The date was Sunday, October 16, 2016. I was bussing tables at a local restaurant called Maxwell’s in East Islip, N.Y. New York Giants fans filled the place — Football Sundays were always the busiest days of the week in the fall. The bar was packed, and I hadn’t stopped moving.
It was a 1 o’clock game, I had gotten there at 11 and so far, I couldn’t catch even a second of football. Right as I filled up what was probably my hundredth bus bucket of the day, I managed to catch a glimpse of the biggest TV in the place, right above the kitchen window. It was 4th and 1, the Giants down 23-20 against the Baltimore Ravens with the ball on their own 35-yard line. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and was still amazed.
Eli Manning snapped the ball, and threw a dart to Odell Beckham Jr. on a slant route for a 66-yard go-ahead touchdown. The entire restaurant erupted in pure elation. Even as my excitement consumed me, I still couldn’t look away from the screen. Beckham immediately flung his helmet into the rubber wall, exposing his signature blonde hair, and was strutting up and down the sidelines.
He finished the day with a career high 222 receiving yards. Little did I, nor any other Giant fan know, that this incident was the beginning of the end for OBJ’s time in New York.
If I could describe Odell Beckham Jr. in one word, it would be electric. But at the time of this game, Beckham had racked up seven fines totalling $158,698. Obviously, in a big media market like New York, that attracted a considerable amount of criticism.
“GET HIM OUTTA NEW YAWK!” the stereotypical baby boomer Giants fans sporting retro Lawrence Taylor jerseys would say. “He’s a baby!” “He’s a distraction!” The list went on and on. The over the top antics on and off the field along with Beckham’s eccentric personality certainly did not appeal to all Giants fans. Perhaps they were spoiled by the stand-up boy scout type players like Eli Manning.
I could never understand this way of thinking. I was fascinated whenever I saw him on the field. I was mesmerized by what this man was able to do at only 24 years of age. He was faster than everyone else, made defenders miss like no one else could and could catch virtually anything within a 10-yard radius.
He was cool, he could dance and he was active on social media. He seemed like a celebrity first and for him, football was a hobby, as it came so easy to him. The NFL has had their fair share of players with over-the-top personalities, particularly at the wide receiver position. Examples of such players were guys like Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Randy Moss, who were all sensational talents, but Beckham stands out. It’s indescribable, wherever he goes, whatever facet of life he finds himself in, he is surrounded by an aura of swagger. A star like him is something the sport hadn’t yet seen.
He was the reason the Giants were relevant since they drafted him in 2014. And they sent him to the Cleveland Browns, for what? A third and a fifth round pick? After signing him to a five year $95 million contract? I just couldn’t make sense of it. A comparable situation was Bill O’Brien dealing DeAndre Hopkins, arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, to the Arizona Cardinals for a second and fourth round pick, and the once dominant, but now a shell of himself, running back David Johnson in March of this year. Both just baffling, shocking moves that created resentment and pessimism among their fanbases.
When Dave Gettleman took over the Giants in 2018, trading Beckham was one of his first moves as the general manager — citing a “culture” issue in the locker room.
He is 11-30 since taking over the Giants general manager position, the worst in the NFL over that two-year span.
See, this to me was the problem. There was no “culture” issue; the Giants had built a strong reputation in their 95-year history. And with four super bowl titles, no one could say what they were doing wasn’t working.
An old-school, hard-nosed defense and the offensive line — that was the recipe for the team’s success. That was the issue. The old, outdated philosophy of the Giants organization made them rigid and unable to adapt. What they were afraid of with Odell was what the rest of the world was in awe of.
They were afraid to embrace the new era of a player-empowered league. Little did they know that not so soon after Beckham’s rise, stars like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson would take the league by storm. And now Beckham collects his second season ending injury with an ACL tear he suffered on Oct. 26.
Are we ever going to see the same Odell Beckham Jr.? The game-changing, electrifying athlete that captivated the eyes of football fans everywhere? That remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, the Giants lost their way the moment they traded away the most talented superstar they ever had.
He’s had some nice moments in Cleveland, but injuries and a lack of chemistry between him and QB Baker Mayfield have stunted Beckham’s production. Speculations have surrounded his tenure in Cleveland that an eventual departure is inevitable. If and when that happens, the narrative of what happened with him in New York completely changes. Was he the problem all along? What kind of environment does he need to be in to thrive and be successful? Only time will tell.
If I could draw one conclusion from the OBJ era in New York, it’s that New York never deserved him. My biggest fear is that they repeat this with Saquon Barkley, their elite running back who they drafted second overall in 2018, right when they were starting to rebuild. Barkley’s model personality and mindset along with his impeccable talent should help him avoid suffering the same fate as Odell, but hey, Giant fans never expected him to be traded either. Nevertheless, Beckham is a generational talent, exiled and scapegoated by a franchise that never truly appreciated him, and never recognized the influence he had on a new generation of not only Giants fans, but football fans everywhere.