LeBron James broke into a celebratory dance Sunday at SoFi Stadium as he watched Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. score the first Super Bowl LVI touchdown.
Beckham’s 17-yard touchdown catch against cornerback Mike Hilton’s coverage on the right side of the end zone with 6:22 left in the first quarter and a 35-meter catch-and-run on another TD drive in the second quarter, OBJ was on the path to a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
Everything seemed to line up for a dream scenario for Beckham.
But disaster struck OBJ late in the first half of the Rams’ 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
He was wide open when he dropped a pass as his left knee flexed. He immediately grabbed the knee and crashed to the turf with 3:50 left in the second quarter. He never came back.
The non-contact injury proved deflating for the Rams. The team officially ruled him out for the rest of the game in the third quarter.
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It took late-game heroism from quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp for the Rams to rally and take the lead with 1:25 left. It took three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald to pressure Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to secure the final save. Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP.
Some bitter Browns fans will see the injury as bad karma catching up with Beckham because he forced himself out of Cleveland in early November. Hoping they were fancy enough not to cheer on a guy getting hurt.
A more pragmatic view is that Beckham’s long injury history has resurfaced at the worst possible time and on the sport’s biggest stage. NBC showed him standing on the sideline during the second half with a distressed look on his face and shedding tears after the Rams’ victory.
As a member of the Browns, OBJ suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on October 25, 2020, when Cleveland played Cincinnati.
Lower-body injuries plagued Beckham long before former Browns general manager John Dorsey acquired him in March 2019 in a trade from the New York Giants.
Beckham, 29, blamed the injury streak on a low kick by former Browns defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun during a preseason game on August 21, 2017 at FirstEnergy Stadium. Beckham suffered a sprained ankle during the game. A broken ankle followed the same year and a torn quadriceps the following season.
In 2019, Beckham told reporters in Cleveland he believed it all came from the blow of Boddy-Calhoun and former Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams teaching “low blows and dirty blows.”
Beckham, of course, didn’t deserve any of the injuries.
But neither is he worthy of being described as a victim of the Browns who dumped him.
After Beckham scored his touchdown on Sunday, NBC play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said, “Halfway through the season, they showed him the door in Cleveland. He basically said, ‘Get out of here.’ The rams took him. Scores the first Super Bowl touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, NBC games analyst Cris Collinsworth said Beckham “felt like he was thrown out on the street.”
None of this is an accurate characterization of the break.
Beckham wanted to leave Cleveland and he filed for divorce. Without any good alternative, Browns general manager Andrew Berry simply signed the divorce papers.
The move obviously worked out for Beckham, and let’s remember that was far from a certainty.
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When OBJ joined the Rams on Nov. 11, the initial reaction from Browns safety John Johnson III was skeptical.
“I don’t know how it’s going to work out,” Johnson said at the time.
Johnson was armed with an informed opinion as he spent four seasons with the Rams before signing with the Browns in March 2021.
“I just feel like they had a good thing, like a full offense,” Johnson added. “Being in Los Angeles, I know for a fact that the offense goes through Cooper Kupp. Even in the running game, the passing game, the screen game, it kind of goes through Cooper Kupp.
“Obviously Odell is a big name. He’s going to want that attention too. So it’ll be interesting.”
Well, Beckham and the Rams have thrived together.
And three months after Beckham left the Browns and forged a union with the Rams, OBJ is the world champion.
OBJ’s frustration with his lack of involvement in the Browns’ offense under two head coaches – Freddie Kitchens and Kevin Stefanski – and his lack of chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield have been well documented throughout. his stay in Cleveland.
In the build-up to the Super Bowl, Beckham admitted he regretted the end of his tenure with the Browns.
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After Beckham caught a single-target pass for 6 yards in a 15-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 31, his father, Odell Beckham Sr., shared a video on November 2 on Instagram highlighting highlights the plays on which Mayfield missed opportunities. to connect with a wide open OBJ from weeks 3-6. Beckham Sr. also repeatedly wrote “#bigfacts” agreeing with the people who ripped Mayfield in the comments section of the post.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar James from Akron chimed in later the same day about his pal, tweeting, “OBJ will show again why he’s special. WR1 #FreeOBJ.”
Beckham’s wish was granted when the Browns waived him on November 8.
“One of the biggest regrets I have about the way things ended is that I just didn’t understand, it’s like having a breakup, but there’s really no had to close. You know?” Beckham told reporters Feb. 11 during Super Bowl media availability. “And it’s kind of like you go – it’s just that. One thing that I’ve always been very attached to in my life is closing because I feel like if the doors, if they’re not closed, they’re always always open. Just go and leave those guys who are your brothers who you’ve befriended for life, and it happened so abruptly.
“So a lot of things were out of my control. By the time I woke up, the video was already posted. It was just unfortunate. Sometimes things go that way in life, and you kind of have to roll with the punches. I just think about who I am now and make the most of the opportunity I had.
The final tally for an OBJ season started with the Browns and ended by lifting the Lombardi Trophy with the Rams:
In his six games with the Browns, he caught 17 passes on 34 targets for 232 yards without a touchdown.
In his eight regular season games with the Rams, he caught 27 passes on 48 targets for 305 yards and five touchdowns.
In four playoff games, he caught 21 passes on 26 targets for 288 yards and two touchdowns, including two catches on three targets for 52 yards and a Super Bowl touchdown.
Above all, he had a ring.
Nate Ulrich can be contacted at [email protected].