Baker Mayfield: Your trash-talking, crotch-grabbing All-American hero
College football’s best quarterback is special, but maybe not special enough for the NFL
Baker Mayfield of the Oklahoma Sooners tries on the Golden Hat Trophy after a win over the Texas Longhorns in October. Photograph: Richard W Rodriguez/Getty Images
At a ceremony in New York this Saturday night, Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Baker Mayfield will lift the storied Heisman Trophy and be named college football’s player of the year. Well, that’s unless some voters opt to make a moral rather than a sporting judgment, deciding crotch-grabbing gestures towards opponents, relentless vulgar trash-talking of fans, and a general air of McGregoresque obnoxiousness disqualify his many wondrous feats with the ball in his hand. Unlikely, but it could happen, a phrase that neatly sums up so much about the most compelling character in the game.
The highlight reel from an ongoing revue that Sports Illustrated has dubbed “The Baker Mayfield Show” is either highly entertaining or hugely offensive, depending on how you like your sports. Before taking on Texas Tech, an institution where he spent an unhappy year before transferring to Oklahoma, he wore a T-shirt that said “Traitor” across the chest, embracing and revelling in his role as the heel in that particular drama. Then, as per the WWE script, he took his former team to school.
After defeating Ohio State University, he did a lap of the field with his own team flag before, in a Graeme Souness-type move, trying to stake it into the ground on halfway. Not the smartest thing to try on an astroturf surface but he succeeded at least in tormenting the OSU fanbase and generating mass hysteria about his brash antics. As if that fire needed any fuel. After all, he started the season by telling Baylor University’s players during a fractious warm-up: “You forgot who daddy is, I’m gonna have to spank you today!”
These cameos were all a mere prelude, however, to his virtuoso performance against the Kansas Jayhawks. Despite being one of the poorer teams in the Big 12 Conference, their captains decided to snub Mayfield’s attempted handshake during the pre-match coin toss. He responded by clapping loudly and guffawing in their faces. Later, having put them to the torch, Mayfield was caught on camera taunting their supporters, and then clutching his genitals, he gestured towards the Kansas sideline, shouting “F**k you!” ESPN blurred out his crotch area in replays to spare the more sensitive viewers that atrocity.
Amid an ensuing national uproar, he was stripped of the captaincy and forced to start on the bench for Oklahoma’s next game, a punishment that caused him to break down in tears at a press conference. Of course. Every soap opera needs a moment of redemption, some waterworks and an act of contrition, and this one was so polished and dramatic that cynics wondered whether it was especially choreographed to convince wavering Heisman electors.
“I am sorry to any parent that had their kid(s) watching,” said Mayfield. “I was not the good and inspiring role model I aspire to be.”
Baker Reagan Mayfield (the middle name his father’s homage to the former US president) grew up just outside Austin, Texas. At a high school renowned as a quarterback factory, he stood out but college coaches were wary of his scrawny physique and Oklahoma, the team he grew up idolising, were among those who passed him up. When he enrolled at the school anyway, after an injury-truncated yet still impressive season at Texas Tech, the 88,000 who fill the Sooners’ Gaylord Stadium were about to witness the rewriting of the record books.
Like star minor hurlers, there are no guarantees about college quarterbacks ever making it in the NFL, even ones who’ve thrown for over 4,000 yards in a season while amassing a 71 per cent pass completion rate. At 6ft 1in and 220lbs, Mayfield is considered small for the position and there are question marks too about his ability to pick apart pro defences that will afford him far less time in possession.
Still, his consistent performances over the past three campaigns (this is the third time he’s been in the Heisman shake-up) have more and more scouts lauding his ability to improvise with his hands and, crucially, his feet too. Some have even drawn comparisons with the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson whose stellar career on Sundays has made a mockery of earlier questions about him being undersized. Mayfield has been compared to other pros too. Not so favourably.
It’s not that long ago since infamous bust Johnny Manziel came out of Texas, a similarly heady mix of arrogance and ability, trailing a gaudy reputation for finding trouble off the field with the same ease he found remarkable ways to win on it. Although he has a drink-driving arrest on his charge sheet, an episode during which cops mocked his lack of foot speed trying to outrun them, Mayfield is not in Manziel’s league when it comes to partying. Even so, his knack for stoking controversy and offering bulletin board material to rivals may cause some NFL teams to wonder if he’s worth gambling on in April’s draft.
He still has time to convince the doubters. On New Year’s Day, Oklahoma meet Georgia at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and the winner advances to the National Championship Game a week later. The build-up to that fixture began last Sunday when Mayfield’s mobile phone number was leaked on social media, soon filling up with all manner of abusive messages.
“To the Georgia fans that had the kind words of encouragement,” Mayfield tweeted. “I applaud your creativity.”
The phone number has since changed. The attitude hasn’t.