Perhaps Odell Beckham Jr. was simply inebriated on locker room euphoria after a 56-19 razing of the Miami Dolphins in which he delivered the most spectacular of plays in a game full of them. But at age 31 and already with one Super Bowl ring adorning his fingers, the Ravens wide receiver is as adept at seeing the big picture as he is at making a big catch.

He was so sure of his words that he said them twice.

“This is the best team I’ve ever been on in my entire life,” Beckham said through the glint of his iced-out diamond and gold-encrusted $1.8 million smile. “I had a crazy freshman [year] team in college [at LSU], but this is the best team I’ve been on in the NFL ever in my entire life.”

In a literal sense, he’s not sensationalizing. At 13-3, Baltimore has the best record in the NFL, has locked up the top seed in the AFC and will get a first-round bye and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl. The first two teams of his career— the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns — never finished better than 11-5 during his tenure with them. The Los Angeles Rams, whom Beckham joined midway through the 2021 season after a tumultuous and unceremonious exit from Cleveland, finished the regular season 12-5, were the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and, of course, went on to win it all.

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Returning to the sport’s biggest stage is also why Beckham chose the Ravens (a one-year, $15 million deal didn’t hurt, either) when he signed in early April. A week later, he had a dream, he said, as he sat down with The Baltimore Sun for an interview. He is ambiguous on the details, preferring to see it come to fruition before sharing specifics, but said the vision was powerful enough that he made a note on his phone on April 15 and sent it to coach John Harbaugh, quarterback Lamar Jackson and tight end Mark Andrews.

“I don’t really have dreams unless I’m seeing something,” Beckham told The Sun. “This is the best chance I’ve had [to win the Super Bowl] besides when I was with the Rams.

“Something called me to this. And this isn’t even exactly where my heart desired to be — AFC North, I had already been in this division, I know what the Ravens are about, it wasn’t the most desiring place.”

It almost didn’t happen, either.

The day before Beckham announced on Instagram that he was signing with the Ravens, he was planning to fly to New Jersey to sign with the New York Jets if all went well. Their new quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, had expressed an interest in playing with the transcendent star, and the two sides had an informal meeting at the NFL’s owners meetings in Phoenix two weeks before. His addition alongside second-year star Garrett Wilson, veteran Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman Jr. would give New York a splashy and drool-worthy wide receiver group.

But Beckham said he was “led to” the right place by instead getting on a plane to Baltimore, whose offer was also reportedly higher than the incentive-laden deal the Jets had discussed.

Yet, the Ravens didn’t know how well the former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year could even run. Beckham didn’t either. Asked to describe just how relatively bad his twice surgically repaired knee was 14 months after he injured it in the Super Bowl, he told The Sun, “it was terrible.”

“When I did my ACL the first time, I trained for 14 months,” he said. “You get hurt, you train all the way up to the Super Bowl … it was the longest season I’ve ever had. [Then] you get hurt two quarters away from [the end of the game], you come back, you train for another 18, 19, 20 months, whatever it was, that’s a long time of training with no break. To then hit a full NFL season, my body went through some things where I wasn’t able to be myself and I had to work behind the scenes to get back to being where I’m at now.

“I’ve played for a long time. This body has a lot of miles on it.”

Specifically, Beckham suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 in Cincinnati against the Bengals and missed the next two games.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., #3, hauls down a pass just yards from the end zone as Miami Dolphins cornerback Kader Kohou defends during the second quarter of an AFC matchup of NFL football in Baltimore Sunday Dec. 31, 2023. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Sunday against the Dolphins, Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had just one catch, but it was a sensational, twisting, over-the-shoulder 33-yard sideline grab in which he contorted around a defender and managed to get both feet in bounds before tumbling to the turf at the 1-yard line to set up a touchdown for Gus Edwards. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

When he returned, he often looked like an aging player on his last legs. His hands were as trustworthy as ever, but he didn’t have the same burst, quickness and separation that he had before the second torn ACL, and the ankle issue only compounded it. In Week 7 against the Detroit Lions, he had five catches for 49 yards but had still yet to find the end zone.

Through his first six games, Beckham had just 14 catches for 162 yards, which included zero against the Cardinals (though he did draw three flags against Arizona’s defense). In Week 9 at home against the Seattle Seahawks, he managed five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, but it came on the back end of a 38-6 blowout.

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Then, finally, it happened. On Nov. 12 against his old team, the Browns, Beckham caught a short slant, hit the turbo button and left Cleveland defenders in his wake for a 40-yard touchdown. A week later, in a Thursday night showdown against the Bengals, he scorched Cincinnati’s secondary for 116 yards on four catches, including a 51-yard bomb. And last month against one of his other former teams, the Rams, he had four catches for 97 yards, including one that covered 46 of them.

Sunday against the Dolphins, Beckham had just one catch, but it was a sensational, twisting, over-the-shoulder 33-yard sideline grab in which he contorted around a defender and managed to get both feet in bounds before tumbling to the turf at the 1-yard line to set up a touchdown for Gus Edwards.

Beckham said it was just a normal catch for him, but it also served as a reminder of the kind of play Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta hoped for but didn’t know they would get when they first brought him to Baltimore — to make big plays in big games.

“When I’m at the point of my career that I’m at, would I like to have a 1,000-yard season? Of course. Would I like to have XYZ touchdowns? Of course,” he told The Sun. “But at the end of the day, you’re going to be remembered for the moments you had, playoffs and these big-time games.

“This is what legacy is. This is what I’ve preached since I was 18; it was about legacy, it wasn’t about ‘I wanna be famous.’ With legacy plays came some other things for me, but my stats say 0-0-0 at this point. It’s just about what can you do now.”

Beyond some big moments on the field, Beckham has bestowed his wisdom and set the tone.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, from left, celebrates touchdown pass to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with Isaiah Likely in the second quarter. The Ravens defeated the Rams 37-31 in overtime at M&T Bank Stadium. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff photo)
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, left, celebrates a touchdown pass to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., center, with tight end Isaiah Likely during a game against the Rams on Dec. 10. (Kenneth K. Lam/Staff)

His locker is next to Zay Flowers, who said that Beckham has helped guide him through the rigors of NFL life, a benefit that’s helped him accumulate the fourth most yards (858) and catches (77) among rookie receivers along with five touchdowns. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen, meanwhile, has referred to him as a “big brother.” And while the Baltimore locker room is bursting with big personalities, no one sets the vibe and mood quite the way Beckham does, from corn hole games to dance moves to imparting the know-how to get where the rest of his teammates want to go.

“The leadership part is really good; his leadership has been outstanding,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a real relational-type leader. He’s been there, he’s done that. He’s been in these big games. He’s had great success. He knows what it takes, so I do think he’s with the guys, and he encourages guys really well. He’s [a] really encouraging kind of leader.

“The other part of it, though, is his ability to make plays. To me, he’s a major factor out there. People, they’re giving him attention. They’re making sure they cover him, and he’s coming up with the ball. He’s a guy that can break out and have 10 catches at any time in a game, or he has the one [catch] that makes a huge difference in the game that’s really kind of one of those great Odell Beckham-type of catches. I mean, wow. He’s a factor, a big factor.”

Beckham says he prefers to let others talk about his impact, but there’s no shortage of confidence and self-awareness from him when it comes to his role with the team. Quite the opposite.

“I know what I bring energy-wise, I know what I bring leader-wise,” he said. “Everyone looks at he gets paid this much; there’s so much other [stuff] that people don’t see.

“People who are outside the locker room who create a narrative, they would be like, ‘diva this or that.’ They use these words, but they don’t know you on a day-to-day basis.”

What Beckham knows, though, is what he dreamt shortly after signing with Baltimore, and he was willing to share at least some of it.

“I seen colors, black and white and purple, and I seen a very dark stadium,” he said. “I remember running around the field saying something something two-time world champions.”

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