There really wasn’t any indication that the rivalry between New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Washington cornerback Josh Norman would go from zero to nuclear before the two first met on Dec. 20, 2015.
In the days before a Week 15 game between the Giants and the undefeated Carolina Panthers, both players were actually complimentary of one another. They had no reason not to be.
Beckham was coming off a two-touchdown performance on Monday Night Football that was his sixth consecutive game with more than 100 receiving yards. Norman and the Carolina defense had just disposed of the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14 with a shutout, 38-0.
“Just making a play, getting up and being a crowd pleaser, I like guys like that,” Norman said of Beckham days before their first-ever meeting. “They make the game fun. We’re going to have lots of it and we’ll see how that comes out on Sunday and we can see what that looks like and be a part of the fun.”
Yes, there were rumblings that Beckham’s Joker-themed gloves and cleats in Week 14 were a message directed at Norman, who had called himself Batman throughout the year.
But Beckham brushed it off and said there was no hidden meaning behind the Joker apparel.
Ultimately, fireworks were expected but nothing like the all-out war that occurred on the field.
Dec. 20, 2015
Frustrations started right away for Beckham after he burned Norman deep but dropped what would’ve been a surefire 52-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game. Between that and the drop of a would-be first down on the third drive, Norman had things to say to Beckham and tensions built pretty quick.
Still in the first quarter, those frustrations devolved into the first scuffle of the game, well away from the ball.
Beckham continued to take out his frustrations, even when it was Cortland Finnegan lined up against him instead of Norman. He finished the first half without a single reception, still the only time that has ever happened in his career.
While he finally added a reception to his stat line early in the second half, Beckham was clearly still overemotional and dove head first into Norman for a helmet-to-helmet collision.
Eventually, Beckham found a rhythm and finished the game with six receptions for 76 yards, but no catch was bigger than a 14-yard touchdown with less than two minutes remaining to tie the game, 35-35.
However, the Panthers drove the field to set up a 43-yard field goal by Graham Gano that preserved the team’s undefeated record (although, it fell a week later).
Dec. 21, 2015
Unsurprisingly, Norman was furious after the game. The next day he stuck to the Batman analogy, calling Beckham “Two-Face,” and told ESPN’s Mike and Mike that the NFL needs to do something about the receiver’s “blatant head-to-head” contact, which he called malicious:
"I just pretty much showed people what this guy really is, and what he stands for. I just don't feel like that's a part of the game that should be played. If you want to play, let's play it straight up, let's do it the right way."
But the emotional performance by Beckham was rationalized a bit when videos revealed the Panthers had a baseball bat on the field in warmups and one report even said that players told Beckham they would "beat the s**t out of him." There were additional reports that gay slurs were directed at the receiver.
While Carolina players and coaches said the bat was just a symbol used by the defense all season to represent “home run” plays and “bringing the wood,” Ron Rivera hedged his bets and got rid of the bat for the rest of the year.
Beckham received a one-game suspension from the NFL later in the day, making him the first offensive player ever suspended for a helmet-to-helmet strike. Norman received a $23,000 fine for his involvement.
March 25, 2016
Norman received the franchise tag from the Panthers at the beginning of March and was pushing for the team to give him a contract worth about $16 million per year. Even if he didn’t get that number, he at least had $13.95 million headed his way thanks to the franchise tag.
Beckham thought he deserved a bit of the credit:
That boy should thank me for all I've done for you !!! Your welcome tho ... Lol— Odell Beckham Jr (@OBJ_3) March 25, 2016
The pair of tweets came shortly after a video showed Norman electing not to name Beckham in his list of the top five receivers in the NFL.
May 2, 2016
It looked like we’d have to wait as long as three years for a rematch between the pair, but the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag and Norman became a free agent. On April 22, he signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Washington, ensuring two divisional games against the Giants every year.
Ten days later, The Players Tribune published an article written by Norman that featured a shoutout to Beckham the bologna thief at the very end.
“Odell and I, we know the truth. Anybody who makes it to this level knows it. The truth is that on the football field, he’s trying to steal my bologna, and I’m trying to steal his.
“See you twice a year, bro.”
July 20, 2016
"If I wasn't playing him twice a year, maybe people wouldn't bring it up as much. But now it'll be a lot more media attention for him, attention that I don't really look for, attention that I don't need. The reason he's become so relevant is because of me."
* * *
Now, after months of barbs, tweets and shade, the feud has seemingly disappeared right before their Week 3 meeting. Norman says there’s “No hate whatsoever” and Beckham is a good player. The Giants receiver says he’s not even worried about Norman, and is completely focused on winning and nothing more.
For Washington, it’s as close to a must-win as a Week 3 game can get. After back-to-back home losses, the team is already two games behind the Giants and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. Losing on Sunday would mean a three-game deficit and a pair of divisional losses already on the record.
It has been an odd start in Washington for Norman, who has been the subject of criticism for not following No. 1 receivers. In Week 1, Antonio Brown repeatedly torched Bashaud Breeland on the side opposite Norman, although ESPN reported Norman will shadow Beckham on Sunday.
The Giants have a chance to put significant distance between themselves and the reigning division champions, but also keep pace with the Eagles.
Still, neither Norman nor Beckham are ones to back down and the competitive for both could still lead to some rekindled fireworks.