Baker Mayfield’s ability to stoke emotion is his Oklahoma legacy
NORMAN, Okla. — There wasn’t an exact date when Baker Mayfield became Mr. Oklahoma Football. Teammates bonded with him as the scout team quarterback in 2014. Back then, he was the redshirt who practiced with the same zeal as the three-year starter.
After 37 games, he is the unquestioned heart and soul of the fourth-ranked Sooners (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) and the front-runner to win the program’s sixth Heisman Trophy.
The chips Mayfield likes to place on shoulders became shared. His grievances became synonymous with the Sooners. His success apportioned throughout the roster. All invested in the success.
Mayfield’s fiery demeanor and unbridled enthusiasm became a team trait, as well. For three seasons, there’s been no doubt about Oklahoma’s leader.
“Bake’s a personality guy,” offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. “We love him, and we rally behind him and what he does.”
What Mayfield does will be on display at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for the last time at 3:45 p.m. ET on Saturday. Oklahoma faces West Virginia (7-4, 5-3) in the regular-season finale.
Of course, he won’t start. The captaincy he covets won’t be his on Saturday. The starting streak is over after 37 games due to the punishment for his improper sideline antics during the victory over Kansas.
None of it matters to Mayfield’s teammates. He’s their guy.
“It’s 100 percent about his team. If you’re actually in our locker room you’d understand, it’s about our team every time,” linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. “Baker’s not selfish at all. He doesn’t think about himself when he does that stuff. He even talks about it before he even does it with us. It’s not new to us when we see it.”
Is Baker Mayfield Oklahoma’s best quarterback ever?
Oklahoma has had quarterbacks with better winning percentages. Jimmy Harris started 25 games from 1954-55. The Sooners won all of them and 2 national championships. Steve Davis went 32-1-1 from 1973-75. Oklahoma claimed its fourth and fifth national championships during that string.
Jason White won the Heisman Trophy in 2003 and Sam Bradford claimed the program’s fifth Heisman winner in 2008. They’re the gold standards of the passing age of Oklahoma quarterbacks.
Statistically, Mayfield surpasses all of them. His 13,796 passing yards, 68.5 completion percentage and 122 passing touchdowns passes are better than the two Heisman winners. Mayfield’s 188.9 passer rating is the best in NCAA history.
Mayfield understands the history.
He grew up in Austin, Texas; the heart of enemy territory for a Sooner. But it was a childhood dream to do what he’s doing where he’s doing it.
“Playing at OU is something I’ve always dreamed of,” Mayfield said.
It’s hard to imagine a more mutually beneficial case of living the dream.
Baker Mayfield and Lincoln Riley were the perfect match
Perhaps, Mayfield would’ve been the same player if former coach Bob Stoops hadn’t changed his offensive staff before the 2015 season.
When Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech, Josh Heupel was the offensive coordinator. He spent as much time molding a quarterback’s personality as he did molding an offense around them.
To Heupel, the quarterback was a reflection of him — the strong silent type. You saw that change in Bradford, Landry Jones and Trevor Knight throughout their careers. The exuberance for the game turned into this business-like personas.
Mayfield and Riley were different from the outset. Riley never attempted to curtail Mayfield’s zeal.
“The best thing about him is that he is himself. We all have to stay true to ourselves. If we’re not that, we’re not anything,” Riley said.
All quarterbacks are leaders. But Mayfield’s style differed. He led from the front. If there were scuffles, Mayfield was in the middle of them. He didn’t direct. He charged ahead with a fearless demeanor. The Sooners were willing to follow him anywhere.
Riley knew he had something special because of that and choked up trying to explain the significance.
“No matter how long I go coaching, whatever the rest of my career being like, I don’t know that I’ll ever have a player that’s as special to me as he is,” Riley said with a long pause. “We’ve been through a lot together. He’s a tremendous teammate. He’s the best football player in America. He has a great heart that a lot of people don’t get a chance to see like I do. I’m proud as hell to be his coach.”
Beloved if he’s your guy
Mayfield understands why he’s so loved by Oklahoma fans and despised by others. He’s that rare mix of Rocky Balboa’s underdog story and mentality and Apollo Creed’s cockiness and ability to back it up.
Oklahoma fans see the hero. Everyone else locks onto the villain.
But the lasting legacy Mayfield will leave with the Sooners is football never looks like work when he’s playing it. He didn’t shirk any offseason workouts. Playing the game seemed like pure joy.
That’s what changed when he took over the quarterback job in 2015. In the years leading up to Mayfield, football seemed like a job far too often.
“He’s a great player, great friend, great mentor,” senior wide receiver Jordan Smallwood said. “He teaches all the young guys positive. He’s not a negative person. He’s a great person. We follow him everywhere we go.”
Oklahoma fans feel the same way. Thousands of them will gather in Norman on Saturday wearing “Plant The Flag” shirts. There will probably be some paying tribute to his antics from last Saturday. To Oklahoma fans, Mayfield can do no wrong. He’s their guy. If you’re offended, tough.
The fans felt the same way about former All-American linebacker Brian Bosworth 30 years earlier. The difference: The Boz’s antics were a gimmick used to promote Bosworth. Mayfield is authentic in every sense.
We still don’t know how long Mayfield’s punishment will keep him off the field. Riley wouldn’t say. Could be a play, a quarter, a half. No one knows but the coach and likely Mayfield.
But you better have earplugs handy when Mayfield trots onto that turf to take a snap. There was never anything like him at Oklahoma before and likely won’t be anything like him again.