It's the plot of every romantic comedy movie — two people meet; they intensely dislike one another and trade snark for half the film, yet secretly they're really into each other. At the end, cue the sappy music, soft lighting, the two running through the rain holding hands and roll credits.
Cornerback Josh Norman vs. wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is the NFL RomCom equivalent. With all their sniping and trash-talking, they must secretly dig each other. Whatever the case, Norman is obsessed with the Beckham and the feeling is mutual. Maybe they should just go on a date and get it over with.
They resume their acquaintances Sunday when Norman’s Washington Redskins play Beckham’s New York Giants. It’s only the second time they will have faced off in a game, but given how much they’ve talked about each other, it has the feeling of a much longer rivalry.
In the first two games of the season with Washington, Norman did not always cover the other team’s best receiver. It now looks like Beckham will be Norman’s main assignment Sunday and it’s the way he wants it. “I don’t bow down to nobody,” he said this week.
Their affair began in December when Norman was with the Carolina Panthers and guarded Beckham. During warmups, Norman swung a baseball bat and told ESPN this summer, "It totally unnerved” Beckham.
The Panthers also trash-talked Beckham, with several sources saying that he was the subject of gay slurs from unnamed players. The Panthers denied it, though the receiver said it was not the first time he heard gay slurs during a game last season.
Norman told me at the Super Bowl that he never used any sort of gay slur toward Beckham: “I didn't say nothing or make any kind of slurs." Norman, who had been smiling and upbeat at every other Super Bowl interview, looked very uncomfortable when I asked him the question, turning away and fidgeting while he answered.
While denying he used a gay slur against Beckham, Norman was on the record in December saying of Beckham: "Fuck him. He's a bitch. Screw him and this whole setup.” Norman, who also called Beckham a “ballerina,” seems to like to feminize the receiver.
Whatever was said to Beckham got under his skin. He committed three personal fouls in the game to Norman’s two and his blindsided helmet-to-helmet hit got him a one-game suspension.
Their relationship continued in the off-season, even before Norman got traded from Carolina to Washington, a division rival of the Giants. Beckham even told GQ that Norman picked Washington because he would play Beckham twice a season. “Yeah. For sure. I mean, it’s a smart business move for him,” he said.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t care for the guy at all. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s a good player or whatever, but he’s not what he thinks he is. If you hit guys like that, if you completely jam them and shake them up, they can’t relate to that. So they start making excuses like, ‘Oh, he touched me.’ They don’t know how to respond because they never got hit like that. So me, every time I see him, I’m going to hit him in the mouth. I don’t care. Until he stops crying and bitching.”
Beckham fired back in GQ: “The reason he’s become so relevant is because of me.”
The sniping continued this summer, with Norman taking a shot at Beckham every chance he had. To ESPN: “I've already got a couple [NFL players] telling me, 'OK, I've got a hit out on him.' It's going to be rough for him this year. And he brought it on himself.”
Jealousy seems to be at the heart of this, mainly on Norman’s part. He was a fifth-round pick and largely ignored until his breakout season in 2015. Beckham was a first-round pick and his spectacular one-handed catch against the Cowboys on national TV as a rookie in 2014 went viral and was the talk of sports. He quickly became one of the game’s best receivers, though that’s not how Norman sees it.
“He just went in the first round, and everything is handed to him,” Norman told ESPN. “He gets to New York. . . . He catches one stupid little ball, and everybody in New York [loves] this guy, because that’s the biggest amount of media in the world. . . . So all that went to his big old head, and for some odd reason he thinks he’s somebody that he’s not.”
Beckham this week said he expects Norman and his teammates to try and get under his skin. “It's mental warfare. It's the art of war. You know what I mean? There are different ways to attack it,” he said.
For his part, Norman tried to argue that he’s over the whole battle with Beckham. “God tells us to forgive all. So I'm working on that," Norman said Wednesday. "But I have moved past it. That was last year. There are things that happened in the past that stay in the past whether they're here or not. I'm sure he didn't want it to happen, just like everybody else didn't. But it did. My feelings about it, really doesn't matter to be honest with you."
After spending the off-season taking shots at Beckham, it’s hard to believe he’s moved past it. Normally, saying you’ve moved past it means you haven’t. In a RomCom, this is when the two would realize they’re made for each other — two talented divas who enjoy the attention.
In my fantasy movie, Norman and Beckham would meet at midfield and kiss. But this is reality, so the best we can hope for Sunday is a handshake, or at least no punches thrown.