Midway through Odell Beckham Jr.’s 50-minute virtual news conference on Monday, amid the usual battery of pre-Super Bowl questions, a disembodied voice chimed in that the 29-year-old Los Angeles Rams receiver initially struggled to place. “I ain’t got no questions, man. But I just wanna start by sayin ‘, dawg, you’re deserving of this moment, ”said the voice, ultimately revealed as that of Jarvis Landry – Beckham’s teammate in Cleveland and at LSU. “You put countless hours to get where you are today. I witnessed it all first-hand. You have scars to show for where you are today. This is a dream that you are actually turning into reality. ”
Beckham, playing against type, absorbed the adulation with a bashful smile.
There are usually hard-and-fast rules against media members, even extraordinarily part-time ‘reporters’ like Landry, cheering on the players they follow. But, really, it’s hard not to break out the pom-poms for Beckham, the (nearly) 6ft blond branded as the embodiment of diva NFL receivers from the moment he was selected 12th in the 2014 draft.
But since his famous touchdown grab in his rookie season – a highlight that not only came on a primetime stage (NBC’s Sunday Night Football) against a big-name opponent (Dallas), but also gave receivers of all levels permission to try one-handed catches in games – Beckham went from nuclear-grade NFL weapon to global rock star, as apt to inspire young Black boys to bleach their locks as drive Lena Dunham’s Met Gala sex fantasies. In other words, Beckham was a perfect fit for New York, a Giant in the mold of Frank Gifford, a bona fide A-lister who hobnobs with the in-crowd when he’s not revolutionizing NFL offense. On the list of players with at least 6,800 yards and 50 touchdown catches through their first 80 games there is only one name: Beckham.
But then just as quickly as Beckham was toasted as Prince of New York, he was taken down several pegs and dismissed as a bellyacher when his chemistry with an aging Eli Manning declined with the quarterback’s arm strength and some uninspired play-calling in the wake of head coach Tom Coughlin’s departure. With the Giants continuing to struggle in 2019, Beckham and his $ 95m contract were shipped to Cleveland, where he was reunited with Landry. Together, they looked poised to reverse the Browns’ fortunes and set offensive records with No1 overall pick Baker Mayfield pulling the trigger. They might well have if Beckham had stayed healthy.
In the moments Beckham did run patterns for Mayfield & Co, he looked so out of sync – to the point of leaving seasoned observers wondering whether Beckham was still a good receiver, let alone the league’s finest. That Mayfield seemed to flourish whenever Beckham missed time only fueled the idea that he was cooked.
His father was quick to push back on that narrative, however; in November, Odell Beckham Sr. posted an 11-minute Instagram supercut of Mayfield either not looking in his son’s direction or missing him entirely. “Generally Behind Da Scene,” Beckham Sr. wrote. “BUT NOT TODAY.” The video’s release, three days before the trade deadline, all but sealed Beckham’s fate in Cleveland. But instead of getting something for him in return, the Browns simply cut him, which gives some sense of the depths to which the league’s regard for Beckham had plummeted.
After clearing waivers Beckham signed a deal with LA for only the balance of the 2021 season. He had considered other teams – the Patriots, his hometown Saints, Aaron Rodgers’s Packers. But ultimately, it was a pitch from pass rusher Von Miller that won over Beckham. Whereas in Cleveland, he was a lone star (go ahead, @ -me Mayfield stans), in LA Beckham is one in a constellation that includes telegenic GM Les Snead and NFL ‘It’ coach Sean McVay. Like LeBron’s Lakers, but with more success this seasonthey’ve assembled their own win-now super team, mortgaging their future to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Sony Michel and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Beckham had one job: to fill in for the injured Robert Woods. Which is to say, he would play a secondary role to Cooper Kupp – who this season made a compelling case to become the league’s first wide receiver MVP before Rodgers took the title. Despite little time to get up to speed Beckham has proven to be an indispensable part of the Rams’ Super Bowl run, catching more touchdowns in his brief time in LA than in any of his seasons in Cleveland. By all accounts he’s been an ideal Rams teammate as well, news that clashes with calcified notions of Beckham as an insufferable spotlight-chaser.
After contributing 11 catches for 113 yards in the NFC title clincher against San Francisco, Beckham spread his arms and ran around the field like a caged bird, free at last. “This was about heart,” he told CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson in the glow of the come-from-behind victory. “This was about putting your foot down and saying, No more. We gotta finish the job, but this is a helluva moment. ”
Certainly, no one will be overlooking Beckham on Sunday against Cincinnati. Only a curmudgeon – or a Browns fan, perhaps – would be hard pressed not to root for his redemption.