You could say that Odell Beckham slept on Josh Norman. A lot of folks have been guilty of committing that football sin. You could say that Beckham should have done some research and truly understood what kind of beast he was dealing with.
Norman hasn’t been handed anything during his journey from small town Greenwood, South Carolina to becoming an elite NFL corner preparing to defend against Peyton Manning in Super Bowl 50.
He was the kid in the middle of nowhere, hidden from recruiting hotbeds, who was nice enough to play on any field, but was doubted because he wasn't known.
Despite a decorated high school career, starring in football, baseball, basketball and track, Norman had no offers from any Division I schools. He was a walk on at Coastal Carolina, where his brother played. After a promising freshman season, he earned a scholarship.
In his sophomore season, Norman was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press and made the College Sporting News' "Fabulous Fifty" All-American team. He went on to become a star defensive back at the university, but similar to his experience coming out of high school, draft experts projected Norman to be no more than a Day Three pick.
He wasn’t selected until the fifth round by Carolina and Norman signed a 4-year, $2.30 million contract. He immediately impressed coaches with his 6-0, 203-pound physique, scheme-versatility in multiple coverages, physicality, instincts, closing speed and confidence.
Concerns about Norman being from a small school and not facing a high caliber of talent quickly faded. However, despite his early success, in his second season he only played in seven games and was inactive for five more. He fell behind veterans Captain Munnerlyn, Drayton Florence as well as rookie Melvin White, an undrafted free agent, on the depth chart
By 2014, he had fought his way back into the mix and according to Football Outsiders cornerback rankings, which measured yards per pass and success rate (number of targets on which the corner prevented a successful gain), Norman rated as their 4th best No. 1 cornerback (cornerback on each team who faces the most opposing targets against opponents' No. 1 receivers) in the NFL behind only Darrelle Revis, Vontae Davis, and Chris Harris, Jr.
Norman continues to grind with the mentality of a player who has to scrape just to make the team. He generally stays after practice an extra 20 minutes catching passes thrown at various angles. Then he spends time talking with reporters. Everyone knows he loves the limelight.
Norman says it's because he minored in dramatic arts at Coastal Carolina, and would have majored in it but football practices kept conflicting with rehearsals. It's also because of his history. He has to let everybody know that he made it.
With a chip on his shoulder and the confidence of a shark in water, Norman has continued to ascend to the top of the cornerback rankings and his epic, game-long, brawl ball with ODB in Week 15 was his coming out party.
The player who was always doubted and always had to work a little harder than everyone else to prove his worth was now on center stage, part of the biggest live NFL spectacle and displays of self-centered machismo that we’ve witnessed in years.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
That game not only brought attention to Norman, but it made him a social media spark plug and confirmed his superstar status. Dude was already ballin’. Now he had the mouth and the game and the notoriety to back it up.
As this season progressed and the Panthers continued to win, and sporting a defense that continued to lay it down, naturally the loudest member of that vaunted unit became a magnet for media quotes.
It is obvious that Norman has mastered the art of ball-hawking as well as the art of marketing. He seized his moment against Odell Beckham and actually stole some of Beckham’s shines while masterfully playing the victim. He didn't get out of the situation unblemished, but the 60 seconds of fame the incident inspired pushed Norman's name to the forefront of NFL news.
In a season that was being dominated by the feats of Cam Newton, Norman managed to steal the spotlight from football’s brightest star, if only for a moment.
The 28-year-old cornerback has learned how to maneuver in the NFL’s new culture. Throughout his career, he’s had to do remarkable things to get his props. He’s had to steal the spotlight from players the fans consider “bigger superstars” than him.
The pregame hype will be all about Cam, but that Panthers D is an equally vital part of this Super Bowl formula.
Don’t be surprised if Norman seizes the opportunity -- and a couple of Peyton Manning passes -- in Super Bowl 50. Typical shutdown corner stuff; mess up the play, change the narrative of the game. Talk hella trash after.