Is anyone on the planet having more fun than Odell Beckham Jr. this week?
Immediately after helping the Giants to their 11th win last Sunday, Beckham flew to Miami, partied into the wee hours with Justin Bieber at a nightclub, partied some more on a yacht in Biscayne Bay and returned home in time for Tuesday’s team meetings.
When photos of the South Beach sojourn surfaced, Beckham charmed his way through what could have been a hostile news conference, clowned around the locker room in a Mexican wrestling mask and fielded an embarrassing question from his mother in a newly released Lyft video.
Welcome to Odell Beckham Jr., the playoff edition.
Beckham will play his first career postseason game Sunday in Green Bay, and if things break right for the Giants, we could be in for one crazy ride. This could be the moment when Beckham goes from a talented and entertaining player to the kind of charismatic superstar who can carry both this team and his personal brand to new heights.
It’s the moment, Beckham’s high school coach says, that the wide receiver has been prepping for his entire life.
“Odell is at his best when the spotlight is the brightest,” said Nelson Stewart, who coached both Beckham and Eli Manning at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. “To be in a city like New York and get back in the playoffs with Eli, he’s ecstatic. That’s what makes him so great. He’s like a little kid. I just hope he can get some rest, because I know he’s wired and ready to go.”
Ah, yes, getting some rest. How Beckham chose to prepare for the most important game he has ever played was a hot topic of discussion this week among fans on sports-talk radio and in social media.
Reaction to Beckham’s Florida excursion tends to break down by generational lines. Younger observers have no problem with the trip. Older ones? Some seem to think he would have been better served breaking down tape in New Jersey and going to bed early.
“When the article [about the Miami trip] came out on Monday morning, I’m sure there were some older people at the Giants pulling their hair out and saying, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” said Joe Favorito, a sports marketing consultant and professor at Columbia University. “And most of the younger people were saying, ‘As long as it doesn’t hurt us on Tuesday when we start practicing, what difference does it make? Let people talk about it.’ ”
Beckham is the first true millennial superstar for an old-fashioned franchise. Like many of his generation, he works hard, plays hard and documents it all on social media.
It’s the social media part, combined with his incredible visibility and even more incredible talent, that separates Beckham from some of the Giants’ limelight-loving players of the recent past. Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Shockey and, to a lesser extent, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora could cause headaches for the coaching staff and front office. They weren’t potential Hall of Famers playing a skill position, though. And they didn’t grow up with a smartphone in their hand and a firm notion in their head that every moment of their lives could and should be documented.
With some coaches, this might be a problem. Former Giants coach Tom Coughlin seemed to struggle to relate to Beckham during his first two years in the league, and it’s hard to imagine my-way-or-the-highway coaches such as Bill Belichick embracing Beckham’s spotlight-seeking persona.
First-year Giants coach Ben McAdoo, however, has a more flexible management style. McAdoo, who at age 39 is in spitting distance of being a millennial himself, did take issue with Beckham’s sideline behavior earlier in the season, but he didn’t seem to mind Beckham and three of his teammates spending an off day in Miami.
“The players are off. They’re not working,” McAdoo told reporters with an implied shrug after the pictures surfaced online Monday morning.
Beckham’s teammates also had no issue with it.
“If the guys want to get away for a day, that’s fine,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “I think they were a little low on their vitamin D and went to get some sunshine to make sure that they are staying healthy for the cold weather in Green Bay.”
Ah, yes, Green Bay. All this love and understanding is predicated on one thing: that Beckham continues to come up big on the football field.
A HARD WORKER
Heading into Green Bay, there are few weaknesses in Beckham’s game. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and, along with Randy Moss and John Jefferson, one of three players in NFL history to begin his career with three straight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
With 101 catches for 1,367 yards this season, he has accounted for 33.9 percent of the Giants’ receiving yardage, a percentage that leads the league.
“He’s a challenge for us regardless of who’s playing in the secondary,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who enters the game with an injury-riddled defensive backfield. “He’s obviously a focal point for us.”
Although Beckham may look like an easygoing, fun-loving guy, he is no slacker and has put in an incredible amount of work to get where he is.
Stewart recalled a morning five years ago when he got to work and saw a solitary figure running routes on the field. Stewart had stayed up late the night before to watch Beckham, a freshman, and his Louisiana State team lose to Alabama, 21-0, in the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 10, 2012, at the Superdome.
“I walked out on the field, looked at Odell and said, ‘Buddy, I turned the TV off at 1. What are you doing here?’ ” Stewart said. “He told me he had to work. Here he was 19 years old, the morning after having lost a national championship game despite having a great game himself, and he had the discipline to get up the next day and go back to work. That’s when I knew he was really something special.”
Favorito said Beckham is a unique package from a marketing standpoint.
“He plays a skill position, he’s well-spoken and thinks about what he says, he’s responsible in the community and he has a bit of an edge,” Favorito said. “That’s kind of an interesting group to put together.
“Personally, do I think some of the stuff he does is over the top? Maybe a little bit. But who cares? As long as he wins and he’s doing it in New York in the brightest of limelights, people will love him.”
For the most part, Beckham is loving every moment of his first postseason. In fact, he admits that as he got ready for a news conference in which he knew he repeatedly was going to be asked about his trip to Miami, he realized that he didn’t mind that, either.
Said Beckham: “Even when I was sitting here being like ‘be careful what you ask for’ and stuff like that, I wouldn’t trade what I have for anything in the world. I’m truly blessed. It’s life. It’s ups and downs and finding ways to maintain and stay yourself throughout it all. I genuinely feel like I try and enjoy every moment, every second of life.”
2016: Three catches that mattered
Week 14 vs. Cowboys: With the Giants trailing 7-3 late in the third quarter, Beckham caught a slant over the middle and then turned up the field to outrun the entire Dallas defense for a 61-yard score. The Giants won the game, 10-7, for their second win of the season against the Cowboys.
Week 6 vs. Ravens: With 1:24 remaining in the game and the Giants trailing 23-20, Beckham caught another slant on a fourth-and-1 pass and took it to the house for a 66-yard touchdown that gave the Giants a key win — the first of six straight wins that made them a playoff contender.
Week 15 vs. Lions: With the Giants clinging to a 10-6 lead, they drove to the 4 in the fourth quarter and Eli Manning threw an out pass to Beckham. He reached out with his left hand for the grab, pulled it into his body for a quick moment, then reached back out to put the ball over the pylon for a 17-6 win.
— TOM ROCK