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This Heisman Trophy Is for the Haters

Baker Mayfield is set to win college football’s most prestigious award Saturday night. It’ll be the crowning achievement for a player who’s made it his mission to stunt on everyone who’s ever doubted him.

Getty Images/Ringer Illustration

Please, hate Baker Mayfield.

Let him know that he’s not a great quarterback—he’s too short, a system player. Let him know that he’s an asshole—he has no sense of sportsmanship and can be a drunken idiot. Let him know that his whole persona is BS—that he grew up too privileged for his underdog story to be real, that he’s only the second-best revenge-driven athlete in the state of Oklahoma.

Mayfield is the most efficient passer in college football history. This season he will break his own record for passer rating (he’s at 203.8 entering the College Football Playoff, above the 196.4 mark he posted in 2016) and set the FBS record for yards per attempt (11.8, dropping his 2016 campaign into third place all time). Which is funny, because I wouldn’t describe his M.O. as efficient. Mayfield’s path is defined by repeated rejection. He has chosen unnecessarily hard roads for himself, putting more effort into finding insults than most of us put into anything.

While many players revel in their successes with vague, anonymous references to “the haters,” Mayfield publicly acknowledges his grievances, goes on to decimate his opponents/blood rivals, and then celebrates more vehemently than his enemies sparked his anger. He keeps a list of slights him on his phone, calling it “my secret way of keeping the fire burning.”

So please, hate Baker Mayfield, because I cannot bring myself to hate him. He is the most charismatic player in college football and the finest puppeteer to ever pull the strings of an air-raid-based offense. And in order to succeed, he needs to believe that you hate him.

Mayfield is a virtual lock to win the 2017 Heisman Trophy, a nod to his sparkling stats (4,650 total yards, 46 total touchdowns) and his team’s achievements. So in advance of Mayfield hoisting the sport’s most prestigious award Saturday night, let’s revisit the quarterback’s greatest beeves and how he settled them. (Beeves is the plural of beef, jerk. Look it up.)

Texas Tech

The Beef

Michael Jordan’s legend begins with the story that he was cut from the Laney High School varsity team for some guy named Leroy Smith. Mayfield’s begins with the story that he couldn’t get a major-conference scholarship offer coming out of high school. Amazingly, though, Mayfield managed to save his greatest resentment not for the schools that rejected him, but for the one that gave him a chance to play when almost nobody else would.

As a high school junior, Mayfield led Lake Travis High School to an undefeated season and a state championship. But to recruiters, he was just a system quarterback at a powerhouse school in an affluent suburb. The title marked Lake Travis’s fifth consecutive crown. The Cavaliers had already produced a slew of power-conference quarterbacks: Todd Reesing, who led Kansas to an Orange Bowl victory; Garrett Gilbert, who played at Texas and SMU and is now with the Carolina Panthers; and Michael Brewer, who played at Texas Tech and Virginia Tech. As a prospect, Mayfield wasn’t considered as impressive as any. In the Austin American-Statesman’s recap of the 4A title game, Mayfield is the 11th Cavaliers player mentioned. He finished his high school career with 67 touchdown passes, eight interceptions, and little recruiting appeal.

So, on a tip from Brewer, Mayfield decided to walk on at Texas Tech. The team’s 2013 opener against SMU was supposed to be a matchup of former Lake Travis quarterbacks—Brewer versus Gilbert—but Brewer got hurt. The Red Raiders were so deficient at the position that Mayfield was next on the depth chart, becoming the only true freshman walk-on to start a power-conference team’s season opener in NCAA history. Mayfield had a hell of a game, throwing for 413 yards with four touchdowns and rushing for a score in a 41-23 win. “I haven’t been around many kids with a bigger chip on their shoulder,” first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Mayfield. Boy, he had no clue.

Mayfield started Texas Tech’s first five games, going 5-0 before going down with had a knee injury. By the time he recovered, Davis Webb (now with the New York Giants) had entrenched himself as the team’s new starter. “I was still clueless as to why I wasn’t playing,” Mayfield later said. Mayfield won back the starting job by the end of the regular season, but when Kingsbury announced that he would hold an open competition heading into the team’s bowl game, Mayfield decided to transfer.

That’s when things got weird. Mayfield claimed the Red Raiders weren’t going to give him a scholarship until fall; Kingsbury said he had planned to put Mayfield on scholarship in spring ball. Texas Tech blocked Mayfield’s transfer to Big 12 schools; Mayfield argued that because he’d never signed any sort of scholarship agreement with Texas Tech, the Red Raiders had no legal right to do so. Mayfield’s dad referred to Kingsbury as a “scoundrel.”

Mayfield headed to Oklahoma, a decision that remains absurd. His reasons for transferring were his lack of a scholarship, uncertainty over playing time, and miscommunication with the coaching staff. He chose to go to a program where he had no scholarship, that had five scholarship quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, and that had a coaching staff with whom he had never spoken. It’s almost like Mayfield’s instant acceptance at Texas Tech knocked too many chips off his shoulder, and therefore he needed to restock.

The Result

In 2016, Mayfield played the only road game of his career at Texas Tech. He was booed out of a Lubbock restaurant the night before, and fans showed up to the game in “TRAITOR” T-shirts. Mayfield played the game of his life, throwing for 545 yards with a career-high seven touchdowns in a 66-59 win.

Mayfield subsequently acquired one of the shirts and wore it before this year’s home game against the Red Raiders. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth in a 49-27 rout.

All in all, Mayfield went 64-for-92 passing for 1,038 yards with 13 touchdowns (plus a running score) in three games against the Red Raiders. Oklahoma won all three. Incidentally, his current coach is also a former Texas Tech walk-on quarterback. They’ve built a Red Raider Destruction Club in Norman.


The Beef

Scrutiny of MJ’s origin story reveals that he wasn’t cut from his high school team. Similarly, Mayfield did have scholarship options in high school: Florida Atlantic, New Mexico, Rice, and Washington State all offered him. (The Cougars pulled that offer when another quarterback committed late in the recruiting process.) The reason Mayfield walked on at Texas Tech is because his parents advised him that it’d be the best situation. According to Mayfield, though, he would have had more opportunities had he not pushed away schools while waiting on a scholarship from TCU.

“They told me they were gonna offer me a scholarship and kind of drug it out, and I told other schools I wasn’t interested because I thought I was going to go there, and I truly believed they were going to offer me because they told me that. They disappointed me and kind of hung me out to dry right before signing day.”

Put more succinctly: “They screwed my recruiting.

If you ask TCU head coach Gary Patterson, Mayfield is being dramatic.

"If Baker Mayfield wants to blame TCU for 128 BCS schools not offering him a scholarship, that's fine," Patterson said. "But ask Kliff Kingsbury why he didn't offer him a scholarship at Texas Tech. Ask about Baker's dad [James]. He's an arrogant guy who thinks he knows everything. If people knew the whole story, they might not have a great opinion of Baker or his father."

If you ask Mayfield’s dad, James, well, maybe Patterson has a point.

OK, James says, here's the deal: Just before signing day he called assistant coach Chad Glasgow, who was recruiting Baker, and asked, "Chad, is this going anywhere?" Glasgow, according to James, said, "Well ..." To which James replied, "If you can't commit, we need to move on and do what's best for Baker." Glasgow, who refused comment through a TCU spokesman, suggested he come to Austin to have dinner with the Mayfields, to which James replied, "Why the hell would we do that?"

"I think I hurt Patterson's feelings by saying that," James says.

Regardless of who is telling the truth, Mayfield has made it his explicit goal to ruin the Horned Frogs. In 2015, he told Sports Illustrated that he specifically targeted schools that would give him a chance to play against TCU.

The Result

Before the Sooners hosted the Frogs this November, TCU came onto the field through the area where Oklahoma was warming up. Mayfield dramatically clapped in his opponents’ faces.

And Mayfield beaned one TCU player in the head with a football.

He then went on to throw for 333 yards with three touchdowns in a 38-20 win.

Mayfield beat the Horned Frogs again in the school’s Big 12 championship game rematch last week. Over the course of his career, he went 5-0 against TCU; for the Sooners, he racked up 13 touchdowns (11 passing, two running) with no interceptions against this one opponent.

Hell, Mayfield even contributed to attacking the Frogs when he couldn’t play. When he was sitting out for a season at Oklahoma, Mayfield stole TCU’s signs.

Ohio State

The Beef

Mayfield won his first 10 home games as a starter between Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Then came the Sooners’ 2016 matchup with Ohio State, an opponent he apparently hadn’t formulated any grudge against. The Buckeyes walloped the Sooners 45-24, a loss that eventually vaulted Ohio State into the College Football Playoff and kept out Oklahoma. It stung.

“Everybody that was here for last year's huge loss definitely remembers that. And we talked about it during camp. We've never been here for a team to sing their fight song on our field. Quite frankly it's just embarrassing. It's embarrassing. We let down our fans, our coaches and everybody that supports our program to allow them to sing O-H-I-O on our field. And their fans were louder than ours and rightfully so. They had more reason to be louder. But, it's [a] different year. Obviously we're still thinking about that and it hurts.”

So Mayfield was hyped up for the rematch this season. During the game, Mayfield got upset at some Ohio State fans. Per ESPN radio commentator Ian Fitzsimmons:

Behind the Oklahoma bench, there were a group of Buckeye fans that were beyond over-served. I mean these dudes were lubed up. And right at halftime, right as Baker Mayfield’s getting treatment on his lower back, he comes out and these guys are just wearing him out. He finally—right before their first possession when Ohio State goes up 10-3 to start the second half and you’re going “uh-oh”—turns around and goes, “Get ready, I’m about to hand six on you bleeping bleepers”. He leads them right down the field, the score’s tied at 10. He goes straight to the bench, stands up on the bench, and just lets the Buckeye fans behind him that were giving it to Baker ... he turns at them and says, “You like that one? I’ve got three or four more of those coming up. Get ready.”

The Result

Mayfield went 27-for-35 passing for 386 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-16 win in Week 2. No other quarterback this fall completed even two-thirds of his passing attempts against Ohio State.

(Skip to roughly the seven-minute mark for my favorite two Mayfield throws.)

The most important moment came after the game, though, when Mayfield made headlines by planting a Oklahoma flag at midfield of Ohio Stadium, a celebration that’s 174 times more obnoxious than Ohio State singing its fight song.

Mayfield apologized for his actions, though even the Buckeyes didn’t think that he needed to walk back his celebration of such a spectacular victory. This year Oklahoma’s win helped the Sooners make the playoff, while the Buckeyes’ loss is a key reason they missed the cut. And when Oklahoma builds Mayfield a statue, as the school does for all of its Heisman winners, fans want it to be a statue of his flag plant. Like this, but you know, for football.


The Beef

Only Mayfield could manage to turn a matchup between the Big 12’s perennial national title contender and a team that might not be a contender for your school’s intramural championship into a massive talking point. This is largely the Jayhawks’ fault; the Kansas team captains made the decision to avoid shaking Mayfield’s hand before their game in November.

I love watching him realize what’s happening and then realize what he’s going to do to Kansas.

This game came well into Mayfield’s surefire Heisman campaign, so cameras were locked on him for basically every single second. Which means we got video of Mayfield heckling the poor Jayhawks fans watching their execrable football team.

And then Mayfield grabbed his junk and yelled at the Kansas sideline.

The majority of criticism after this game was directed at Mayfield. It’s worth reiterating, though, that a Jayhawks defender hit Mayfield with an obvious cheap shot, a play far more upsetting and harmful than any crotch grab.

The Result

Mayfield destroyed the Jayhawks. He threw for three touchdowns; Kansas scored three points. The Sooners won 41-3. I personally think that if Oklahoma builds a Mayfield statue, it should be of the crotch grab instead of the flag plant.


The Beef

Ahead of the upcoming Rose Bowl playoff semifinal, Georgia fans got Mayfield’s cellphone number and harassed him.

The Result

My favorite Mayfield quote comes from this 2016 ESPN profile. During the season that he was redshirting at Oklahoma, he took to dominating the intramural and pickup circuits. In one basketball game, a kid unaware of who Mayfield was called him “frat god.” Mayfield got angry and proceeded to flatten him. But in retrospect, Mayfield gets the jab. “If I wasn't playing a sport, I'd be in a frat. So I guess I can't knock him too hard for that. I need to apologize, but I don't know who he is, so ... hey, if you're out there.”

We’ve listed all of Mayfield’s grievances here, but the truth is you don’t need to wrong Mayfield. He might even agree with your point. But he knows what he needs from you, and that’s fuel. This is a man who grew up as an Oklahoma football fan living in Austin. He’s a disrespect-seeking missile.

I don’t know if Oklahoma will beat Georgia. I do know that Mayfield convinced himself that the entire college football world disrespected him, and Saturday night he’s poised to receive the most prestigious honor in the college football world. Mayfield didn’t need the help, Georgia fans. But you made his time-tested insult-to-excellence process more efficient.