Everyone remembers where they were when he came down with it. For me, it was at home after rushing home from hockey to catch the game. No matter what you were doing, you simply stopped and did a double take at your TV. “There’s no way he just caught that?” You must have been thinking to yourself. But then, after a closer look, “Oh my God! He caught it!”
Yes, November 23rd, 2014, on Sunday Night Football, in front of a massive audience, Odell Beckham Jr. made himself known to the world with one of the most incredible catches you will ever see in a football game (Personal note: that play won me my fantasy matchup that week, adding to its special meaning).
With Cowboys’ cornerback Brandon Carr trying to drag him down, Odell caught the football with only his thumb and a couple other fingers while falling backwards into the end zone. As the yellow penalty flags began to fly, announcers Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels were left speechless until they finally realized the magnitude of the play. Collinsworth would say “That is absolutely impossible what he just did!” Both men immediately hailed it as one of the best catches they had ever seen. It did not matter that the Giants would go on to lose that game (on their way to a 6-10 record). A Superstar had just been born.
All anybody could talk about the rest of the season was that rookie receiver whom the Giants had taken out of LSU with the 12th overall pick in that year’s draft. After missing the first four games with an injury, Odell burst onto the scene, not shying away from anything or anybody. Odell quickly proved himself a great draft selection, but with all that increased exposure, Odell had inadvertently put a target on his back. One that opposing players would try to hit each game from then on out. Defenders started adopting questionable techniques when defending Odell, and he, not being one to back off, happily engaged them.
Fast forward a couple of years and not much has changed. Odell is still an incredible wide receiver in the NFL. He is also a player who has been in a quite a few dustups and who takes his share of unnecessary penalties. This all culminated in Odell injuring his ankle this year after not being able to avoid a low hit, an injury that will see him miss the rest of the 2017 football season.
Injuries or not, OBJ wants to be the highest paid player in football, and he might just have enough hype to reach levels only attained by quarterbacks and superstar pass rushers. As the Giants contemplate what to do, they must consider if Odell’s skills as a wide receiver mitigate his other antics. In addition, they must plan accordingly for his next contract, because you just know he will demand it. Giants fans out there have considered all of this too, sparking other thoughts that most of them have definitely considered, What If Odell never caught the damn ball?!
Setting the Stage
Instead of making one of the most memorable catches in NFL History, Odell is hauled to the ground by Carr before the ball lands. The ball falls to the ground, incomplete. Michaels and Collinsworth remark how there was no way Odell could have come down with the ball anyways. It would have taken something impossible. The Giants accept the penalty call and Odell manages to score a touchdown a couple of plays later, but in fairly unremarkable fashion. Odell goes on to have an incredible rest of the season for a rookie receiver – just not one defined by impossible one handed catches. Odell’s talent receives tremendous attention, but it builds over the course of the season rather than hitting all at once. Odell works his hardest that season to become the best wide receiver and teammate he can be. He wants to help his team win in any way possible and realizes he cannot be a distraction. He never becomes known for side antics that routinely cost his team 15-yards. Instead, Odell dedicates himself to be the best possible player he can be, and the results speak for themselves.
While there is no arguing that Odell is among the best receivers in the game, there is also no doubt that his infamous catch allowed to him to reach a certain level of superstardom at an accelerated rate. Odell’s catch instantly made him the new, hottest thing out there. Big name companies were quick to pounce on him. Odell signed major endorsement deals with Head and Shoulders, Foot Locker, and Lenovo soon after the grab. And his stardom has continued to build, as Odell recently signed the most lucrative endorsement deal for an NFL player, after Nike signed him to an eight year $48-million-dollar contract. The Nike deal alone dwarfs his rookie contract, which earns him just (Just!) 19 million. It’s safe to say the Giants are getting a bargain. Further, Odell beat out Rob Gronkowski to grace the cover of Madden ’16, further cementing himself as once of the faces of the league. It is safe to say that Odell is everywhere. An argument can be made that this success may have come to soon and some of it may have gone to Odell’s head, further distracting him from his on-the-field obligations and responsibilities. But, what if Odell had never caught that ball?
In a world where that catch never happens, Odell never has that one singular moment that comes to define him. Rather than being a household name overnight, Odell is forced to work at it on a regular basis to prove his worth. Without a signature catch to cement his position as number one receiver, Odell decides to prove himself with QB Eli Manning through extra workouts and practices. The work shows on the field, and New York being the market that it is, the endorsements soon follow. And while Odell may ultimately find himself in a similar position, with fame and sponsorship money to spare, the way he gets there proves integral to the type of person he is selling. Odell is an incredible athlete, and one of the best in the league, but not the showboat he might otherwise be known as. At the same time, what he lacks is the flare that has made him the most electric personality on the field in reality. The Madden cover never comes to fruition. Odell might be a better player, but his brand as a passionate-to-a-fault receiver takes a hit…and so does his wallet.
Odell- The Player
Since making ‘the catch heard around the world,’ Odell has faced many challenges on the field. For one thing, defenders not wanting to get beat by Odell, began targeting him, and even appeared to attempt to injure the rookie wide receiver. As someone who was lucky enough to have Odell his rookie season in fantasy football, I got to witness each week as defenders would try to take him out of the game. Was it gamesmanship? Maybe. Was it jealousy? Probably. The fact is, Odell burst onto the scene and no defender in the league wanted his next highlight reel moment to happen against them. One other challenge facing Odell is the attention, mostly negative, that he gets from officials, who are just waiting to flag him for some minor indiscretion. These infractions have cost his team precious yards in close ball games.
In a world where that catch never happened, Odell never has the signature moment that made him the most feared and hated receiver in the league. As stated earlier, the more gradual rise to stardom forced Odell to focus more on his fundamentals, and he works to build incredible chemistry with Eli Manning. Whether or not his skills are actually improved, his slow rise tempers his “diva” reputation. He never admonishes the referees for a call they may have missed, and he especially does not get into scuffles or arguments with opposing players. Odell is all about letting his play do the talking. He never celebrates outrageously after scoring a touchdown, simply running over to shake Eli’s hand. As a result, he is hit just a little less hard, and given just a little bit more of the benefit of the doubt from referees.
This Odell would have altered the results of last season’s playoff loss to the Packers. Whether or not that trip to Miami actually impacted his play, it seems clear that the media’s reaction to it got in Odell’s head. In a world where the media isn’t ready to jump on Odell for every questionable decision, maybe the boat trip is barely discussed, viewed as nothing more than a way to blow off steam. When game time arrives, Odell is ready, having enjoyed a his time in Miami before effectively preparing for Green Bay. Rather than numerous uncharacteristic drops, Odell is a stud in that Packers playoff game and the Giants win the game soundly.
The following week, the Giants play the Cowboys, and even though Dallas is the top ranked seed in the NFC, the Giants beat them for a third time that season. The joyride would end the following week in the NFC Championship game against the Falcons. Truly, the Falcons were a far superior team than anyone in the NFC and deserved to go to the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, the Giants’ playoff revival has been noted by the the football world. Teams everywhere are now preparing for what appears to be a team on the rise.
Odell did make that spectacular catch. His life, and maybe his personality, changed after that. He is who he is and won’t apologize. In a city like New York, there will always be those trying to tear him down, saying he is not a good teammate and a distraction to the team. And who knows, maybe it does. But I see someone else. I see one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game. I see a must-see player, with highlights each and every week. I also remember that player who single-handedly dominated during the fantasy football playoffs in 2014. But I also see a player who is going to need to learn to be a lot better handling the media. After all, when you are making catches like that, you need to expect the cameras to be on you 24/7. And to think, it all might have been different…if Odell had never caught the damn ball!
Photo courtesy of: Chrome