BY ART STAPLETON | Staff Writer
The NFL-watching world saw what many called the greatest catch they had ever seen when Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. jumped into the air and cradled the football with one hand, capturing the imagination of millions by the time he came tumbling to the turf for a remarkable touchdown.
All James “Zippy” Cimino saw was the lime green bracelets on Beckham’s right wrist — his bracelets with the messages “Zippy Strong” and “#AllIn” written in purple — the ones he gave to Beckham when two strangers met two weeks ago in a Morristown hospital room.
Lime-green bracelets on Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s right wrist can be seen as he makes his one-handed touchdown catch Sunday against the Cowboys. The bracelets were given to him by cancer patient and fan James “Zippy” Cimino.
“Odell makes one of the best catches in NFL history, and it just so happens that my two bracelets are on his right wrist, the hand he made it with, and not his left wrist, it’s just really surreal,” said Cimino, a 20-year-old Giants fan from Neshanic Station who is battling cancer for the second time in less than three years.
“I told him it’s his talent and my luck, and we both laughed,” Cimino said. “Such an incredible catch and because of him, in one of the most memorable photos of all time, it’s a moment that we’ll always share together.”
But the bond between Cimino and Beckham, the Giants’ first-round draft pick in May, goes deeper than the sudden popularity that has overwhelmed Beckham since his 43-yard catch at MetLife Stadium captivated the sports landscape on Sunday.
NBA icon LeBron James was among the athletic luminaries to reach out to Beckham on Twitter. From 8 p.m. to midnight Sunday, more than 640,000 tweets mentioned Odell Beckham Jr., and since The Catch, that number climbed to just under 1 million.
It was on a Thursday night two weeks ago that Beckham drove into unfamiliar territory for a Louisiana native living in North Jersey for only a handful of months to honor the request of a high school friend, Chris Koch.
Koch befriended Cimino during their time at the College of Charleston, and knowing Cimino’s passion for the Giants, asked Beckham if he could find time for a visit to cheer up his college buddy.
Cimino was finishing his third of six chemotherapy cycles to help treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when Beckham unexpectedly arrived at Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Medical Center on Nov. 13. Even more surprising was that the wide receiver wound up staying with Cimino and his family for nearly two hours.
They talked football and life, shared stories of perseverance and did plenty of smiling.
And Koch could not have been more right: Cimino’s spirits were now sky-high, thanks to his new favorite player. But the conversation also had a profound effect on Beckham.
On the verge of unforeseen celebrity for his on-field exploits, Beckham was inspired by Cimino’s courage, motivated by his fight against a disease he faced and defeated once before.
“Sitting there talking to Zippy, that put a lot of things in perspective for me,” Beckham told The Record in a quiet moment last week, likely one of the last quiet moments he had before his memorable catch Sunday night turned the sports world upside down.
“I just turned 22. We’re basically the same age. That could easily be me,” Beckham said. “So when I left that night, I just kept thinking of him, and his spirit. You always think about taking nothing for granted, but that night, meeting Zippy, that’s when perspective hits home and I’ll carry that with me for a long time.”
As Beckham and the Giants returned to practice Wednesday, Cimino was busy on his computer, taking an online class to continue his college education.
Cimino remains on Beckham’s mind: The latter still was wearing those Zippy Strong bracelets while being interviewed by a crowd of reporters in the locker room.
“We’ve texted back and forth several times since The Catch, and we’ve been laughing about how this has escalated so quickly,” Cimino said. “He’s not just some kid who came to visit me one night and forgot about me. Means more than you know, that someone of his stature is out there rooting for me and pulling for me to beat cancer again, and it’s mind-boggling and humbling.
“Odell made history, and I’ll forever have my place in that catch because of him,” he said.
Cimino created the “Zippy Strong” bracelets during his first bout with cancer to raise money for The Valerie Fund, which aids children who suffer from the disease.
Beckham and the 3-8 Giants are preparing for their next game, Sunday in Jacksonville, where they hope to beat the 1-10 Jaguars |and snap their six-game losing streak.
The next day, Cimino will resume chemotherapy as he continues his quest to overcome a disease he refuses to let defeat him.
“I’ve taken time the last few weeks to think about all the people, including myself, who complain about the little things without giving much thought to what we all take for granted,” Beckham said. “You meet Zippy, such a great kid, so adamant about beating cancer and believing he will, not once but twice. He’s fighting for his life and never takes a day for granted.
“That should be motivation enough for everyone to give everything we have to what we want in life, not just football, and to always be thankful for what we have,” he said.
Two weeks into an unexpected friendship, Beckham and Cimino are certainly grateful to have met each other.