The Odell Beckham Jr revival tour: How a flashback to New York supremacy has left NFL wanting more
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By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 11/10/20 12:23pm
Houston Texans safety Michael Thomas once described Odell Beckham Jr. as a 'modern-day rock star' during their time together with the New York Giants.
At the height of his production in East Rutherford, Beckham near-monopolised jersey sales, inspired fashion trends, torched good coverage with suction pads for hands and would struggle to show his face in public without being mobbed - his blonde locks unmistakeable.
He became the epitome of the NFL's celebrity figure, with breathtaking talent to match. But with his rocketing status came the unwavering eye of the media, and in turn tabloid scrutiny of any hint of human error off the field.
The term 'distraction' became a familiar theme force-fed to the public, and yet you would fail to find one team-mate with a negative word to say about his locker room influence. He was emotional and he made mistakes (see his fight with Josh Norman or kicking net incident), but this is a man that has only ever wanted to win, and that message unjustly moved out of focus over time.
"It's like this kid's life is on a whole [different] level," said former Giants guard Justin Pugh in 2017. "So everyone always tries to tear him down, and I'm always like 'imagine you are 24, 25 years old, had the world by the balls, everybody wants a piece of you, you have the hair so everybody recognises you everywhere you go'. It's tough."
For the first time in a long time on Sunday the focus was Beckham Jr the wide receiver, nothing more. In a 'FINALLY!' kind of moment, he announced his long-overdue arrival with the Cleveland Browns in their win over the Dallas Cowboys.
This was the Odell Beckham Jr that lit up New York, this was the Odell Beckham Jr the NFL had been longing to see.
THAT iconic one-handed catch against the Cowboys in 2014 has been synonymous with OBJ ever since, but for a moment it was forgotten.
Instead, fans were fleeing to social media to drool over his 37-yard touchdown on a trick-play pass from Jarvis Landry, and his 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a play that quite easily could have been a loss of 20 yards.
He put on a clinic of how to give defensive coordinators sleepless nights, the kind that had seen him dismantle schemes designed to contain him in New York. Here was the electrifying route runner and the yards-after-catch phenom.
A disjointed Cowboys secondary served as a timely punch bag for No 13, who made five catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns as well as rushing for 73 yards and a score on two carries. Three of his catches went for first downs, while the other two came in the end zone.
His best outing in a Browns jersey since being traded in March 2019 came on the back of the 34-20 win over Washington, during which quarterback Baker Mayfield rushed to Beckham and Landry to apologetically reassure both that he 'loved them' and to 'be patient' after throwing a touchdown pass to Harrison Bryant.
Overcompensation in a victory was a worrying sign, and spoke to the narrative that Mayfield and his star receiver were still well short of where they wanted their on-field relationship to be.
The Mayfield-Beckham connection, or lack of it, was a prominent storyline throughout 2019 as the wideout made just 74 catches, the second fewest of his career behind the 25 he made in four games during an injury-stricken 2017 campaign with the Giants.
He finished with 1,035 receiving yards and just four touchdowns (he already has three this season) that year, as well as recording just two 100-yard games. The theory Mayfield was trying to force the cause with his new weapon, whether true or not, tied in with some poor coaching from Freddie Kitchens in making for a star-studded Browns offense that flattered to deceive.
It was the continuation to a frustrating end to his Giants career, with Beckham a shadow of the explosive focal point that had surpassed 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns in each of his first three seasons.
Beckham had become the casualty of a mismanaged Giants rebuild, the franchise struggling to establish a cohesive direction after their Wild Card defeat to the Green Bay Packers in the 2016 season.
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That game was of course marred by the infamous Miami boat trip. Whether it impacted preparations of not, it wasn't a good look and was soon used as added ammunition following Beckham's miserable playoff debut.
The following year he managed just four games after fracturing his ankle, before signing a new five-year, $95m extension ahead of the 2018 season, during which he was limited to 12 games due to injury. Beckham recorded 77 catches for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns amid the decline of Eli Manning's time under center and a stuttering approach on offense with Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula.
Having insisted the team didn't 'sign Odell to trade him', general manager Dave Gettleman did exactly that.
Beckham joined a Browns project that had assembled a team of superstars in view of launching a playoff assault, with his old friend Landry there to greet him as a warming flashback to their success together at LSU and Mayfield evoking optimism after an encouraging rookie year.
Obviously, the offseason hype was premature. Beckham's targets dropped, he grew visibly frustrated and under Kitchens, the Browns were some way from being a united front.
January then saw an arrest warrant issued for Beckham, who faced a charge of simple battery, which has since been dropped, for slapping a police officer on his behind in the LSU locker room following their win over Clemson in the College National Championship game. He also became subject to an investigation after appearing to hand out cash notes to LSU players on the field post-game.
It was a disappointing slip-up after efforts to keep his head down away from the field, and one those who appreciate his genius will have been tearing their hair out over.
2020 had to be different and with the appointment of head coach Kevin Stefanski, who had got the best from Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook in Minnesota, there was a good feeling that it would be.
Beckham unveiled the return of the blonde hair in an open talk with Cam Newton, Todd Gurley and former Giants teammate Victor Cruz on his YouTube channel this offseason, vowing to be himself once more.
"This is how I feel," Beckham said. "I'm tired of playing your game. "It's crazy to me, because when you're up and you're talking, they hate it. And for me this year, I'm trying to kill. Like, that's it.
"There were years where I was putting numbers up and all they wanted to do was talk about the b*******. Then the year where I get hurt and I still have 1,000 yards they want to talk about how you aren't the same player.
"That's why the blonde is back. There's nothing you can tell me."
He discussed wanting to have the 'same opportunities' to succeed as other receivers in the NFL, losing his love for the game and struggling with his mental health during the later years of his Giants career.
For a player that has so visibly yearned for an on-field boost of some kind, the potential catalyst effect of his display against the Cowboys cannot be understated. One game is all it takes.
The first three weeks of the season by no means foreshadowed his dominance in Dallas, Beckham making just 11 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown as Stefanski, understandably and justifiably, ran his offense through Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
In Week Four, the Browns head coach played to the weakness of the Cowboys defense by channeling his creative spark through Beckham. It wasn't just the OBJ we had been waiting for, but the Stefanski offense we had expected.
With no Chubb, who was placed on injured reserve this week, more light will be shed on the Browns offense and Beckham's role when they come up against the Indianapolis Colts' and Pittsburgh Steelers' No 1 and No 2 ranked defenses, respectively, over the next two weeks.
Could this be the start of Beckham's resurgence? It has to be. We all want it to be.
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