Beckham Jr.'s catch deserved more

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Odell Beckham Jr. did something no man, woman or child who saw it will ever forget, and the shame of it is that the artist made his art on an unworthy stage for the benefit of an unworthy cause.

The Catch belonged right where Dwight Clark's did -- in an epic NFC Championship Game. It belonged right where David Tyree's and Mario Manningham's did -- in the New York Giants' forever Super Bowl triumphs over the Bradys and Belichicks.

It was completely out of place in a Sunday night, regular-season game pitting a 3-7 Giants team against a Dallas Cowboys contender with a recent history of falling flat on its face mask.

But what the hell, there it was on the first play of the second quarter in what would be the Giants' sixth consecutive defeat. Beckham was going deep, Eli Manning was heaving it up in his direction, and Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr was committing a felony or two on the rookie receiver in his attempt to prevent the unpreventable.

Beckham made an acrobatic catch last week against San Francisco, and that was a mere rough draft for the 43-yard masterpiece to come. The first-round pick out of LSU had already scored a touchdown against the Cowboys and had executed a ridiculous, full-extension grab by the time he found himself racing down the Giants' sideline and tracking Manning's long ball, ready to temporarily bring this lost season back from the dead.

Beckham works on one-handed catches before Giants games. He's been practicing them all the way back to his LSU days, but hey, let's face it: No human being can practice what Beckham did once he broke free from Carr's clutches.

Like a swimmer at the start of a backstroke race, the 5-foot-11 receiver threw his body back toward the ball, stretched out his right arm as if it were made of Play-Doh, and caught the pass with three of his gloved fingers as he crash-landed in the short corner of the end zone.

Beckham's left hand never touched the ball as the receiver pulled it in and pressed it against his stomach. The moment the official raised his arms in touchdown form, millions of witnesses in TV rooms everywhere turned to family and friends and said exactly what Victor Cruz tweeted:

"That's the best catch I've ever seen."

It's in the conversation, anyway. If it's No. 1 or No. 3 or No. 5, well, this much is certain:

Even if the Giants appear a million miles away from ever winning a third Super Bowl title in the Manning/Tom Coughlin era, and even if general manager Jerry Reese is catching all sorts of grief for the personnel decisions made since the parades, the GM has found at least one skill player with a chance to be a superstar.

"I hope it's not the greatest catch of all time," Beckham said. "I hope I can make more."

He thanked his mother for passing down her long fingers, and he thanked Manning for throwing a perfect spiral in the perfect spot and allowing for his video-game play on the ball.

LeBron James tweeted breathlessly about the catch. Everyone tweeted breathlessly about the catch. Burdened by the 31-28 defeat and 3-8 record, Beckham seemed a lot less impressed than those bowing to his genius on social media.

"It really means nothing without a win," he said.

But some things are bigger than the scoreboard in a dreadful season. Coughlin said the rookie's "got a gift," and Manning called the play "pretty spectacular" and the vision of a shared future with Beckham "exciting."

Mathias Kiwanuka, wise elder, said this of the receiver:

"As long as he stays healthy, he could potentially be one of the greatest to ever play the game."

Beckham doesn't want to be good; his passion announces that he wants to be great. He apologized for slamming his helmet into the ground near the end of the San Francisco loss, but really, the stoic, almost sleepy Giants desperately need some of his rage.

They need his talent, too -- Manning more than anyone. In the heart of his prime, Eli was in the habit of elevating those around him. As he approaches his mid-30s, the quarterback will need others to return the favor.

Beckham is the leading candidate to be the franchise difference-maker, of course, and the dynamic threat who can ease the pressure on Cruz when he returns from his knee injury. Funny how that worked out, too: Beckham is a graduate of the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, Eli's school, and a former camper at the Manning's passing academy who ran routes for Eli long before the Giants took the receiver with the 12th overall pick in the draft.

Manning went on Sunday night about Beckham's discipline and work ethic, about the rookie's refusal to be just another blazer getting by on his speed. The quarterback wasn't alone. Antrel Rolle, a man of more than a few words, approached Beckham on the sideline after the catch and told him he didn't even know what to say.

"For him, it's just another day in the park," Rolle said. "For us, it's, 'Wow.'"

The Giants found a way to blow this one regardless, and man, did they want it badly.

It's an open league secret that, much like his father, Wellington, Giants owner John Mara has never been a fan of the way Jerry Jones does business.

The difference between the ownership groups was captured in a pregame scene in the upper reaches of MetLife Stadium, where Mara entered the press box alone and quietly, lifting his head to briefly acknowledge two reporters before moving on his way without another peep.

Jones? He marched into the same box with an entourage of family members and aides loud enough and conspicuous enough to have just spilled out of a Texas-sized party bus.

Jones' Cowboys walked out of the place the same way they walked in -- with the swagger of a team that believes the end of this year's story will be different than those of the recent past. Mara's Giants went home wondering what a six-game losing streak means for the future of their Hall of Fame-bound coach.

Back in training camp, Coughlin's biggest problem was getting Beckham healthy and on the practice field. That was then, this is now. Beckham took a shot to his back early in the fourth quarter, stayed down on the field long enough for Coughlin to walk out and check on him, and then stumbled backward after rising to his feet.

The Giants announced the kid's return as questionable, but soon enough Beckham rubbed some dirt on it and got back in there. He finished with 10 receptions, 146 yards, 2 touchdowns, and one play that hammered home the obvious:

In their storied history, the Giants have rarely had an offensive player with this kind of explosive talent.

Truth is they've wasted it in his first season. Odell Beckham Jr. is a championship player stuck on a decidedly non-championship team, and to prove it, he made a late-November play that belonged on the first Sunday in February.