About two hours before each game, the Giants’ wide receivers take the field with Eli Manning. They run through their routes, catch all their passes and make any final adjustments based on the opponent.
Then the show starts.
Not the game. That’s still an hour and a half away. No, this is the show in which all of the receivers perform elaborate, choreo graphed handshakes with each other.
Each combination of them has their own intricacies and identity. One by one, they go around the group slapping hands, hooking pinkies, covering their faces, swaying or ducking or even dancing. No two the same. Some can run as long as 10 or 15 seconds.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-handed catches used to be the main attraction of this warm-up period. Now, thanks to videos that have shown up on social media, it’s his two-handed greetings — and those with and from other receivers — that have become the must-see element for early-arriving Giants fans.
It’s one of Beckham’s favorite parts, too.
“I enjoy being there when we’re all switching,” Beckham told Newsday. “ ‘Bam! Bam! OK, who’s next?’ It’s fun. It’s identification. It’s how you know each other. Everybody has their own.”
In many cases, more than one.
“They’re different with everybody, and there are multiples with everybody,” rookie Sterling Shepard said. “We have one for out on the field, and then we have real quick ones so when you’re approaching someone, you figure it out. You don’t know which one he wants to do, but you’ll go like this [holding up his pinkie] and he’ll know I’m about to do that one with him.
“Me and O have three handshakes, me and Vic [Cruz] have two,” Shepard said. “Me and Dwayne [Harris] only have one but me and Rog [Lewis] have two.”
As if to prove the point while talking about the handshakes for this article, Beckham strolled past Shepard’s locker.
“It’s just us having fun,” Beckham said. “It’s almost like your recognition for somebody else. It’s how you identify. I know whenever I see young Shep” — at which point they hooked pinkies and gave a quick twist — “it’s straight like that. You see somebody else, it’s something else. It’s our ‘What’s up?’ It’s our identification.”
“After we’re done with warm-ups, we have the ones that we always do; that’s the extended one, the long one,” Shepard said. “Then we have a quick one that we do when you score a touchdown or something. You may not have time to do a long handshake, so you just hit him with the quick one.”
So how did it go from that to a pregame tradition? Beckham said he’s been crafting signature handshakes with teammates since college and that this summer in training camp, he started doing one with Cruz. Once those two started, it quickly spread. By the third week of the regular season, the players were performing the handshakes after their warm-ups.
“Organically” is how Cruz described the beginnings. “It kind of grew and evolved to this mass thing that’s been videotaped and put all over Instagram and things like that. It’s definitely grown.”
So, too, have the handshakes themselves. They evolve. Elements are added or taken away.
“You elevate it,” Beckham said. “You step it up.”
Harris said that’s a natural progression, but it doesn’t always take place. He’s had the same shake with Cruz, he said, since camp. But “me and Sterling added some more to ours and it kept going from there.”
“Some of them are things that mean things to us,” Cruz said. “Odell and I, our handshake, at the end we jump up and play a guitar because we’re both ‘rock stars.’ We have things that are unique to the handshake that makes it easier to remember and understand.”
And more meaningful. These handshakes aren’t just given out to everyone.
“You really have to earn it,” Harris said. “You have to be a part of our brotherhood, our camaraderie and a part of our room. Our room is pretty tight-knit. We’re like brothers in there. We’re like family.”
Beckham said he has some special shakes with other non-receivers, and Harris said he has one with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. But those are not as extensive or as obvious as the ones among the receivers.
Shepard said a shake would not even be bestowed upon a new receiver if the Giants were to add one to their roster at some point. At least not right away.
“The handshake don’t just come because you come,” he said. “You have to earn the handshake. You have to go through a little bit of grind with us.”
The receivers may be the only ones who do the shakes, but they aren’t the only ones who enjoy the exchanges.
“I like watching the routine,” said Manning, who has a front-row seat to the attraction. “I watch a few of them. It’s their deal, and it’s fun. I’m all for it.”
Manning, though, does not participate. He simply shakes hands and gives each receiver a bro-hug after their warm-up.
“Professional E,” Cruz said. “That’s how he rolls. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I haven’t figured out my handshake with each one,” Manning joked. “I have too many plays to remember. I don’t know if I can remember a full minute-long handshake.”
Which brings up an excellent question: How do they remember the intricacies of the shakes?
Shepard seemed incredulous when asked.
“You have to practice them,” he said.
Harris said it’s easy for him to remember because the players work them out themselves. He doesn’t spend much time practicing.
“You both collaborate on it with what you want to do with it,” he said. “That’s how everybody remembers.”
He’s a veteran, though. Rookies such as Shepard seem to have a harder time adjusting to the speed of the NFL both on the field and in the greetings.
“It is pretty complicated,” Shepard said. “You have to remember them all. Sometimes you see someone coming at you and you’re like, ‘Wait, what do I have with him?’ But you practice it so much you get going with it and you’re good.”
When asked which was more difficult to remember, the playbook or the handshakes, Shepard actually paused and thought about it.
“Hmmm, probably the playbook,” he said. “But they’re both pretty challenging.”