playing with me, saying, "How come you didn't say 'Hi' to me? I know you saw me." And I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't know if you knew who I was." And he said, "Next time, say hi to me." That's what I remember. He wasn't going to ignore you because you were a lowly water boy. He went out of his way to recognize people. He didn't think of himself as superior.
Gould: Marshawn would come out of games and say his ankle was hurting or something. So I'd say, "OK." After a couple of plays, I'd say, "You ready to go back in?" And he'd say, "One more play." I'd say it again, and he'd say, "One more play." Little did I know, he wanted to make sure the other tailbacks were getting some carries in the game as well. That epitomizes Marshawn Lynch. He was always thinking of others.
Lynch's refusal to talk to the media became almost as big a story as his play on the field, particularly after he said "I'm just here so I won't get fined" 29 times during Super Bowl XLIX media day.
Tedford: I think Marshawn is misunderstood. Just because Marshawn doesn't want to talk to the media doesn't mean he's a bad guy.
Follett: I want to make sure I portray in this interview that I know people see one side of Marshawn, what they see him in the media. We all know how he acts toward the media. He's been scarred by the media. Things haven't always gone his way. I've gotten a little taste of the media, of things being twisted and being kind of a villain. But Marshawn was one of the coolest guys I've ever met.
And, of course, college football's relationship with injury carts has never been the same because of Lynch.
Chong: That week when I went back to work, my boss told us because of that incident we could no longer leave the cart keys in the glove compartment of the cart. We had to carry them around in our pockets now. So [laughs], thanks to Marshawn, we had to carry this big set of keys in our pocket wherever we went instead of leaving them in there.
Bishop: Funny story. [Before a game against USC in the Coliseum], when we got to the tunnel to go to the locker room, all of their carts were chained up. There was a big, huge sign that said something like, "Beware of Marshawn Lynch." Like, don't let him take these carts for a ride. That was one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen. They literally chained up all the carts.