THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — In 27 minutes of Super Bowl LVI, Odell Beckham Jr. did enough to make people wonder what might have happened if he played the whole thing.
Before Beckham was helped off the field with a knee injury in the second quarter, he caught two passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. Beckham is on the record with what he thinks might’ve happened: “I think I was well on the way to being MVP in that game.”
The award wound up going to Beckham’s teammate and friend Cooper Kupp, who had 92 yards and two scores, including the decisive touchdown in the fourth quarter. But at least one person close to the situation thinks Beckham might have given Kupp, who was the best receiver in football that season, a run for his money.
“Fully believe he’d have had a huge game in the Super Bowl had he not gotten hurt, with what they were trying to do coverage-wise to take Cooper out of the game,” said quarterback Matt Stafford, who threw 21 completions to Beckham in the Rams’ playoff run. “But obviously still had a big impact with the minutes that he played in that game.”
Though Beckham was only a part of the Rams for all of 12 games, he’s still remembered and respected by the franchise veterans for helping push L.A. over the top in their Super Bowl quest. As the Rams come to Baltimore this Sunday looking to salvage their own 6-6 season, they’ll relish competing with Beckham as they cheer on his comeback from his devastating knee injury on that Super Bowl Sunday.
Last month, I trekked out to the Rams’ training facility in Thousand Oaks, a far-flung suburb, to see what remains of Beckham’s short stint with the Rams besides the Vince Lombardi Trophy. His former teammates were all too happy to heap praise upon the receiver.
All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald first worked out with Beckham in Arizona in 2014 when they were coming into the NFL, and said he’s followed Beckham’s career before and after his Rams tenure with interest and support.
“That’s my brother for life,” Donald said. “I’m just proud to see him doing what he doing, continue to stay healthy, just balling and enjoying the process.”
Beckham marked a huge milestone last month when the Ravens traveled to L.A. for their road game against the Chargers, coming out with a 20-10 win. For Beckham, it was his first game back at SoFi Stadium since the Super Bowl in February 2022 — in between was an arduous rehab process to rebuild his left knee that he already knew was highly at risk for injury.
As recently as August, Rams coach Sean McVay gushed about Beckham’s sense of purpose on The Pivot podcast. When the Rams’ team doctor (renowned surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache) told Beckham he didn’t “have” an ACL, Beckham insisted he wanted to keep playing: “We’re going ‘til the wheels fall off.” McVay saw then that Beckham was committed to winning, no matter the cost.
“He was a guy who just stayed so steady,” McVay added. “He’s got a magnetism about himself that you can’t help but like. … He was a key factor [for us].”
For Beckham, the feeling is mutual. Last month, he told The Baltimore Banner that he had wished the Ravens visited L.A. to play the Rams to complete the full-circle feeling.
“It was one of my favorite places that I’ve been at, as far as what brought me joy playing football again and loving football again,” he said. “And McVay and that organization do such a great job in the way that they run things.”
Beckham has said similar things about the Ravens, saying on “The Rich Eisen Show” that he told coach John Harbaugh that he runs a “world-class operation.” One key similarity seems to be that the Rams and the Ravens have allowed him to fit in after an NFL career where he’s sometimes grappled with standing out.
As one of the NFL’s most visible stars with 17.7 million Instagram followers, Beckham acknowledges the benefits of his fame, but wrestles with its burdens. While many fans are supportive, others call him names or mock him after an iffy game, or get mad at him over poor fantasy football showings or bets they made.
He said he recently snapped at someone on social media who criticized his performance for busting their parlay. The frustration can build if he lets it.
“It’s like they build you up to have this thing bigger than football, but then try to use it against you,” Beckham said. “But once you realize what’s happened — it’s like a weird game that the world plays. I could have 100 million followers. I could have 200 million. It’s never gonna change who I am as a person. None of that ever came to define me.”
Beckham wants to be defined as a good teammate and a competitive football player, and it’s no accident to his Super Bowl success that the Rams accepted him on these terms. Though he came to their humble Thousand Oaks complex (housed largely in converted trailers) as an outsized celebrity, they found him to be adaptable and down to earth, some of the traits Ravens players use to describe Beckham now.
Stafford pointed out that Beckham signed with the Rams on a Thursday, then suited up with the team on the following Monday night — even as he was learning plays and terminology on the fly.
“There were times where he was unsure and he wasn’t afraid to go, ‘Hey Staff, what do I have?’ or whatever it was right there, and then we’d go and play,” Stafford said. “And that just lets his ability just come out. Was a heck of a player for us. In our locker room, he just brought great energy. If you’re about football and love to have fun and want to go out and work hard, you’re gonna fit in right into this locker room, and that’s what he did.”
Within the Ravens’ locker room, Beckham has fit in well, too, making fast friends with his locker room neighbor Zay Flowers. After a recent practice, Beckham razzed the rookie: "I got people who sit next to me who never call me to hang out.” But the relationship has shined through in big moments, like when Beckham played the goalkeeper in Flowers’ Cristiano Ronaldo-themed touchdown celebration against the Chargers.
Beckham knows there will be outsiders who don’t appreciate the painstaking behind-the-scenes work that went into being ready to play this season, but he’s trying to shut out the noise outside the locker room.
“That’s one of the biggest frustrations,” he said. “Humans want validation. I had to stop looking for that: validation from the outside world, validation from anywhere. At the end of the day, I sacrificed so much to get back on this field, to me it doesn’t really matter about the opinions.”
But one place he can always find validation is from the people who still cherish his time with the Rams. Lakers star LeBron James befriended Beckham over the years, had him on his TV show and was in the audience during that fateful Super Bowl when Beckham experienced one of the most bittersweet days of his life.
Beckham said James was a person he could go to for advice through the years. Now James, 38, sees some inspiration in what Beckham has done to get back to football.
“To see him go down, and just to see the resilience and what he’s done to overcome that injury, being back, looking like himself once again,” James said. “Just happy for him. Obviously they’ve got a great chance to do something special with that ballclub. Just happy to see him back on the field.”
Added James: “It’s good when Odell’s on the field, that’s for sure.”