THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Los Angeles Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. caught a backward pass, shuffled, then planted his feet during a wild-card playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, readying for something rare even for his famous skill set.
He launched a 40-yard pass to running back Cam Akers, who slowed to haul it in, as Beckham took a hit, jumped to his feet and threw his arms up in celebration.
"He could have led me a little bit," a grinning Akers said. "Nah, I'm playing."
"He made the throw right-handed," quarterback Matthew Stafford pointed out. "He could probably do it left, too. He's a freak."
"That play was dope!" cornerback Jalen Ramsey chimed in. "It was a play that brought a lot of energy in the whole stadium."
In L.A., where he signed a one-year, $1.25 million free agent deal in November, following his release from the Cleveland Browns, Beckham has rediscovered a joy in football that faded after five seasons with the New York Giants and 2½ in Cleveland, stops where he consistently attracted controversies: from sideline tirades, proposing to -- and fighting -- a kicking net, an on-field brawl with then-Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman to a Miami boat trip ahead of a wild-card playoff game.
Beckham's uniform violations have ranged from a colorful watch -- he literally wore an orange watch during a game -- to Joker cleats that the NFL told him to change at halftime or not be allowed to return to the field. He handed out wads of cash to players after LSU won the 2019 national championship and was banned from his former university for two years as punishment. Most recently, he was released from the Browns after his dad released a video on social media criticizing quarterback Baker Mayfield not throwing the ball to Beckham.
But for Beckham, all of that is in the past, with only the slightest hint -- when he wore orange cleats in the first half of the Green Bay Packers' contest -- of prior drama (Beckham said he had yet to receive the proper studs to match his new uniform and changed into black cleats at halftime).
"It's just great to just be having fun," Beckham said. "I think we often forget, there's business, there's politics, there's all of this in this game, but this is big kids at heart who love football and just being able to go out and lay it all on the line in defeat and victory."
The Rams return to SoFi Stadium to face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday for the NFC Championship Game (6:30 p.m. ET, Fox), an extra home game that once seemed improbable before the chaotic divisional round. The Rams took down the No. 2 seed and defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Florida while the No. 6 seed 49ers also pulled off an upset of the top-seeded Packers at Lambeau Field. That sets up a third matchup between the division rivals this season. The 49ers have won the previous six meetings against the Rams.
This will be the first conference championship game for the 29-year-old Beckham, who started his career with three consecutive seasons of at least 90 receptions, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdown catches from 2014 to 2016 with the Giants, not to mention a one-handed TD catch on Sunday Night Football as a rookie who captured the nation's imagination.
In a season when it appeared his eight-year career would continue to decline, Beckham will get the chance to prove -- with a Super Bowl trip at stake -- that his career is not only alive, but thriving, while showing that his personality is certainly welcome in an NFL locker room.
"Odell has done an incredible job coming in here and learning as much as he has in such a short amount of time," said Cooper Kupp, the NFL's top receiver this season and the fourth-ever player to earn the league's triple crown as its leader in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16). "He's a huge asset to our receiver room, so we're really happy to have him."
Since the Rams signed Beckham after his Browns' release, the social media darling -- who boasts 19.3 million followers across his Twitter and Instagram platforms -- has yielded the spotlight while playing an increasingly important role in the Rams' No. 5-rated offense.
Thrust into the starting lineup four days after he signed with the Rams, Beckham caught 27 passes for 305 yards and five touchdowns in eight regular-season games.
He's added 10 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs.
All while proving that he's perhaps -- despite what some pundits insisted -- he's not such diva after all.
"The world needs to place their finger on something to feel comfortable with what it is and whenever it comes to me, they want to label me as this selfish, this, diva, blah, blah, blah. All of the things that are said, like I told you, mean absolutely nothing to me," Beckham said. "I chose to come here because I [saw] a great opportunity and knowing that I'd be able to play great football -- not come in here thinking I'm going to be the No. 1 receiver.
"The whole perception of me, it's no offense to anybody, but I don't really care because I just know who I am ultimately. And I know what kind of teammate I am, what kind of person I am."
It was his second touchdown in as many games after he broke a 10-game drought a week earlier with a 54-yard touchdown reception in Green Bay.
Beckham ran to Kupp, jumped for a chest bump, then immediately fell to the turf and appeared to jab himself.
Kupp initially thought he was injured. Rams coach Sean McVay had no clue what was happening.
"I thought he was doing some ab crunches or something like that at first," McVay said, laughing. "He definitely has a lot of swag, a lot of personality. I thought it was great."
For Beckham, it was a planned celebration.
"It's just from 'Call of Duty,'" Beckham explained. "Sometimes you get down in life and it's always good to have a self-revive."
A week later, Beckham caught a touchdown pass in a third consecutive game, broke out a reenactment of the viral "Detroit Urban Survival" meme and provided assurance that despite going on a hot touchdown streak unseen by him since 2015, he wouldn't run out of unique celebrations.
"There's no chance," a grinning Beckham said. "There's no chance."
In a season of stockpiling star players to make a Super Bowl LVI run, the Rams brought in Beckham to play an important complementary role in a receivers group that featured Kupp, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson. They were fresh off releasing speedy deep-threat receiver DeSean Jackson, who requested to be allowed to explore trade options after he became unhappy because of a lack of opportunity in the offense.
The Rams weren't mentioned among Beckham's favorites, but a late recruiting effort by Ramsey and Von Miller, among others, helped win him over.
"I just so happened to be talking to him, as we usually do, and figuring out what may be a possibility and kind of throwing it out there a little bit, trying to see if they were rocking with it or not," Ramsey said.
Beckham signed with the Rams over reported interest from the Kansas City Chiefs, Packers, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks and was unexpectedly hurried into a starting role when Woods suffered a torn ACL on the same day as Beckham's first practice.
In 2½ months, in a locker room that's allowed seemingly controversial personalities to thrive -- see Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ramsey -- he's shed the notion that he could cause a disruption, a prevailing thought that followed him from Cleveland to L.A. despite some Browns teammates stating otherwise.
"Having him as a teammate is great, honestly. He's like the offensive version of myself," Ramsey said. "He's very talented, has a whole lot of skill set, but just his competitive nature, his will to and want to be great and then, he's kind of misunderstood, too. He's really a good teammate and people kind of don't have that message out about him."
"He's a great teammate," Stafford said. "He's done a great job for us so far. His ability to pick up what we're asking him to pick up is really impressive."
With the Rams, Beckham has been far from the main attraction, with Stafford and Kupp headlining the offense and All-Pros Aaron Donald, Miller and Ramsey on defense.
And he seems genuinely OK with that, exemplified by a countdown he kept to track Kupp's progress toward several NFL records (Kupp ultimately fell just short of becoming the NFL's all-time, single-season receptions and receiving-yards leader).
"Man, I find it funny. All the talks and everything that's ever been said about me -- 'me guy' and all this -- and it's like people are going to say whatever, but just have no idea," Beckham said. "And when I chose to come here, I'm knowing that Coop's on pace to break a record. I didn't come here thinking, 'Oh, I got to get my targets.' Like that's just not being me."
But he's had opportunity to make sparks -- he played a critical role in a Monday Night Football victory over the Cardinals in Week 14, when he caught a season-high six passes for 77 yards, and scored touchdowns in back-to-back games down the stretch to help the Rams position themselves to win the NFC West.
"Definitely for us as teammates, it is refreshing for us whenever he can make some plays," said Miller, who chronicled his recruitment of Beckham on Instagram. "Do some touchdown dances and just his little antics that he has."
With the 40-yard pass to Akers in the wild-card playoff, McVay saw an opportunity to use all of Beckham's skills.
"He had a play a week ago in practice that was kind of just ad-libbed where a play got kind of off schedule and you could just see -- just raised up and with the ball about 55 yards effortlessly down the field," McVay said. "I thought, and we thought as coaches, maybe we should think about getting this guy a trick play."
The play was an exact replica of one Beckham pulled off in 2018, when he completed a 57-yard pass to running back Saquon Barkley, who ran it in for a touchdown.
"As a former quarterback where I was standing, when he throws that tight of a spiral and that nose just turns over like that, the first thing you deep down think is jealousy," chuckled offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, a former NFL backup. "Why couldn't I have thrown the ball like that?"
What's next for Odell?
After the Rams defeated the Bucs, a dance party erupted inside the Rams locker room.
It was, of course, led by Beckham, breaking it down to 2 Chainz featuring Drake, "Big Amount."
In half a season, Beckham has ingratiated himself with the Rams and reinvigorated his career.
He's a star among stars -- after all, he counts music stars Drake and Kanye West and NBA star LeBron James among friends who have been to or that he anticipates will be at SoFi Stadium to cheer him on.
And in an incentive-heavy contract, he's raking in the money. He earned $500,000 in the wild-card playoff win and another $750,000 in a divisional round victory over the Bucs. If the Rams defeat the 49ers in the NFC title game, Beckham will earn another $500,000 if he plays and the Rams lose, or he'll receive $1 million if he plays and the Rams win. In total, Beckham has $3 million on the line this postseason.
The question now -- beyond whether the Rams' super roster is Super-Bowl bound -- is whether Beckham will be back for more next season or if he'll attempt to recapture his L.A. success somewhere else, perhaps a team that could afford to pay him a number likely outside the Rams' salary cap restrained budget.
McVay didn't hesitate when asked if he wanted Beckham to return in 2022.
"Yeah, I love being around him," McVay said. "I love working with him and we're really enjoying that. What the future holds we'll kind of see, but I certainly have loved every second of being with this guy."
And Beckham didn't flinch when asked if L.A. was where he'd want to remain moving forward.
"Absolutely," Beckham said. "It's something to look at after the season. Wherever God wants me to be, is exactly where I'll be. It's not something that's exactly at the forefront of my mind right now. Just so focused on the opportunity that we have here and the reason why I chose to come here and just want to take full advantage of that and let the chips fall where they may."
For Beckham, the reason why the outside perception of him -- both as a playmaker and teammate -- have changed so quickly is simple.
"I think winning cures everything. That might be the answer," Beckham said. "I think winning cures it all."