It was pretty easy to find one-handed catches this summer. All you had to do was head out to Giants practice, look for the number 13 and wait.
Odell Beckham Jr.? More often than not, no. While he made a few, the more common occurrence was seeing kids and adults in his jersey tossing a football around in the parking lot or on the side, working on the mono-mitted maneuver.
And this NFL season, there figure to be even more entries into the lexicon. While Beckham's iconic grab against the Cowboys last November was an instant classic, the kind of play that rockets a rookie to stardom, it also may come to be remembered as the play that brought the one-handed snatch to a prominent role in the game.
As NFL players continue to work on the craft, it is becoming less of a circus act and more of an actual skill that receivers can use in games.
It's the Odell Effect, and it's coming to NFL fields this season.
"What's happened is it becomes a weapon for you,'' NBC analyst and former NFL receiver Cris Collinsworth said. "The one-handed catch has become very much a strategic part of the game.''
Not everyone is happy about it. Tom Coughlin grumbles every time he sees Beckham make an amazing catch, such as the one he did in camp a few weeks back that became a SportsCenter Top 10 play.
"Two hands, please,'' groused Coughlin, a former receivers coach
Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo also thinks that way. "I'm not in favor of it,'' he said [although he likely turned a blind eye in that Dallas game last year]. "I would like to see two hands on the ball . . . Guys are always out there trying to work on catching the ball with one hand, whether it's pre-game, pre-practice, and challenging each other. I don't know if there's anything wrong with that, but in the game situation, you'd like to see guys catch the ball with two hands out in front of their eyes.''
Not everyone is as dowdy.
"My philosophy was always: It doesn't matter how you catch it as long as you catch it,'' Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent said. "So you can trap it in your chest, you can catch it with two hands, you can catch it one-handed. The bottom line is you have to catch the ball.''
Perhaps the biggest sign that the one-hander is now an established part of the game, and Beckham's link to it? It can be achieved by pressing the triangle or Y button on the controller while playing this year's version of "Madden NFL'' -- with Beckham on the cover.
SLAM DUNK OF THE NFL
One-handed catches are nothing new. Max McGee reached back to make one on a pass from Bart Starr in Super Bowl I. And through the years, others have dazzled with the occasional highlight-reel play.
But what Beckham has done is turn the play from a rare occurrence into an art form. As Dr. J was to slam dunks, Beckham is to one-handers.
And that's a common analogy, referring to the one-handed grab as a slam dunk. Just as in basketball, in which a layup and a reverse 360 throw-down both count for two points, the true value is in the intangibles.
"Of course it looks better,'' Giants tight end Larry Donnell said the day after he made a one-hander in a training camp practice. "It gives a boost and excitement to the team when you do things like that. Like an alley-oop. It gives a spark.''
"When you make a play like that, you separate yourself from the giants,'' former NFL receiver and current NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson said. "You separate yourself from an already elite athletic group of individuals. A guy like that makes a play and you're like, 'Uh-oh, I'm next! Let me do something superhuman!' It's like, 'Oh, you went all in? I'm going to go all in and raise you some.' That's the philosophy when a guy makes an amazing play. It gets everybody off their feet, it makes guys itchy to get in, and when he gets in, he's not going to let up, he's going to raise it.''
Burleson said he made only a handful of one-handed catches in his career, and most of those were on passes he tipped to himself. But there was one that stuck out in his memory.
"In college one time, I did the Spider-Man web shooting it out of my wrist because I felt like a superhero in that split second,'' he said. "When you stick one hand out there and it sticks and you keep running and make a move after that, there truly is no better feeling in the world for a receiver. You feel like Spider-Man. I honestly felt like Spider-Man.''
Others have had similar experiences. Collinsworth recalled former Bengals teammate Pat McInally's quest to make a one-handed catch while pinning the football to his helmet in warmups.
"He finally did it and absolutely lost his mind after 15 years of trying,'' Collinsworth said. "As receivers, we all dream of having that one catch, that one moment that lives for a lifetime.''
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The biggest difference between Beckham's repertoire and the one-handers that came before him is that he works on it. Constantly. Before every game, he puts on a show in the back of the end zone, leaping high and making one-handed catches that stick to his hand (and, it's worth noting, his glove). Others in the league -- particularly younger players -- also do that.
"Go back to A.J. Greene talking about juggling being a part of his training,'' CBS analyst and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "I just think the game the way it is today, the windows are so much smaller and that's the only way you can catch balls. Antonio Brown, you see him making one-handed catches all the time, too . . . I just think Odell, in prime time, it was pretty special, it really was.''
"With Odell, people don't understand, he practices that every day,'' Jets receiver Brandon Marshall said. "You hear him talk about it, since he was in college on the JUGGS machine. He's practicing all these crazy catches. I believe you should do that . . . That catch Odell had, he's put himself in that position probably a thousand times. Not exactly that position, but similar. So you have to train your mind and you have to train your body to do it.''
Marshall made a one-handed catch in training camp this summer and later said it was a spur-of-the-moment play and not something he considered. That's what Donnell said about his, too.
"You want to get two hands on the ball if you can, but sometimes you have to make a play and you do what you can,'' he said. "That was something I had to do. I always try to use two hands, but sometimes you get tangled up and you're fighting for the ball and that's how it ends up.''
Cornerbacks are trained to split the area between a receiver's arms with their own on an attempted catch that takes place away from the body so they can knock it out as the receiver tries to pull it in.
"There are two defenses for that,'' Collinsworth said. "One, you don't bring the ball down, you just hold it away from your body the whole time . . . and the other way is to catch it with one hand and fend off the guy's arms defending you with the other hand. And guys are getting really good at that, too.''
As good as Beckham?
Chances are someone will top his catch this season. It might even be him. His, though, will always be the first of its kind, the one that launched a football revolution and a million mimics and pushed him into a level of celebrity no Giant had achieved in at least a generation.
But while one-handed catches may become more common, they'll likely never be commonplace.
"I gotta tell you, the catch that [Beckham] made last year was one of the most spectacular catches that I've ever seen in my life,'' Largent said. "Any receiver who has played the game, I think, would tell you the same thing. It was really unbelievable.
"It's so hard to catch the ball one-handed,'' he added. "I can't see it ever becoming routine.''
Tom Rock | newsdays.com | September 9, 2015