Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin worries that the New York Giants will take away some of what makes Odell Beckham special if they ask him to tone down some of the antics that led to situations like the sideline brawl vs. the St. Louis Rams last season.
"I’m going to tell you this,’’ said Irvin, who works as an analyst for the NFL Network. "New York should know better. Out of all the people in the world, New York should know better. You can’t take the lion out of the man. They did it to Jeremy Shockey and he wasn’t the same player. Guys like this are a lot like me. They create these fights for themselves and then they come out on Sunday and they fight like a dog. Don’t you stop them from creating those fights.
"Don’t calm them down and you’ll get something special. Calm them down and you’ll get the start of something special like we got the start of Jeremy Shockey and then it fell off toward the end. Leave ODB alone.’’
Did the Giants ruin Shockey? Could they ruin Beckham by asking him, as they have, to make sure his exuberance doesn't put his team, or himself, in jeopardy?
I am going to disagree with Irvin on both counts.
First, let's talk about Shockey. The Giants didn't ruin Shockey. Shockey ruined Shockey. His love for the life of a celebrity. The fact that his physical style left him constantly playing at less than his best. The fact that he grated against the idea that Tom Coughlin, unlike Jim Fassel, would not build the Giants' passing attack around him. You can make a case that Shockey's histrionics, and his complaints, slowed the development of Eli Manning as a quarterback.
An article in the New York Times written after the Giants traded the unhappy Shockey to the New Orleans Saints, and after the Giants won the Super Bowl without Shockey, explained why. The story discusses Coughlin's "team over self" mantra and says of Shockey that the tight end "frustrated Coughlin with his on-field histrionics and his blown assignments, his off-season disappearances and his public criticisms of coaches."
The Giants didn't ruin Shockey. Shockey's inability to accept not being the center of the universe, and not being willing to accept that Coughlin made the rules, ruined Shockey's career with the Giants.
Now, let's discuss the more important question of Beckham. You remember these, most likely:
In the immediate aftermath of that game that saw the Rams quite obviously go out of their way to target and try to intimidate Beckham, leading to the brawl and the ejections of two of Beckham's teammates, Coughlin said "He will tone it down." Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira was also critical of Beckham.
"I think the one thing is that every time Odell plays, he learns more about the National Football League and he learns about the way in which he is being interpreted, some good, some bad. He continues to try and want to do things the right way. We will continue to try to teach him, without taking away from his ability and his excitement and the obvious lift that he brings," Coughlin said. "Here is a kid that runs the entire length of the field with every ball in practice. It is one thing to see someone do that and then it is such an outstanding example for everyone else, but that is the kind of energy and excitement that he brings to the enjoyment of playing. That is there and it is there full-time. You want that. Now the exuberance, if it goes too far, obviously, it is not a good thing, so we will continue to work with him.
"I spoke to him on the way out on the plane about a couple of things I was interested in continuing to talk to him about and why I wanted him to learn as much as he possibly could and for me to help him going forward because I want everyone to realize the quality of the young man, and not be offset by some of things that he has done. He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, stay after me.' He wants to learn and he wants to continue to improve and be better. I think he will and I think going forward, as he understands the professional game, that he will understand that some of the things that take place give the wrong message or send the wrong message."
That, certainly, does not sound like a coach who is in conflict with his star player. Beckham, for his part, has shown no signs of being a "self over team" type of player. This is simply a situation where the coach wants Beckham to understand that there are some things that will be interpreted the wrong way, that will cause him to draw unwanted attention from officials and opposing teams, and jeopardize both himself and his teammates.
I don't see that as ruining him. I see that as trying to protect him for the long term.