When Odell Beckham Jr. got hit in the hands with the ball, his arms flew open. It could have been the effects of sunburn.
Yachting is good preparation for many things, namely the Cannes Film Festival, the Monaco Grand Prix and SeaFair Miami. It’s not good prep, however, for an ice fight in Green Bay. Of course it mattered that Beckham and his fellow New York Giants receivers ditched their shirts and cleats for boat shoes a week before the NFL playoffs. Of course it had an effect on their NFC first-round game. To say otherwise is just making excuses for them. Otherwise, we would see more practices held in Portofino.
If you don’t want scolds in the bleachers and the media to question your performance, don’t go boating and nightclubbing in Miami Beach the week before the biggest game of your career. That’s one obvious takeaway from the 38-13 stomping the Giants absorbed at the hands of the Green Bay Packers in 1-degree temperatures. But it’s not really the relevant one. More important: Don’t do it if you don’t want to question yourself when it counts. Understand that every little seed or grain of doubt you put into your competitive psyche will show up in your performance under pressure. That’s the real lesson for young athletes.
You’ve got a game coming up in one of the harshest environments in the country, against a quarterback, in Aaron Rodgers, who must be kept off the field at all costs, making every yard and down you can gain critical. And you go sunning and clubbing with Justin Bieber on Monday, just days before the game? One thing such a stunt says is that you’re overconfident about your abilities. Something else it says is that, deep down, you were ready to get warm and loose, not cold and sharp. The main thing it says is that you don’t fully understand yet how to call up a great performance on command, how to foster your talent properly, because you are so young and exultant in your physical prowess.
“There’s no way you can connect something that happened seven days ago to today,” Beckham insisted after the game. “That’s not realistic. The connection is not there, in my opinion.” He added: “At the end of the day, I went through practice, had zero drops, zero missed assignments — there was nothing to connect seven days ago to today and how we played and executed.”
But Beckham is missing the potential connection between his hands and his head. It’s a fact that none of the key members of the boat crew — Beckham, Sterling Shepherd and Victor Cruz — made much of an impact. Cruz had three catches for 30 yards. Shepherd had four catches for 63 yards, and he also dropped a crucial scoring opportunity. And Beckham caught just four balls on 11 targets for 28 yards.
None of this is to say that the NFL should be a joyless endeavor of 24-7 tape-watching, with never a day or night out. Some guys can do both. If you can sun yourself or do the clubbing thing and still show up Sunday and have a career day, all hail to you. But if you drop a bunch of catchable passes and come away with your second-lowest yardage as a pro, then you’re obliged to ask what you might’ve done differently. Especially if it happens in a season-ending playoff game.
Look, this has been tried before. Remember in the 2007 playoffs when Tony Romo and Jason Witten jetted off to Cabo San Lucas with their girlfriends during the bye week of the playoffs? They came home and got upset by the Giants, 21-17, when Romo completed just half his passes. Romo defended the trip by saying that it helped him escape from the pressures and distractions of game week.
Maybe there was no direct connection there, either. But here’s the bottom line: You messaged your brain when you took a vacation before the game, instead of after.
The truly great athletes, the ones who collect multiple championships, understand themselves and how to cultivate focus for the biggest occasions, not just once but over and over. I’ve heard Billie Jean King talk about the vacuum-like state she could create. “I’d pick up my racket while thinking about nothing but picking up my racket,” she said. They learn to control the hormonal and adrenal firings that can cost you fine motor control under duress.
What’s fascinating to any sportswriter, or anyone who studies human performance, is how they manage to do it on a regular basis. It’s not random, or luck, or inspiration. They learn how to control their bodies with their minds.
You could tell from that hole punched in the wall, from his head-banging and tears, that Beckham was beyond frustrated with himself over the performance. Afterward, he said he didn’t ever want to walk off a field feeling that way again.
“These are the learning experiences, as tough as they are,” he said. “This is what you stand on and grow from. It sucks. There is no other way to put it. It is a horrible feeling. . . . I’m sure it’s going to be a long offseason. At the end of the day, you just have to take it, and you have to grow. You have to learn from it and find ways not to have this feeling again.”
The best way to start learning is to quit denying that Miami was a mistake — and admit that he and the Giants’ receivers could have managed themselves and their talents better during their important week.