GLENDALE, Ariz. — You knew it was coming as Mark Ingram snuck up behind Odell Beckham Jr. as he addressed reporters following practice at the Pro Bowl.
The New Orleans Saints running back tapped Beckham on the shoulder, arched his back and stuck his right arm as far back as he could behind his head.
“The three-finger catch,” Ingram said, drawing a smile from the New York Giants rookie receiver.
Beckham, the former LSU and Newman standout, is best known these days for what some consider the most difficult grab in NFL history: his seemingly impossible one-handed touchdown reception along the sideline while being interfered with against the Dallas Cowboys in a Sunday night game in November.
It started when NBC’s Al Michaels called it “insane.” It really hasn’t died down since. And every time he ran downfield in a Pro Bowl practice at Luke Air Force Base, the crowd oohed and aahed in anticipation of what might come next.
“He has that thing that people will come and pay for,” said Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, who selected Beckham with the fourth pick in the draft that determined the teams for Sunday’s Pro Bowl. “You want to see him play because you know, if you just hold on, something spectacular is coming.”
Irvin should know. He worked out with Beckham in Arizona before last year’s college combine. Then Irvin, an NFL Network analyst, watched closely as the 12th overall pick began turning heads with his unique pregame routine of circus catches.
“Watching him warm up all year. I said, ‘Look at Odell, man. Stop showing off with these one-handed catches. You know you’re never going to do that in a game,’ ” Irvin said. “And he did.”
But the stunning catch against the Cowboys was far from all that Beckham accomplished. He set a Giants rookie record with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. And that came in only 12 games; he missed most of training camp and the first four games with a hamstring injury.
Beckham kept getting better despite the Giants’ disappointing 6-10 season. He closed with four consecutive games of at least 130 receiving yards. After surprisingly being left off the Pro Bowl roster, he was selected as an alternate for injured Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
Beckham was part of a Giants receiving corps dominated by Louisiana products. LSU’s Rueben Randle was the second-leading receiver, and Grambling’s Larry Donnell ranked third.
“Absolutely we’re close,” Beckham said. “Rueben and I go back a while now. He’s like my big brother, a guy who took care of me when I first got there.”
Beckham could square off against another buddy on Sunday. Former LSU standout Patrick Peterson is on the other team in Sunday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“Hopefully he stays on the other side,” Beckham said.
Not that he wouldn’t take on the challenge. Beckham is adamant he’s more than just a player who makes highlight-reel catches. At just 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds, mechanics and precision will be important to sustain his success.
“I take a lot of pride in my craft, as far as running routes. I’m always looking to get better,” Beckham said. “I want to be the best route runner that I can possibly be. It definitely means a lot to me to work on those little things. That’s what makes the highlight — understanding what goes into being able to make the plays.”
Beckham’s nine straight games with at least 90 receiving yards broke the 1995 NFL record held by Irvin. And Irvin made sure Beckham was on his side when his team faces Cris Carter’s squad Sunday.
“He’s so physically gifted,” Irvin said. “But his greatest asset? His love for what he does. That’s how you get that good.”
And that drive is why Irvin thinks Beckham might just do something special Sunday.
“Guys like that, they’re coming to play,” Irvin said. “They have to prove to everyone that they belong. You might see another one of those.”
And then Irvin leaned back and extended his right arm far behind his head.
“You know what I mean?” he said, smiling.