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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They were the two men with the closest view of one of the greatest catches in NFL history. The two men assigned to stop it, to stop Odell Beckham Jr., this outrageous New York Giants rookie receiver.
They were the two men who figured, by the trajectory of Eli Manning's 43-yard pass that it would never be caught, especially after one of them damn near tackled Beckham. They were the two men who instead had to hopelessly, helplessly watch as the kid from LSU leapt in the air, contorted his body backward and reached his oversized, 10-inch hand into the Jersey sky to pluck the ball while he fell, hard, backside into the end zone.
They were the two men improbably buried in a corner of the stadium the way Jimmy Hoffa supposedly once was in these parts, left staring at one of the MetLife Stadium big screens after the play for conformation that the impossible just possibly became possible in front of their own non-lying eyes.
"I had a great view of it," Dallas Cowboys safety Barry Church said. "I was right there. It was a heck of a play by him. The concentration of him going back with one hand and catch that thing and still be able to get in the end zone?"
Church, who didn't make contact with Beckham on the play, could only shrug. What else can you do? He'd been charging in ready to level a hit, which can often shake the concentration of a receiver … only to realize he didn't faze Beckham one bit.
"Great catch," acknowledged cornerback Brandon Carr, who so forcefully tried to box out Beckham he was flagged for pass interference on the play. Not that the contact was effective; it was Carr who wound up sprawled on the ground, looking up as Beckham got three fingers on a throw that based on his vantage point Carr was certain was tossed too deep.
Eventually both defensive players did what everyone else around country did … watched the replay in wonderment.
"At first I was like, 'OK, he had a great catch, whatever,' " Church said. "But when I saw it on the big screen it was just ridiculous."
In real time, Carr was too upset he got beat on the play to care about how sweet it was – "I wasn't praising him at that moment," he said. Time, and the Cowboys winning 31-28, made it a little easier to handle. Still, defensive backs aren't programmed to discuss, let alone marvel, at getting beat for touchdowns. And the endless replays of that catch are sure to go for years and years to come.
It was immediately pegged by many as the greatest catch in NFL history, created an explosion of excitement inside the stadium, on the sidelines, in living rooms and bars around the country and, of course, social media.
"Someone told me LeBron tweeted about it," Beckham said.
Beckham said it was probably the best in-game catch he's ever made, but "… I hope it's not the greatest catch of all time. I hope I can make more."
As absurd as the catch was, this isn't entirely unexpected. Beckham has been a freak receiver since he took up the game and has been trained both physically and mentally to excel at the highest levels.
His father, Odell Beckham Sr., was a running back at LSU in the early 1990s. His mother, Heather Van Norman, was a track star at the school, where the couple met. The family is the first to joke about the bloodlines of a thoroughbred. While Beckham Jr. is only 5-foot-11, he clocked a blazing 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, has deceptive arm strength and is adept at slithering through coverage. And then there are those huge gloves … the average male has a 7.44-inch hand.
"I guess I've got to thank my mom for the long fingers," Beckham Jr. said. "Her hands are maybe a half inch shorter than mine."
His parent's relationship didn't last – although they amicably raised Odell. Van Norman became a college track coach and when Beckham was 5, she married Derek Mills, a 1996 Olympic track gold medalist, who helped raise Odell also.
Training the proper way was in the family – everything from weightlifting, cardio and nutrition to proper stride length and running form.
Meanwhile, Beckham Sr.'s old roommate at LSU calls Beckham Jr. his "nephew" and has been an influence in his life too. His name? Shaquille O'Neal.
Beckham attended Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans, which is the same school that produced the Manning brothers, among other elite athletes. Back there, his ability to pick footballs out of thin air led him to be dubbed "Go-Go Gadget" a nod to the old "Inspector Gadget" cartoon.
For years he's been a regular at the annual Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, which is designed to help young QBs but can equally aid receivers. At LSU, he and his buddy Jarvis Landry, now a rookie with the Miami Dolphins, didn't just become the best receiving tandem in school history, they used to spend hours actually practicing one-handed catches.
"Every day we'd go throw, especially after practice when we didn't have anything to do," Beckham said. "We'd have little competitions and try to make those kinds of catches because you never know what's going to happen in a game. When it does happen, you want to be prepared for it."
So falling backward after being interfered with right on the goal line with a ball sailing over his head was just another play.
"The ball couldn't have been placed better," Beckham said. "The placement makes it a lot easier to do something like that."
Even in the ultra-confident confines of the NFL, that was a head-turning statement. Except, he's got a point.
"He does that," Eli Manning said. "He practices that one-handed snag."
It's more than practice. In college there was a somewhat similar, if slightly less spectacular, one-hander against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Then there was the one-handed grab of a kickoff against Georgia that may be the most watched YouTube highlight of a humble touchback in football history.
In the NFL, his pregame routine of practicing one-hander after one-hander while wearing headphones has become a favorite for television.
"I've been doing it since high school," Beckham said.
It was one of the reasons the Giants drafted him 12th overall.
"He's got a gift," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
This isn't going to be his last highlight. He caught 10 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. He now has five TDs on the season.
Still, can he do better than this? His peers aren't sure it's possible.
"I never saw anything like that in person," Giants offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz said.
"To me, it's right there with anything I've ever seen," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said.
"That man's a monster," said Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, before saying he's never had a better catch.
"It's pretty spectacular," Manning said.
And for the guys who got beat by the most absurd catch anyone around here had ever seen, in the end there could only be a bittersweet nod of appreciation.
"He's a heck of a player," Church said, shaking his head slightly. "It was a heck of a play."