Notice the affection in the voices of the Rams players when they talked about Beckham converting the trick play.
“He could probably do it left-handed too,” Matthew Stafford said.
Observe the joy on their faces.
“Should have led me a little bit,” Akers said with a mischievous smile.
Their body language conveyed what they didn’t say explicitly: They adore Beckham.
“He really is a really good teammate,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.
The Great Wager of 2021 has become a Rams success story, Beckham’s reputation repaired and the team about to visit the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in an NFC divisional playoff game.
Previously considered a diva, Beckham is now described as “incredibly selfless” by coach Sean McVay, as the former All-Pro receiver has embraced playing a supporting role to record-breaking Cooper Kupp.
Widely believed to be on the downside of his career, the 29-year-old Beckham has re-established himself as a red-zone threat, catching six touchdown passes in nine games with the Rams, including one in a 34-11 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in their postseason opener.
The partnership between player and team has worked well enough to where Beckham and McVay said Friday they would like to extend it beyond this season.
“Absolutely,” Beckham said. “It’s something to look at after the season and wherever God wants me to be is exactly where I’ll be.”
Many athletes use dollar figures to interpret the will of God, and if that’s the case here, the primary obstacle to Beckham returning will be that he probably has raised his value beyond a point the Rams consider affordable.
So much for the midseason pickup of Beckham being a mistake, as a columnist at this newspaper (not me) wrote back in November.
The reservations about Beckham were legitimate, the Cleveland Browns waiving, and eventually releasing, him after his father uploaded a video of instances in which quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t pass his son the ball.
On a day off in the week leading up to the only playoff game he ever played for the New York Giants, Beckham was one of the receivers who traveled to Miami for what became an infamous boat trip.
“The world needs to place the finger on something to feel comfortable with what it is,” Beckham said. “And whenever it comes to me, they want to label me is this selfish this, diva, blah, blah, blah, all the things that are said that mean absolutely nothing to me.
“The whole perception of me, it’s no offense to anybody, but I don’t really care, because I just know who I am, ultimately, and I know what kind of teammate I am, what kind of person I am.”
McVay has acquired his share of players with controversial pasts, successfully integrating the likes of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh and Jalen Ramsey into the team.
“It’s different watching highlights from the game than watching game film and knowing how I’m actually affecting the game.”
ODELL BECKHAM JR., RAMS RECEIVER
“All these guys that supposedly have these things are very smart individuals that love football,” McVay said. “And so we try to make it all about ball, we try to collaborate with them, have a shared ownership between the coaches and the players.”
McVay credited the existing locker room culture was also a factor in how well the Peters and Ramseys have adapted.
In the case of Beckham, McVay said he was familiar with him, as their paths crossed in offseasons Beckham has spent in Southern California.
“He’s an incredibly intelligent, smart, funny guy,” McVay said. “He’s such a popular figure and he’s got such a brand because he’s been such an elite player. He’s so charismatic and has this presence that I think that can get misunderstood.”
Beckham signed an incentive-heavy one-year deal in which he can earn an additional $3 million based on how many games the Rams win in the postseason, according to an NFL Network report.
Asked what he has learned about Beckham since then, McVay said, “He’s consistent in his everyday approach. He works hard in practice and really is very coachable. So he’s checking the boxes and everything, and he’s been a real joy to be around.”
In eight regular-season games with the Rams, Beckham caught 27 passes for 305 yards and five touchdowns.
“I’m not coming here thinking I’m going to be the No. 1 receiver, I’m going to get 16 targets a game, because that’s not the case,” Beckham said.
He said he derives satisfaction from knowing he has influenced games in ways beyond catching the ball and piling up yards.
“I know that if I’m doing my job and taking two defenders and doing all this, someone’s going to be open,” Beckham said. “It’s different watching highlights from the game than watching game film and knowing how I’m actually affecting the game, regardless of what anybody could ever say or any stat line. I know that I’m affecting the game.”
Occasionally, he’s called on to do more, as was the case when he caught a last-minute touchdown in a Week 17 win over the Baltimore Ravens or when he became Stafford’s primary receiving threat in the early stages of the wild-card game when the Cardinals were determined to shut down Kupp. Three of Beckham’s four catches were made in the first half.
Against the Cardinals, he was even asked to recreate a trick play he executed with the Giants three years ago, only this time he was throwing to Akers instead of Saquon Barkley. Beckham and Akers connected on a 40-yard pass that set up a touchdown by Kupp in the third quarter.
“He’s a freak,” Stafford said of Beckham.
Beckham said he doesn’t put much weight on how the public perception of him has changed the last two months.
“I think you take it as a grain of salt because it could get to a point in the game and I could be frustrated, but really just wanting to pump everybody up, and they see something on the sideline, and it’s like, ‘Oh, there he is, there’s the old … ,’ ” he said.
But whether he cares or not, the view of him has changed.
“I think winning cures everything,” Beckham said.
Winning changes reputations. Winning creates legacies. The Rams could play as many as three more games this season, each of them enhancing the story Beckham already written for himself.