EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Odell Beckham Jr. comes onto the field almost two hours before every game along with his fellow wide receivers for a standard warm-up before the official warm-up. There is already a large group of fans in place when he arrives, positioned in spots to get a glimpse of the superstar’s every move and potentially an autograph or selfie.
This occurs in the northwest corner of the end zone during the New York Giants’ home games at MetLife Stadium.
People come early to see Beckham, even finding his pregame spots on the road, and it’s not uncommon for them to leave with a special memory.
Rex Heller was one of the fortunate ones on the drizzly Sunday afternoon before the Giants hosted the Chicago Bears. The 8-year-old from Chappaqua, New York, was standing in the back corner of the end zone while Beckham practiced a go route and caught a 40-yard pass from quarterback Eli Manning. After playfully showing the ball to the camera staring him in the face behind the end zone, Beckham randomly threw it to Heller, who was attending his first Giants game.
“Crazy,” Heller said after throwing the ball back. “He’s one of the best wide receivers ever. It was very surprising.”
It made the young boy’s day and provided him with a story he couldn’t wait to tell his friends. He didn’t just see his favorite player — he caught a pass from him, creating a memory he vowed to never forget.
Heller wasn’t alone. By the time Beckham was done, an hour before the official warm-up and two hours before the game, he must have interacted with 20 to 30 children on two different sidelines. He had slapped hands with perhaps half the people standing in the front row on the sideline where his family and friends watched.
It’s hardly an accident.
“The going out of the way? I’ll bring extra gloves and stuff for the kids,” Beckham said. “That is going to be stuff that kids remember. … That is going to be something they remember, the moment he threw me the ball or anything like that. I try to go out of my way because, like I said, I remember once when I was that age. Just seeing Mike Vick.”
This is a moment Beckham, 26, has referenced on multiple occasions. He participated in an exhibition at halftime of a Falcons game at the Georgia Dome in the early 2000s. Afterward, he had the opportunity to meet Vick, his favorite player at the time. It’s a moment that remains special to him as he now provides those moments to his own fans.
It’s a responsibility Beckham has come to embrace.
“I think he has fun. I think he enjoys kids. He’s always … probably relates better to kids than anyone else,” Manning said. “I think he’s done a good job of kind of making their day. When they see him, they’re fans, and kind of going out of his way to just get them excited, get them fired up, I think that gets him fired up.”
“Despite what anybody says or thinks about me, I know who I am as a person. I know how these kids look at me. So I try my very, very best to be something positive for them and do good stuff.”
Odell Beckham Jr.
It’s a conscious decision for Beckham to seek out children before games. He has come to grips in recent years with where he stands in the NFL’s ecosystem as one of the game’s biggest and most recognizable stars. Children and adults want to meet, touch and interact with him even as he attempts to prepare for a game.
Beckham obliges more than any other Giants player on Sunday afternoons, in part because he’s in the highest demand.
“It’s just something that, at the end of the day, you think about a legacy and how you’re going to be remembered and those are moments they’ll remember forever,” Beckham said. “Despite what anybody says or thinks about me, I know who I am as a person. I know how these kids look at me. So I try my very, very best to be something positive for them and do good stuff.”
The pregame festivities end with the one-handed catch show where he seems to find new and improved ways to make spectacular catches on passes thrown by an equipment manager. Sunday it included a between-the-legs grab that drew a few extra oohhs and aahhs.
This is something Beckham has done since his rookie season. He says there are times he doesn’t feel like doing the whole one-handed stuff before games anymore, but it has become his version of the pregame routine of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.
“I do that more for other people now other than my own self,” he said. “That’s been not for me for a while back. I’m straight. I do that because you guys got here early. Out of respect. Like Steph Curry does his thing for his fans. It’s love. It’s cool.”
The demands on Beckham are great on and off the field. He gets enough mail sent to the Giants’ facility that it would be impossible to read it all. That would be a full-time job in itself.
The Giants have also been bombarded with more Make-A-Wish requests for Beckham, from all across the country, than ever before. It would be almost impossible for him to fulfill all of them.
This is Beckham’s reality. Before a Monday night game against the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 12, there was a handful of servicemen and servicewomen who wanted a picture or autograph. He made time in between catching warm-up passes to oblige.
The requests even come from his own teammates. Practice-squad offensive lineman Jylan Ware wanted to introduce Beckham to a guest last Sunday on the field before the game. Beckham, in full uniform by this time, went and took a picture with the young boy. He then called over Saquon Barkley because, well, why not? He figured Ware’s special guest would want to meet the rookie and it was a way of showing Barkley the kind of impact they can make.
Asked several days later who Ware’s guest was, Beckham said he had no idea. He did it as a favor to his teammate and because that has become his role in this crazy show that is his life and game day. It has taken time, but he has learned to understand the effect he can have, even with the simplest gestures before games.
“It’s just a moment of saying what’s up and acknowledging that [the fans] are right there,” Beckham said. “I got my headphones on. Instead, I can be zoned in and not talk to anybody. So it’s just something that I know that they’re looking. I know where I’m at as far as my career and those kind of things. So just go out of my way and make sure they have a memory to live with or go by.”