Jamison HensleyESPN staff writer7 minutes of reading
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Odell Beckham Jr. thrives on confidence, and as Baltimore Ravens training camp approaches, Beckham is counting on that confidence now, just as he did at the biggest moment of his career.
Beckham remembers waking up on Sunday, February 13, 2022, feeling like he was going to be the best player in Super Bowl LVI. Finally, at the end of his eighth season and first with the Los Angeles Rams, it should be his opportunity to hoist a Lombardi trophy.
“I’ve never seen you like that before a game,” Beckham’s mother, Heather Van Norman, told me.
Beckham thought he was on his way to winning Super Bowl MVP honors when he caught two passes for 52 yards and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 17-yard reception in the first quarter. Then, with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left in the second quarter, Beckham ran a shallow crossing route before reaching back on Matthew Stafford’s pass, which was slightly behind him. No one hit Beckham, who fell to the SoFi Stadium turf clutching his left knee.
His Super Bowl was over.
“It stinks. There’s no way around it,” Beckham said recently. “I didn’t get to live that moment. This is really something I’ve dedicated my whole life to — this game and this sport — and I just wanted that moment.”
The Rams went on to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20, but for Beckham it was bittersweet.
“It’s hard when you reach the pinnacle of success in this sport and you feel like it’s been taken away from you,” he said. “It was not something that was easy to live with.”
Beckham, who signed a one-year, $15 million contract with Baltimore in April, has not played since. When he pitches for the Ravens in September, it will mark his first game in 574 days.
His long-awaited comeback is fueled by his desire to reclaim that broken moment. Beckham will never again taste what he has described as bitter champagne.
“I’m excited, but I’m also very determined and hungry,” Beckham said. “So through the smiles there’s still this: ‘I really want this.’ I’m ready to be great, ready to be great again.”
Known for a remarkable one-handed grab while with the New York Giants in 2014, Beckham is looking to dazzle the football world again, but history suggests it won’t be easy. Only five wide receivers in NFL history have produced 1,000 yards after missing a full year, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. No wide receiver has accomplished this since Jordy Nelson seven years ago.
“The doubt is for whoever has them to have them, but that’s not what enters my mind and my body,” Beckham said. “I know what I can do.”
The Ravens believe in Beckham. They showed it with their wallets — it was the largest one-year payout for a wide receiver in franchise history, and the pursuit of OBJ was so important that it included a rare free agent call from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
The Ravens signed Beckham while quarterback Lamar Jackson decided whether to return to Baltimore. The acquisition was seen as a way to help lure Jackson to stay.
Asked if the signing was a gamble, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta explained how the team has had other players come back from this type of injury and flourish. He pointed to how Beckham performed at such a high level in the Super Bowl and how he previously had huge games against the Ravens.
“Remember the game [in 2016]it was a tough fight for [coach] John [Harbaugh] … I don’t know how many yards he had, but it was probably about 200,” DeCosta said.
Harbaugh quickly added, “Odell remembers. He reminded me.”
Beckham recorded a career-high 222 yards against Baltimore in 2016 and scored the game-winning 66-yard touchdown for the Giants with 1:24 left.
But it was the interactions with Beckham over the past year after he became a free agent that convinced the Ravens, as well as Beckham, that this was the ideal fit for both sides.
Baltimore’s courtship began last October, when team officials first spoke with Beckham’s agent, Zeke Sandhu, about a deal. The Ravens then talked to Beckham after the season, but nothing came of it.
On March 11, the Ravens were among 11 teams that attended Beckham’s private workout in Arizona. Team officials later watched the video of Beckham’s running routes. They dissected his burst, agility and conditioning.
“What we saw was extremely encouraging,” DeCosta said. “That’s probably what we’re most excited about. We’re getting someone that’s ready to explode again.”
Two weeks later, DeCosta spoke with Beckham at the league meeting, where he was immediately assured that Beckham would be 100 percent invested in the team and its culture.
“I have to tell you, after two minutes in Arizona, sitting across the table from Odell, I had no doubt this was the right guy for the team,” DeCosta said.
For Beckham, he was ultimately persuaded to come to Baltimore by another interview. Bisciotti made the uncharacteristic move to reach out to him, leaving Beckham fired up about the opportunity to play for Baltimore.
“He made me feel like somebody wants me to be here, wants me to be great, wants me to be a part of this team and this organization,” Beckham said. “And at this point in my life, that’s all I need — to be wanted — and that’s pretty much the story for me.”
After speaking with Bisciotti, Beckham wrote his agent: “I want to be a Raven.”
Two weeks after signing with Baltimore, Beckham ran into Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey at a boxing match in Las Vegas.
Instead of resuming their struggle on the field a few years ago, they talked about winning a Super Bowl.
“I know his mind is right,” Humphrey said.
But is his body? If Beckham is going to lead another team to the Super Bowl, it’s all about where he is physically. The injury in 2022 was not his first to his left knee.
In October 2020, while with the Cleveland Browns, Beckham suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee while tackling a Bengals defender following a Baker Mayfield interception. But he said the operation was not successful.
After being released by the Browns and signing with the Rams in November 2021, Beckham said the Rams’ team doctor told him he did not have an ACL in his left knee.
Beckham declined to repeat the surgery. He said he told the doctor, “I came here to help win the championship.”
After retrenching his ACL, Beckham returned to the practice field with the Ravens for the first time in mid-June for minicamp, practicing on a limited basis for two of the three days. He didn’t create any immediate highlights, catching a pass from Jackson during team drills. But the more important takeaway: Beckham ran without a problem.
“He’s at a point in his career where I feel like he’s got a lot to prove,” Harbaugh said. “I think he feels like he’s going to be the healthiest he’s been in a few years. So let’s go.”
After his first practice with Beckham, Jackson referred to him as a “legend” for what he did with the Giants. Beckham had five 1,000-yard seasons through his first six years in the league and became one of the most popular players in the league. But he hasn’t had a 600-yard receiving season since 2019.
Beckham turns 31 in November, raising more questions about whether he can be a Pro Bowl wide receiver again.
“If you can play, you can play,” Beckham said. “It’s more of a mindset and maybe it’s just me trying not to get old, but that’s just how I feel.”
A quote that Beckham has emphasized is “You’re only as good as your last game.”
“I’m not worried about coming back from this because I’ve come back before and now I’m way past the mental part of, ‘Am I going to make it?'” Beckham said. “At the end of the day we can write all the stories in the world, but it all depends on what you do on the pitch during the season.”