THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – As he prepares to play in football's biggest game, Odell Beckham, Jr. this week has been asked to reflect on his time in the nation's largest city.
The wide receiver is a key offensive component for the Los Angeles Rams, who will face the Cincinnati Bengals tomorrow in SoFi Stadium, the Rams' home.
Beckham, of course, once harbored dreams of advancing to this game with the Giants. The team's 2014 first-round draft choice, he made numerous spectacular plays – most notably his signature one-handed catch against Dallas that year – and set several team records before being traded to the Cleveland Browns in March 2019. The Browns released him on Nov. 8, 2021, and the Rams signed him three days later.
Through all his triumphs and disappointments on his circuitous journey to the final game, Beckham remains attached to his NFL roots.
"Those are some of the greatest years of my life," Beckham said of his Giants tenure during the Rams' final pregame media availability at California Lutheran University, their normal practice site. "To a place that gave me a home from the start and if there's anything that I could look back on and wish different, it would be that I would be having this same opportunity with them, or not having the losing seasons and just being part of a winning culture and organization. Because I wanted that for New York just as bad as anybody. This, to me, feels like it's for everybody in my career, just being exactly where I'm at now with the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. Just want to take full advantage of it."
Though he no longer wears Giants blue, Beckham remains close to many of his former teammates, and they are enjoying his success.
"I talked to Shep (Sterling Shepard) and Saquon (Barkley) last night," Beckham said. "Those are probably the only two that I know that are still there. I keep in close contact with them. Those are my brothers for a lifetime. You spend more time with these people than you get to with your own family at times. You build a lifetime brotherhood and friendship."
This is indisputably the most significant weekend of Beckham's life. His girlfriend, Lauren Wood, is due to give birth to their first child any day. And then there is the Super Bowl. The big moment could arrive simultaneously with the opening kickoff.
"You have two once-in-a-lifetime opportunities happening at the same time," Beckham said. "I'm just going to have to make a call back to God and let him know, 'I'm going to need you to take it easy for another 36 hours at least,' and just hope that it's received," Beckham said. "People are like, 'You're getting two of the biggest blessings of a lifetime all in one week.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, a long time ago, it sounded good.' We were talking about it and it was like 'Oh, I'm going to have a child during the Super Bowl and we're going to be in the Super Bowl.' Now it's just kind of like there's a part of it that's like that's a lot of blessings all at one time. So just kind of trying to – I'm still on standby waiting for the call. Not getting to meet my child yet, but to know he's just got to hold still for me."
When Beckham began his career, it seemed he was guided by some higher force. Few, if any, Giants and indeed professional athletes, made such an instant and momentous impact on the local and national sporting consciousness as Beckham. Despite playing in only 12 games (he missed the first four games with a hamstring injury), he had the greatest season by a rookie wide receiver in NFL history with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, all franchise rookie records. From 2014-16, his totals of 288 receptions, 4,122 yards, and 35 touchdowns all shattered the previous Giants records for a player in his first three seasons (Beckham had the three-year touchdown receptions record with 25 – in his first two seasons). He was the only player in history to begin a career with three consecutive seasons of at least 85 receptions, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
No one could run faster, jump higher or entertain with dazzling feats of athleticism like Beckham. But on Oct. 8, 2017, he fractured his left ankle in a game against the Chargers. The following season, he caught 77 passes in 12 games and within months was traded. In the seventh game of his second season with the Browns, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the same leg in a game against the Bengals.
Beckman said if the injuries have compromised or diminished his skills, the difference is imperceptible.
"I always talk about the LeBrons, the Jordans," Beckham said. "LeBron at 37 years old, is he the same guy he was at 26, 27? Yes and no, you know what I mean? His game has evolved, but does he still jump a 50-inch vertical? I don't know. It could be 49. I may jump one inch shorter, but I know a lot more game and have a lot more experience. I feel like I'm capable to play at a high level. I can't really compare if I'm still the same or anything like that. I just know that I have the ability to play now."
Beckham has played in five different systems in eight seasons. Rams coach Sean McVay has devised one of the NFL's most complex attacks, but Beckham quickly picked it up.
"It wasn't an easy offense to come in and learn," Beckham said. "Being in so many different offenses, you can marry some of the things you learned in different offenses. We ran this play, but we called it something different. It might just be an experience thing. I've been playing football for a long time, and I've been in plenty of different offenses. This was not an easy one to learn. There are still times where I say, 'Hold on…okay…I got it.'"
In eight regular-season games with the Rams, he had 27 catches for 305 yards and five touchdowns. Beckham has been one of the Rams' most productive players this postseason, catching 19 passes for 236 yards and one touchdown. He also completed a 40-yard pass.
Beckham insists his production and success is due to more than his splendid physical skills. Now 29, he is wiser and more thoughtful than he was earlier in his career.
"Since my ACL, I've been working on my mind, my heart," he said. "Being able to control certain things that at a younger age, I really couldn't process them. I'm in a great place now. I can just play football. I'm in a different place. We all go through things in life. We grow, we mature, we learn from our experiences."
Before the weekend concludes, Beckham could get to celebrate the birth of a child and an NFL championship.
"It's funny to think the last time I played Cincinnati was when I tore my ACL and this whole thing has been a full-circle moment for me," he said. "So now we're playing the Bengals in the Super Bowl, so this is not just like 'Oh, the Bengals. Played them in Cleveland.' They're in the Super Bowl, so you don't take anybody lightly and it's nothing but respect and knowing that we have a challenge ahead of us. There's a reason that both teams are here.
"I just want to be able to hold that trophy up, look your brothers in the eyes like, 'Man, we did it.' This is an opportunity I've wanted my whole life. Now, we just have to go out and claim it."