Injury, tears, redemption: How Odell Beckham Jr. became a Super Bowl champion

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — As music blared from SoFi Stadium’s speakers and a blizzard of blue and yellow confetti rained from the rafters, Odell Beckham Jr. appeared as jubilant as any other member of the Super Bowl-winning Los Angeles Rams.

A bright smile lit up his face and tears streamed down his cheeks as he put on a hat and T-shirt commemorating his team’s accomplishment. He embraced his mom, wrapped his arms around his pregnant girlfriend and even bent down to kiss her baby bump.

Beckham’s joyous celebration made it easy to forget the ill-timed stroke of misfortune that derailed his crowning night and clouded his previously brightening future. He did not return after suffering a non-contact left knee injury in the second quarter of the Rams’ 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

When Matthew Stafford threw slightly behind him on a short crossing route, Beckham’s left foot appeared to catch in the turf as he twisted to try to catch the pass. He clutched his left knee in anguish as he fell to the turf and required help getting off the field.

Trainers briefly looked at Beckham in the medical tent on the Rams’ sideline before he headed to the locker room. While Beckham returned to the Rams sideline in the second half, the team officially downgraded him to out midway through the third quarter.

Sean McVay did not discuss Beckham’s prognosis after the game and a Rams spokesman did not immediately return an email from Yahoo Sports seeking an update. Beckham did speak with Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, telling her that he’s “going to wait to hear” the severity of his injury but that it doesn’t detract from the joy of his first Super Bowl victory.

“This is everything I ever dreamed of,” Beckham told Anderson.

He echoed that in a series of postgame tweets.

Before his injury forced him to the sideline, Beckham was on pace to complete his redemptive arc with a flourish. When his stint with the Browns turned sour in October after 2½ unproductive seasons, Beckham was considered a declining player with a selfish streak. Only a few months later, the player the Browns couldn’t give away has proven that he was not washed up on the field, nor a problem away from it.

In three NFC playoff games, Beckham firmly established himself as the Rams’ second option to Cooper Kupp, hauling in 19 catches on 23 targets for 236 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday, Beckham picked up where he left off and scored the Super Bowl’s first touchdown, shaking Mike Hilton on a corner route and hauling in a 17-yard Stafford strike.

In a SoFi Stadium suite, Beckham’s pal, LeBron James, celebrated with a hip-thrusting dance. Somehow, Beckham topped that on the field, hitting a moonwalk in the end zone before throwing his gloves to Kanye West’s kids in the stands.

Beckham had a subsequent 35-yard catch and appeared to be on his way to a big day until his second-quarter injury. With wideout Robert Woods and tight end Tyler Higbee in street clothes because of knee injuries of their own, that left the Rams short of receiving threats surrounding Kupp.

Asked what went through his mind as Beckham limped off the field, Woods joked that his first thought was, “Can I get a helmet?”

“Odell was dominating throughout the time that he was in,” Woods added. “It was really unfortunate for him to have that injury.”

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 13: Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrates after Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 13: Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams celebrates after Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Lacking their usual assortment of weapons, the Rams’ offense stagnated and managed only a field goal between the time that Beckham went down and their final drive of the fourth quarter. Cincinnati blanketed Kupp, forcing Stafford to try to forge a connection with complementary pieces like third wide receiver Van Jefferson, newly activated running back Darrell Henderson or third-string tight end Brycen Hopkins.

“They were doubling on Coop on every third down,” Stafford said. “We just missed on a couple plays that could have been huge plays for us.”

What saved the Rams was that their dominant defensive line kept them within 20-16. Then they lifted the tempo on their final drive of the game and returned to what had propelled them to the Super Bowl: A steady dose of Stafford to Kupp, over and over again.

When it was all over, after Kupp had caught the game-winning touchdown and Aaron Donald had forced a wayward fourth-down desperation heave from Joe Burrow, Von Miller approached Beckham and wrapped him in a hug. The Rams defensive end said he told Beckham, “We’re forever etched in stone as Super Bowl champs.”

"He was on his way to having a Super Bowl MVP-type of performance, but he got a ring,” Miller said. “That’s what we all came here for.”

While Beckham leaves SoFi Stadium as a Super Bowl champion, he also walks into an uncertain future. The contract he signed with the Rams at midseason was a one-year deal. Now he enters free agency with more questions about his health but fewer about his character.

“You’ve got a player who has battled so much and who has been able to change his narrative,” Woods said. “A lot of people has presumptions about Odell, but I would say he’s a hard worker and a selfless player.”