Power of 3 bonds Beckham, Cruz and Shepard
EAST RUTHERFORD — Until recently, Sterling Shepard had refused to wear one of the most prized pieces of jewelry he owns.
The gold Roman Numeral III pendant represents the bond between the Giants’ rookie wide receiver and his two mentors, teammates Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz. The trio wanted something tangible to symbolize their growing friendship back in the summer, so Cruz came up with the idea: the No. 3, which each of the three players wore in college — Cruz at UMass, Beckham at LSU and Shepard at Oklahoma.
Cruz and Beckham were the ones with the professional résumés, and Shepard, who had yet to play an NFL game, decided he would have to contribute in some way on the field before sporting the bling off it.
“I didn’t wear it at first because I wanted to feel like I earned it,” Shepard said last week. “I had to make some plays before I did. Both of them had made a whole bunch of plays in their career. Now I think I’ve earned my right to swag it a little bit. I wear it all the time, almost every day.”
From their play together on the field to their “brotherhood” — how Beckham described their relationship Wednesday — away from it, the Giants have certainly relied on all three in their run to the playoffs in advance of Sunday’s NFC wild card game against the Packers in Green Bay.
Of course, as evidenced by Monday’s late-night excursion to Miami for an off-day getaway that included appearances by Trey Songz and Justin Bieber, their presence has managed to cause a tabloid stir this week as well. With Beckham, a magnet for the camera and the gossip pages, at the center of the story, the Giants found themselves smack dab in the middle of a media crush when they returned to work and began preparing for the season’s biggest game.
Shepard deflected questions about the trip Tuesday, and then Cruz and Beckham took turns doing the same Wednesday, saying they wanted to focus on the Packers. Giants coach Ben McAdoo and other teammates such as captains Eli Manning and Jonathan Casillas have insisted they have taken no issue with Cruz, Beckham or Shepard (and another rookie receiver in Roger Lewis Jr.) hopping a private plane for a night out in South Beach (and on a yacht), especially since they were all back ready to go when the team returned to work Tuesday morning.
“Right now, I'm really more focused on the Packers and the Giants,” Beckham said. “Any of those questions [about the Miami trip], whenever y'all want to sit down and have a little side to side, we can do that after the playoffs.”
Asked for his reaction regarding how the Miami trip was received publicly, Cruz added: “Not surprised. Let’s move along. It’s all about Green Bay now. We’re already a couple of days removed from that. Green Bay is the focus.”
While their production has not collectively been where they expected — save for Beckham, the second player in franchise history with more than 100 catches (101) for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns — the Giants (11-5) are hoping a trip to Lambeau Field can be the start of something special.
“A brotherhood: these are guys who I ride for,” Beckham said. “Right, wrong or indifferent, I'm always going to be on their side, to their defense or whatever it may be. Sterling Shepard is like a little brother to me, Victor is like the big brother to me and I'm right in the middle. I get the advice from Vic, I give the advice to Shep or vice versa. We all work together, and I don't think you see that as much with receivers in just the nature of the position. This is a group that genuinely looks out and cares for each other. Not just us three, obviously — Tavarres King, Dwayne Harris, everybody in that room; it's a very close room. It's a place where what we talk about in those four walls stays in there, for the most part.”
Added King: “The three amigos right there. Those three dudes, it’s like they grew up together, how similar they are, how alike they are.”
Might be hard to believe, but Shepard has the biggest personality in that room. He jokes that Beckham and Cruz encouraged him to stand out from the start, and his transition from newcomer to a player on whom the Giants could count was seamless because of that.
“Everybody fits together, and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why we are successful as a team,” Shepard said. “But the three of us, me and Vic and Odell, what we have goes beyond what we’ve been able to do on the football field. There are three of us, but we’ve really become one.”