The first time Odell Beckham, Jr. and Josh Norman met, they gave us plenty of reasons to remember it. From there, the media would never let us - or them - forget it.
Beckham and Norman faced off for the first time late in the 2015 season. The Panthers were undefeated, the six-win Giants were still very much in the NFC East conversation, and yet the receiver-corner duo took top billing. Beckham was putting together a very good second season, which was really just the continuation of an incredible rookie year. Meanwhile, Norman had established himself as one of the league’s top shutdown corners - and one of the top trash talkers.
It quickly looked like everyone was right about the must-see matchup.
On just the fourth snap of the game, Odell blew past Norman. With the ball in the air, less than 90 seconds off the clock, he was steps away from proving that no one in the league could cover him...and he dropped it. Norman barked at the receiver, Beckham responded as he headed to the line, and they moved on to the next play. Odell engaged Norman, then ended up on the ground. And with that, things went zero-to-beefy in a split second.
Beckham caught Norman with his eyes in the backfield on the Giants next possession, sending both to the turf. They’d find each other again. And again. And again.
The refs finally decided to do something, and flagged Beckham for this helmet-to-helmet hit. Norman stopped shadowing Odell for the rest of the first half, so it seemed the fireworks were over. Whether this made Beckham bored or his frustrations of being catchless through the first half were growing, he found a new friend in Cortland Finnegan - who also isn’t a stranger to beef, his just had a much shorter shelf life thanks to the hands of Andre Johnson.
Beckham got his first two catches late in the 3rd. He converted a 4th down on the second one, then picked up a personal foul. After this, even Aikman and Buck had cooled to the display. So naturally, on the very next play, Beckham sprinted from 15-yards away and left his feet to catch Norman in the facemask with the crown of his helmet. A scrum ensued, both players got personal fouls, and no one was going to be able to chalk this up as just another game.
At this point, it felt like this kind of just popped off. But knowing who each guy was before today paints a bigger picture.
This was all before any Miami yacht trips, or fighting-then-making-up with kicking nets, or anything the media would consider a tantrum. Odell Beckham was only 25 games into his career and already a poster boy for the NFL. He became a household name in just his 7th game when he made one of the greatest catches in NFL history against the Cowboys - a catch so good that it earned him a spot in Canton and earned Nike an estimated 2.1 million dollars just because he was wearing their gloves. He was the youngest player to be on the cover of Madden, and while none of that was guaranteed being drafted in the first round out of a major program to a team in New York raised the expectations just a little bit.
And to someone looking in from the outside, it could’ve felt like the success was laid out for him on a platter thanks to playing in a major market for a team not that far removed from winning a Super Bowl.
As for Josh Norman, nothing had come easy. He had to fight to stay on the Panthers roster. He had to fight to get a starting job. He even fought Cam Newton in training camp. So once he found the spotlight in 2015, he wasn’t going to give it up. He’d prove to be one of the league’s best shutdown corners, keeping top receivers in check on a routine basis, and playing so well that he nicknamed himself “Batman.”
Norman knew the work he put in to go from 4th round pick to a piece that offenses were planning around, but it would make sense he still felt some need to keep proving himself against the first round talents opposite him. His play hadn’t gone unnoticed by Beckham who even sounded eager to face him, despite not necessarily agreeing with the new monicker.
But then there was a proper beefception.
Norman reimagined “Batman” by bringing an actual baseball bat onto the field before the game. Charles Tillman said it came about from a story told by one of their coaches about needing to protect what was theirs, but another member of the Panthers took it a step further.
He approached Beckham, who reportedly offered a handshake that the unidentified batsman declined, then allegedly told Beckham, “I’ll be the reason this will be your last game.” which first off - not a cool move, and second, justified Beckham not being thrilled to face the Carolina defense, no matter who lined up across from him. I’m not saying that excuses him for spearing Norman in the head multiple times, but it helps clear up how we got to this point.
Norman would respond two plays later and pick up his second personal foul. Beckham scored the tying touchdown on a trailing Norman, then treated him like Tyronn Lue. Carolina won with a last second field goal. Lost in the shuffle was an incredible Giants comeback, but afterwards no one but the teams cared about the score.
Speaking to the media, Norman let everyone know that today they saw the real Odell. As for Beckham, he did his best to just dodge the topic. What he couldn’t dodge was a one-game suspension from the league. Norman received a fine, but kept on playing and made it to the Super Bowl where the Broncos defense bailed out Peyton Manning.
That March the Panthers gave Norman the franchise tag, and in April they rescinded it - so he conveniently joined New York’s division rival in Washington. And the media appreciated that so very much.
Not to say there wasn’t some level of animosity between them, but everyone else was far thirstier to keep this going than the actual players themselves. Beckham was asked about the Norman signing during a presser. First Take rolled into Washington’s training camp so Max Kellerman could further hound Norman. On Boomer and Carton, Odell was asked about their rivalry, but he brought up the fact they were trying to move past it and had tried to meet up that offseason to talk it out.
Even when one of them actually spoke about the other, context was cast aside. Beckham gave an interview to GQ and ended a quote saying, “The reason [Norman’s] relevant is because of me.” Norman was asked about this, and replied, “He’s relevant because of a catch, but we’re not gonna go there. I’m not into the war of words.” An attempted back-and-forth ensued, but Norman quickly tried to move on from the he-said-he-said.
He did an interview with ESPN the Magazine and cleanly laid out his feelings: “[Odell’s] skilled and talented. I won’t take that away from him. But he’s never been through any adversity in his life.”
All of that stemmed from Beckham’s full quote to GQ, which had a preface of “If I wasn’t playing him twice a year, maybe people wouldn’t bring it up so 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 that he’s become so relevant is because of me.”
Yes, the end reads as egotistical, but his actual point had been largely left out.
While they let their first matchup get out of hand, neither of them had wanted this to become a thing. Norman joined the team offering 5-million per year more than Carolina. The reason they paid him so much was they needed a corner who could help cover someone of Beckham’s talent twice a year.
Really there were two beefs at play. The first was simply from things escalating once on the field between two of the best players at their positions who viewed the other as a challenge. The other was a beef that everyone else wanted to see play out and lead to more fireworks, which was fully recognized by the players, but at this point the narrative would continue no matter what they said.
By the time their first rematch rolled around, both players were simply looking past all that, and towards the competition. They met after the game and shook hands, while all future battles were put under a microscope that they did their best to dodge. Norman got flagged for a couple personal fouls against Beckham in the 2016 season finale, including one that some claimed was a punch while he tried to knock the ball out, but Odell didn’t care to address it afterwards.
Beckham missed both games against Washington in 2017 which helped cool things in the media. Norman even lobbied for Beckham to stay with the Giants amid trade rumors, recognizing that the headache caused by the media was worth it to keep going against one of the best.
It may have ended before many wanted to admit, but Odell Beckham and Josh Norman’s beef was exciting, if not complex, for the short time it was real.