It was one of the most transformative moments in NFL history, a play so breathtakingly spectacular that it almost defied the laws of physics and left you wondering: Did that just happen?
Odell Beckham Jr. leaped with his right hand outstretched as Eli Manning’s pass sailed toward the end zone. The Giants receiver bent back as far as he could and, with just three fingers, somehow snared the ball and brought it in for a touchdown.
“That is absolutely impossible what he just did,” NBC announcer and former wide receiver Cris Collinsworth said of what might have been the most incredible catch in NFL history.
It happened on Nov. 23, 2014, Beckham’s rookie season, and almost instantaneously thrust him into stardom. He became of the best receivers in the NFL with an athleticism rarely seen at his position, but it was that catch against the Cowboys that became his signature moment.
But looking back on it, Beckham realizes there may have been unintended consequences to the play. And other one-handed catches he has made along the way. At his annual football camp just before the start of training camp in Cleveland, where he now plays after being traded from the Giants in the offseason, Beckham understood the downside of his magical catch.
“I’m watching kids in this drill literally trying to catch a slant one-handed and I’m like, ‘Just catch the ball with two hands,’ ” Beckham told Newsday. “Even I catch myself sometimes. When a receiver reaches with just one hand, you’ve got to think about it.”
As he watched the young players clearly trying to be like Beckham, the receiver thought to himself: What have I done?
“I don’t know if I taught a good thing or a bad thing,” he said. “It’s not like I’m trying to make a one-handed catch, but every receiver’s aspiration [at the camp] was to make a one-handed catch. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.”
NOW TECHNIQUE IS ACCEPTED
Right or wrong, good or bad, Beckham’s catch on that night nearly five years ago at MetLife Stadium has changed the perception about one-handed catches and has helped turn the play into much more of a widely accepted technique. Where coaches once frowned upon receivers using one hand to make a catch — former Gianits coach Tom Coughlin, who was a receivers coach with the Packers and Giants, routinely taught his players to catch with two hands and often chafed at Beckham’s insistence on using one hand — it is now a much more conventional approach.
Giants receivers start every practice with a drill in which players must use only one hand to make a catch. First the right, then the left.
“I certainly think that’s part of the game,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “Receivers are very athletic, and if they have the ability to catch the ball with one hand, then that’s OK.”
Beckham has raised the profile of the one-handed catch to unprecedented heights. And make no mistake; as much as he wonders if the next generation of receivers might be too obsessed with making one-handed catches at the expense of making the more conservative decision to use two hands, he has no plans of changing his own game.
Beckham practices making one-handed catches on a JUGS machine just about every day, and he makes a series of one-handed catches during warmups before games. That will be the case on a national stage when Beckham makes his return to MetLife Stadium on Monday night for the Browns game against the Jets.
Beckham will be trying to help the Browns recover from a humiliating 30-point home loss to the Titans last Sunday. He can make his return even sweeter with a salient performance against coordinator Gregg Williams’ Jets defense. Beckham on Thursday accused Williams, the former Browns’ defensive coordinator, of having his players purposely go after him in a preseason game against the Browns in 2017.
Perhaps Beckham’s greatest statement to Williams is another memorable one-handed catch.
“I think [one-handed catches] go hand-in-hand with evolution,” said Giants receiver Russell Shepard, a former teammate of Beckham’s with the Giants and at LSU. “People are getting bigger, stronger, faster, and hands are getting bigger. Gloves are getting better. Just in general, it’s a thing that’s becoming more common now. You have people like Odell that have made it kind of a generational thing. Guys like (Texans receiver) DeAndre Hopkins does it week in and week out.”
Shepard said the one-handed catch is much more accepted in today’s game.
“It’s not such a negative thing like it was back in the day,” he said. “Coaches didn’t want it so much. But guys feel more comfortable doing it. The first receiver drill we have is a one-handed catching drill, so it’s just being prepared for any type of situation. There are some situations in this league where you can only get one hand up, so being prepared is prompting guys to make more one-handed catches.”
The Beckham catch against the Cowboys created a sea change in terms of how players and coaches think about one-handed catches. And Shepard was in the unique position of seeing something like this before it even happened.
“At LSU, Jarvis [Landry] and Odell did that (one-handed catch) day in and day out,” Shepard said of the receivers who have been reunited with the Browns. “Knowing them since they were 17 years old, it’s no surprise that they do what they do. They made those catches every day when they were younger, and they still do it. It’s a testament to how hard they work. They did it in practice, pre-practice and they’d go to the facility at 9 o’clock at night. You don’t do that by accident.
“People think they have these huge hands, but that’s the myth about them,” Shepard said. “They don’t have crazy hands. I’ve seen receivers that have bigger hands. They just have better hand-eye coordination and they practice it.”
NOT EVERYONE IS ON BOARD
But one-handed catches aren’t for every receiver. Many prefer the more conventional approach.”
“Not my thing,” Jets receiver Jamison Crowder said. “I prefer using two hands. Get both hands on it, and I feel like I have a better chance of catching it. I don’t have huge hands, but you have receivers that have bigger hands that can catch it with one hand. That’s their thing. I prefer getting both hands on the football. That’s when I feel comfortable.”
Demaryius Thomas, a former Broncos first-round pick who is now with the Jets, has bigger hands than most, but he, too, prefers using both hands to make catches.
“If I have to [use one hand], I will,” he said. “But I’d rather secure the ball with two. It’s exciting for people to see one-handed catches. You get more oohs and aahs. Sometimes, you have to do it when guys are holding your other arm.”
Thomas said he practices one-handed catches to guard against that situation.
“I like to do a lot of lefthanded catches, because that’s my weaker hand,” he said. “I do those to get the feel of the ball, so I can control it. If you can control the ball with one hand, it’s easier to control it with two.”
The one-handed catch is here to stay . . . for better or for worse.
“The kids think it’s cool,” Beckham said. “A lot of little kids want me to do it.”
So does Beckham, who has helped shape a new generation of receivers, starting with that unforgettable catch at MetLife Stadium.