Odell Beckham Jr. is more than a moment


Three fingertips made Odell Beckham Jr. a household name.

On Nov. 23, 2014, Beckham Jr. shook off double coverage against the Dallas Cowboys, contorted his body backward, and caught a football he had no business touching on Sunday Night Football. It was a touchdown scored in front of millions. It became a Madden cover.

But what do those with his name in their mouths really know about him? Does it matter?

Beckham Jr. knows what we’re all talking about, too. He knows it all too well. Included in his 2015 ESPN Body Issue spread, Beckham Jr. said this about his most famous moment:

“It’s unfortunate, in a way, to be known only for ‘the catch.’ There were so many other things I did during the season; it’s hard for me to distinguish myself because of that catch [a one-handed touchdown catch on Nov. 23 versus the Cowboys]. I know that I’m more than that. But at least people know you, you know what I mean?”

This invites an interesting question: Where does the line — between a great athlete setting a high bar with his performance and reducing a human being to a singular, sensational moment — need to be drawn?

“It can go both ways,” longtime SportsCenter anchor and diehard Giants fan Linda Cohn recently said. “You make a great play in a big spot to win a championship you are lauded and heralded as a winner and clutch. You fail to make a play in a big moment that can help your team to a huge win and what you do during regular season or with no pressure doesn’t matter as much. I don’t think we [reduce Beckham Jr. to one thing]. He just lifts expectations. Fans now expect him to meet them because he can.”

Cohn has never met Beckham Jr., but she did interview him once for SportsCenter, back in 2014. “He was a rookie,” Cohn recalls. “Nice, soft spoken. Answers short. Since then I can see he’s come out of his shell and has gotten more confidence with the media.”

It’s completely conceivable that The Catch boosted Beckham Jr.’s confidence to where he felt comfortable and compelled to share more of himself. Now, as a 23-year-old world-class receiver entering his third season with the Giants, Beckham finds himself with his world — quite literally — at his fingertips.

In many ways, this is what athletes live for. Tell any young star they’ll one day be celebrated across the country for a seemingly impossible physical feat, and most would be elated. Yet such heroics can’t help but limit one to the exclusive purview of notoriety spawned solely from groundbreaking athleticism.

Beckham Jr. isn’t the first Giants receiver to enter this territory. David Tyree made the most famous catch in franchise history when he pinned an Eli Manning pass to his helmet in Super Bowl XLII. The improbable play led to the game-winning touchdown, giving New York a championship and handing the 2007 New England Patriots their only defeat.

If Tyree’s name is brought up in any conversation, his indelible moment will be the first thing to follow. There isn’t a close second. He is, without qualm of equivocation, a Giants hero. But he’s also a human being, complete with all the real-world problems shouldered by everyone else.

Beckham Jr. is not Tyree, and connecting the two through their catches and subsequent spotlight is not to say Beckham Jr. is bound for disaster. In fact, his trajectory is the exact opposite: He’s lived with rapper and close friend Drake, dances all the time, and makes headlines for his pre-game Joker and Back To The Future cleat selections. He has even inspired strangers around the country to ask hairdressers for “The Odell Beckham,” according to The MMQB. (He told GQ that the “more fun I had, the blonder it got.”)

Beckham Jr. is a showman. He wants to earn your attention for things he does, not merely for one he’s already done. He wants you to be entertained, not reminisce forever about once being entertained.

There is no evidence that Beckham’s growing fame is harming him. In fact, we don’t know much about the man — at least not yet. This seems to be the beginning, as the entertainer continues to expose different sides of his character to anyone watching. People just have to be willing to search beyond that one, incredible, indelible play.

In a questionnaire with GQ this past April, Beckham Jr. explained his myriad tattoos:

“In high school I used to draw on my arms with a Sharpie,” he said. “I knew I was gonna have a lot of tattoos. I’m not exactly classified as an artist, so my drawings could only go so far as I could take ’em. Now my tats are all a story: There’s not one I can remember where I got a tat just to get a tat. It’s all a part of me. I don’t think I’m finished yet.”

He’s not finished, but his body provides a map of who he’s been thus far. There’s the Bourbon Street sign on his right inner bicep to commemorate his time spent at LSU and hometown of Baton Rouge. There’s the mural of New York City covering his entire back, a stairway leading to Heaven on his chest, and more.

His posts on Instagram mirror his body ink, his page filling with equal parts motivational messaging and spiritual beliefs. The more you scroll, the easier it is to surmise that Beckham Jr. strongly believes he was meant to make that catch to put him on a national stage. And who would we be to doubt him?

“Maybe it meant something,” the late, great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once wrote. “Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.”

What does Beckham Jr. mean in the grand scheme? What does he want to be remembered for?

He’s still figuring it out, and he’s inviting us all to join him.