In November of 2014, one of the most electrifying plays in NFL history, and certainly in my lifetime, occurred on Sunday Night Football.
It was the third quarter of the annual NFC East battle between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys — a rivalry that started over a half century back and has seen many unforgettable moments.
Little did I know, a moment would happen in that game that would go down in NFL lore as one of the most spectacular catches of all time.
The moment came when Eli Manning lined up behind center. Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was split out wide to the right. The ball snapped, Manning faked the handoff and then heaved a 51-yard pass down the right sideline.
The 12th overall pick out of LSU came down with the pass, making one of the greatest catches in the history of football.
I had never seen anything like it. His gray and blue gloved hand snagged the ball out of mid-air. His body bent backwards like he was about to complete a backflip, into the end zone.
I was in shock along with the rest of the football-watching world.
“Did he catch that! Oh my goodness! That might be the greatest catch I’ve ever seen!” Cris Collinsworth stammered in shock on the telecast.
Al Michals, who’s seen a lifetime’s worth of great sports moments could only muster up the words, “He is insane. How do you make that catch?”
The whole football-watching world was in awe.
When I arrived at school the next day my friend yelled at me from down a bustling hallway, “Did you see that catch!”
I sure did, and Beckham was just getting started.
He tore off a stretch of three seasons to open his NFL career, amassing over 1,300 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in each of those years.
He also became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 3,500 receiving yards, and did so in just 36 games. It took Hall of Famer Randy Moss 41 games to reach the same milestone.
Beckham demonstrated his talent in ways that make other supremely talented athletes look average, and he’s done it from the start of his career. He was the first player since the NFL merger in 1967 to score 30 touchdowns in his first 35 games played.
Not only was Beckham becoming one of the best players in the game, but also one of the coolest. His pre-game routine became legendary. He wore custom-painted cleats with designs featuring Heath Ledger’s Joker and Caesar from Planet of the Apes.
With a massive crowd huddled around his side of the field, he’d also catch one-handed passes from fans during pre-game warmups. There was nothing else like it in all of football.
Over the five seasons he spent in New York, Beckham proved to be a football sensation.
From trick plays where he threw, ran and caught touchdowns to burning defensive backs for 87-yard scoring plays, he was putting on a show for Giants and opposing fans alike.
However, like it too often happens in the NFL, before a team trades a star player, something goes horribly wrong and the team reaches an impasse with the player.
The problems started when Giants quarterback Eli Manning couldn’t get Beckham the ball. Manning’s interceptions and other blunders were persistent throughout three seasons.
With Manning’s play going from bad to worse, his decline wasn’t lost on his teammates, especially Beckham.
His appearance on ESPN with Lil Wayne a few weeks into the 2018 season to speak about his frustrations in the Giants simple offense sparked controversy.
“I’m not given the opportunity to be the very best I can,” Beckham told Josina Anderson on ESPN.
Watching Beckham waste away in an offense where it seemed he was only allowed to run one route was frustrating for me to watch. How could the Giants not use their best player, who had done so much for them? Did they not want to?
Well, that question was answered after their abysmal season ended. On March 12, 2019, the Giants traded Beckham to the Cleveland Browns.
Needless to say, Giants fans weren’t pleased. They burnt Giants gear and cried on National TV.
Unfortunately, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman had other ideas for Big Blue. New York drafted Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft to replace Manning. Jones has struggled this season, despite showing flashes of capable play last year.
Trading away Beckham, drafting Jones and not addressing multiple other needs for the team in the draft, Gettleman’s decisions have been questionable to say the least.
New York started 0–4 this season, and last year they only won four games. It would appear Beckham wasn’t the problem.
Now Odell Beckham Jr. is on the Cleveland Browns. I never thought I’d see him outside of a Giants uniform, much less in a Browns jersey.
However, the positive of Beckham in Cleveland was he’d be reunited with former college teammate Jarvis Landry.
Also, Browns second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield was coming off a solid rookie season, in which he passed for 27 touchdowns. It looked promising that Beckham and Landry would hit the ground running in Cleveland.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, the 2019 season was bad from the start. In the opening game, the Browns lost to the Tennessee Titans 43-13, in an embarrassment of a football game, where Beckham only had 71 yards receiving.
The opening game summed up the whole season for Cleveland.
Going nowhere quickly and always making the same mistakes. The Browns finished 6–10 and missed the playoffs.
Beckham revealed after the season he had been suffering from a sports hernia. He had an operation this past offseason to fix it, and maybe this injury was holding him back more than anybody had realized.
This season, the Browns are off to their best start since 2001, when they also started their season 3-1.
The newfound success is because Beckham has taken off. He has four touchdowns through the first four games this season. This is is the same number he had all of last season, in which he played in all 16 games.
On Oct. 4 in Dallas, he showed why he’s been a record-shattering player throughout his career.
He caught a touchdown during the best play of the young NFL season, when Landry got the ball on a reverse and threw it nearly forty yards for the touchdown.
After catching a second score from Mayfield, the next possession he ran a reverse 50 yards for his third touchdown of the game, leading Cleveland to a thrilling 49-38 win.
After Oct. 4’s game, Myles Garrett, Beckham’s teammate and All-Pro defensive end tweeted, “Oh and @obj is THAT dude in case y’all forgot!”
There is no better way of describing Beckham than that. He’s one of the NFL’s premier talents at the wide receiver position. He has all the attributes a receiver would want, he’s also only 27-years-old and, barring injuries, has plenty of time left in his career.
However, only time will tell if this type of play will last.
If it does, the Browns, along with all football fans, will be in for something special for years to come.