By Jason Keidel
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During his weekly chat on WFAN, Eli Manning mused over the Giants and the one topic that just won’t blow away like the leaves on your lawn.
Odell Beckham Jr., for better or worse — mostly better last Sunday — has become the face of Big Blue and the disposition of the modern athlete.
Manning essentially said Beckham’s performance Sunday dwarfed his narcissistic gestures. Simply, his good, thus far, outweighs the bad. Manning may as well have recited the Giants’ corporate charter. And it seems no one, from coach Ben McAdoo down the roster to the quarterback, has any interest in flying into the eye of Hurricane Odell.
As far as public opinion goes, it seems the gulf runs along generational lines. Younger fans think that muting Beckham only stifles the star’s athletic genius. The gridiron is his canvas, so we should allow the greats to color outside the lines. To them, his energy feeds his artistry.
They think that those of us who criticize the electric wideout want to see him cut, traded or flogged. Nonsense. Any true football fan drops the chips and dip just to see his singular Sunday gifts. You can call him out by name and still love his game. And you can also see that the hand-wringing has gone too far.
And there’s something to be said for the NFL’s corporate coda. The league largely follows a military ethic, an echo of Mr. Spock’s mantra: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.
It’s absurd that Peyton Manning can’t wear high-top shoes to honor Johnny Unitas the week the iconic QB — and lifelong Colt, no less — died. It’s silly to tell a player he can’t use a football as a humorous prop after a touchdown.
But the rules are the rules. And this isn’t about Beckham’s desire to celebrate, but rather his inability to follow those rules. He knew darn well he would be flagged for ripping off his helmet after his fourth-quarter TD. But he did it anyway.
It’s not only myopic to assert he’s not hurting the team, but also that he’s not hurting himself, at least on the field. The stats are too obvious to be a coincidence.
Before Sunday’s breakout game, Beckham was averaging 6.5 receptions for 63 yards and had two touchdowns in the seven games since he first lined up against Josh Norman on Dec 20, 2015.
So a more muted approach won’t just help the team; it will also help Beckham. If spastic, on-field gestures helped Beckham’s iconic predecessors and contemporaries, from Jerry Rice to Marvin Harrison to Calvin Johnson to Julio Jones, then you could build a case for Beckham as the latest in a line provocateurs who need to wear the black hat to find their inner fire.
Odell Beckham Jr. isn’t bad for football, or the Giants. He’s a transcendent talent with some anger issues. The scary part is he’s still growing as a player. We just want him to grow a little more as a person.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel