Odell Beckham Jr.'s injury history resurfaces, but he wins Super Bowl after Browns divorce
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 touchdown of Super Bowl LVI.
Beckham's 17-yard touchdown catch against the coverage of cornerback Mike Hilton in the right side of the end zone with 6:22 left in the opening quarter and a 35-yard catch-and-run on another touchdown drive in the second quarter had OBJ on the trajectory of a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
Everything seemed to be lining up for a dream scenario for Beckham.
But disaster struck for OBJ late in the first half of the Rams' 23-20 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
He was wide open when he dropped a pass as his left knee buckled. He immediately grabbed the knee and crashed to the turf with 3:50 remaining in the second quarter. He never returned.
As a member of the Browns, OBJ suffered a torn ACL in the same knee on Oct. 25, 2020, against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
The non-contact injury from Sunday proved to be deflating for the Rams. The team officially ruled OBJ out for the remainder of the game in the third quarter.
It took the late-game heroics of quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp for the Rams to rally and seize the lead with 1:25 left to play. It took three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald pressuring Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to secure the final stop. Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP.
Some bitter Browns fans will see the injury as bad karma catching up with Beckham because he forced his way out of Cleveland in early November. Here's hoping they were classy enough to not cheer about a guy getting hurt.
A more pragmatic view is Beckham's extensive injury history resurfaced at the worst possible time and on the sport's grandest 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 prevailed.
Lower-body injuries plagued Beckham long before former Browns General Manager John Dorsey acquired him in March 2019 in a trade with the New York Giants.
Beckham, 29, has blamed the string of injuries on a low hit delivered by former Browns defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun during a preseason game on Aug. 21, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium. Beckham suffered a high-ankle sprain on the play. A broken ankle followed the same year and a torn quadriceps the next season.
In 2019, Beckham told Cleveland reporters he thought it all originated with Boddy-Calhoun's blow and former Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams teaching “cheap shots and the dirty hits.”
Beckham, of course, didn't deserve any of the injuries.
But he also isn't worthy of being depicted as a victim of the Browns dumping him.
After Beckham scored his touchdown Sunday, NBC play-by-play announcer Al Michaels said, “Halfway through the season, they showed him the door in Cleveland. Said basically, 'Get out of here.' Rams took him. Scores the first touchdown of the Super Bowl.”
In the fourth quarter, NBC game analyst Cris Collinsworth said Beckham “felt like that basically he got thrown out on the streets.”
None of that is an accurate characterization of the breakup.
Beckham wanted out of Cleveland, and he filed for divorce. Left with no good alternative, Browns GM Andrew Berry merely signed the divorce papers.
The move obviously worked out for Beckham, and let's remember that was far from a certainty.
Another former Cleveland player wins it all:Austin Corbett shook off label of Browns bust to become Super Bowl starter for L.A. Rams
When OBJ joined the Rams on Nov. 11, the initial reaction of Browns safety John Johnson III oozed with skepticism.
"I don't know how that's going to work," Johnson said at the time.
Johnson was armed with an informed opinion because he had spent four seasons with the Rams before signing with the Browns in March 2021.
"I just feel like they had a good thing going, like a complete offense," Johnson added. "From being in L.A., I know for a fact the offense runs through Cooper Kupp. Even in the run game, the pass game, the screen game, it kind of runs through Cooper Kupp.
"Obviously, Odell’s a big name. He’s going to want that attention as well. So it'll be interesting."
Well, Beckham and the Rams flourished together.
And three months after Beckham departed from the Browns and forged a union with the Rams, OBJ is a world champion.
OBJ's frustration with his lack of involvement in the Browns offense under two head coaches — Freddie Kitchens and Kevin Stefanski — and lack of chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield was well-documented throughout his time in Cleveland.
In the buildup to the Super Bowl, Beckham admitted he has regrets about the way his Browns tenure ended.
Celebrities collide in Los Angeles:Rams' Odell Beckham Jr. tosses gloves to Kanye West before Super Bowl 2022 kickoff
After Beckham caught one pass on just one target for 6 yards in a 15-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 31, his father, Odell Beckham Sr., shared a video Nov. 2 on Instagram highlighting plays on which Mayfield missed opportunities to connect with a wide-open OBJ from Weeks 3-6. Beckham Sr. also repeatedly wrote “#bigfacts” in agreement with people who ripped Mayfield in the comments section of the post.
James, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar from Akron, chimed in later the same day about his buddy by tweeting, "OBJ will show again why he’s special. WR1 #FreeOBJ.”
Beckham's wish was granted when the Browns waived him Nov. 8.
“One of the biggest regrets that I have about the way that things ended is I just didn't get, it's like having a breakup, but there really was no closure. You know?” Beckham told reporters Feb. 11 during Super Bowl media availability. “And it's kind of just like you go — that's just it. One thing I've always been big on in my life is closure because I feel like if doors, if they're not closed, they're always just still open. Just having to leave and leave these guys that are your brothers you've made lifetime friendships with, and it just happened so abrupt.
“So a lot of things were out of my control. By the time I woke up, the video was already posted. It just was unfortunate. Sometimes things go that way in life, and you've just kind of got to roll with the punches. I just think about here I am now and just making the most of the opportunity that I had.”
The final tally for a season OBJ began with the Browns and ended by hoisting 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 TD in the Super Bowl.
Above all, he got a ring.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.