It was the catch that broke the Internet. In a game against the Dallas Cowboys last week, rookie wide receiver for the New York Giants Odell Beckham Jr. launched himself into the air backwards, arm outstretched, and managed to catch a pass using one hand—actually just the tips of a thumb and two fingers—to score a touchdown. The Giants would go on to lose the game, but compared to the catch, no one seemed to care about that. The catch has gotten millions of online views and social-media mentions, and has been hailed as a near-miraculous feat of skill and athleticism, both by fans and other pro athletes.
But was it purely Beckham’s ability that yielded the catch? Like most other receivers playing competitive football, Beckham has taken to wearing special, sticky gloves that make it easier for them to make amazing catches. There are many companies making these gloves; Beckham’s are custom-made versions of the Nike Vapor Jet 3.0, which features molded fingers, a “strategic mesh,” and “MagniGrip CL” on the palms and fingers. MagniGrip CL is a sticky material made from a mix of neoprene and silicone designed to help receivers hold on to a ball. One typical review on Nike’s website says the grip is “unbelievable,” and adds, “I haven’t dropped a ball all season.”
Beckham’s gloves were made with him in mind, according to Hetér Myers, a spokesperson for Nike, which consults and tests gear with many top-notch players while designing products like gloves. The design “incorporates some of his direct insights… He wanted total range of motion and full dexterity with no restrictions, so the fabric is finely tuned to move naturally with the hand.” Special mesh paneling helps give a greater range of motion. Beckham’s gloves must also accommodate his enormous 10-inch hands, which required a rare XXXL size, and were no doubt helpful in making his famous catch.
Asked the money question—whether he would have made his famous catch without sticky gloves—Beckham replied, “I have no idea.” But there’s little doubt that they make catching passes easier in general. Beckham told reporters that the gloves are “part of the game, part of football. You can wear gloves. I don’t think it is against the rules, but they definitely do help.”
This is not the first era in which NFL receivers looked for help in reeling in passes. In 1981 the NFL was forced to ban Stickum, a material that was widely used throughout the league. It was available in powder, paste, and aerosol forms. The ban is known as the “Lester Hayes Rule” after Oakland Raiders’ cornerback Lester Hayes, who was famous for his excessive use of Stickum, covering not just his hands, but also his torso and arms, in the substance. It appeared to give him the advantage he was looking for: In 1980, Hayes intercepted 13 passes during the season and five in the playoffs. The Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Fred Biletnikoff, the Football Hall of Fame receiver and the player that actually introduced Hayes to Stickum, says the gloves are just a modern incarnation of the banned substance.
But there’s an important difference between sticky gloves and actual Stickum. The gloves are compliant with the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment’s rules and regulations and the NFL’s rule on no adhesive substances; because the tacky material stays on the gloves and doesn’t literally stick to the football, they are alright. It’s not hard to imagine that gloves might get even more grabby while still falling on the right side of the rules. Future models might use one of the gecko-inspired materials that let people climb up walls using Van der Waals attractive forces.
As good as these aides are, you don’t need high-tech gloves or Stickum to make incredible one-hand catches. Recently made a member of the Hall of Fame, former wide receiver Cris Carter made a similarly miraculous catch in a 1985 match between Ohio State and BYU. Still, the gloves could allow today’s and tomorrow’s receivers to make those grabs more routinely.
At a press conference last week, Beckham told reporters, “I hope it’s not the greatest catch of all time, I hope that I can make more.” Whether he will or won’t, one thing is for certain: The gloves will be on.
Claire Cameron is a social media & news editor at Nautilus.