The most exciting athlete in New York City right now is neither a second-year Yankees catcher nor a flame-throwing Mets pitcher. It is most certainly not a Knicks power forward or a Jets quarterback (OK, that last was a cheap shot).
In fact, the most compelling athlete in all of the United States right now is probably a wide receiver for the New York Football Giants.
Let that sink in for a moment. The New York Giants, the team of Lawrence Taylor and Bill Parcells, of red-faced Tom Coughlin and blank-faced Eli Manning, a team built around tough defense and usually, just enough offense is now home to the Ferrari of wide receivers.
There hasn’t been a guy like Odell Beckham Jr. in a Giants uniform in fully a half-century. You have to go back to the mid-60s and Homer Jones, a speedball of a wideout who redefined the position for the modern game, to find a Giants player with the kind of game-changing capability that OBJ has.
And in fact, there probably hasn’t been a New York athlete this compelling this early in his career since Dwight Gooden circa 1986.
With all due respect to Gary Sanchez, Noah Syndegaard and Carmelo Anthony, Beckham is as much of a game-changer as any of them, and judging by the way he played Sunday night, maybe more so. And with apologies to the excellent Victor Cruz, Beckham takes the position to a level the Giants have not seen in two generations. And with all due credit to the Giants defense, which did a marvelous job shutting down the Dallas Cowboys and bringing Dak Prescott back to earth Sunday night, without Beckham’s 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run late in the third quarter, we’re not talking about an important 10-7 Giants victory or a sweep over a hated rival and a still-possible NFC East title.
We’re talking about an 8-5 team in freefall and in danger of not making the playoffs.
In that case, Beckham is not just a game-changer, but maybe a season-changer.
The Giants just don’t get guys like this. This is a franchise that thinks linebackers are sexy. Elite wide receivers like Jerry Rice and Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Irvin wind up in places like San Francisco and Arizona and yes, Dallas. Not the wind tunnel known as the Jersey Meadowlands, which is about as friendly to the passing game as Yankee Stadium’s right-field seats are to right-handed pitchers. Translation: Not very.
But for the first time in their recent and not-so-recent history, the Giants have one of those guys. It’s refreshing to say the least. Even the legendary Homer Jones, who for decades held the team record for the longest touchdown reception (98 yards) until Cruz broke it, never averaged 1,300 receiving yards per season, as Beckham as in his first three season. (True, the game was different and the seasons shorter by two games, but still.)
Beckham is must-see TV, whether he is making the kind of spectacular one-handed catch that popped everyone’s eyes during his rookie season against these same Dallas Cowboys, throwing a sideline tantrum or dropping a sure touchdown pass as he did earlier in Sunday’s game.
But all of the negatives become worthwhile when you see him do what he did with 67 seconds left in the third quarter, snagging a good, if slightly high throw from Manning in full stride. Then, he turned on the jets, smoking Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr — the CB on the wrong end of that ridiculous one-handed catch in 2014 — over the last 50 yards to score the touchdown that gave the Giants the victory.
“I had to hit another gear,” Beckham said. “I knew it was in there. They just call it flight or fight, I think.”
It was more like space travel, and he did it on a night when Manning was much more lucky than good — he lost two fumbles and got away with one nearly disastrous interception while nearly throwing two more. The best coach Ben McAdoo could say about Manning’s performance was “We’ll have to look at the tape,” which is coach-speak for pretty lousy.
Beckham, too, nearly committed a disastrous gaffe when he muffed a punt but got back his own fumble. But like his occasional sideline outbursts that have at times cost his team some yards, and his drop that cost them an earlier touchdown, what could have been a nationally-televised humiliation turned out to be just the warmup act for another entry in the Odell Beckham highlight reel.
“It’s amazing,” Cruz said. “To have that speed, to catch the ball and turn it on that quickly, it’s rare, not just in this league but in life.”
And in the long and storied history of the New York Football Giants history, practically unheard of.
The most exciting player, arguably, in the entire NFL is wearing Giants blue. How often does that happen?