Baker Mayfield entered Monday night’s game against the 49ers as football’s preeminent grudge-holder. This is the man who got so mad at Ohio State’s players for singing their fight song after their 2016 win over the Sooners (they do it every game) that a year later he claimed their stadium in the name of Oklahoma by dramatically planting a flag in the center of the field; the man who has public feuds with his first college coach and his first pro coach; the man who sometimes peppers NFL press conferences with high school football zings. He literally keeps a list of his haters.
But in one evening, the San Francisco 49ers collectively usurped his throne. First, Nick Bosa—who played at Ohio State during the Baker battles—took Mayfield down late in the second quarter and celebrated with a reenactment of the flag plant.
Then, after the game, Richard Sherman said that he’d taken his game up a notch after Mayfield snubbed him for a handshake during the pregame coin toss.
“What’s amazing, and annoying, was him not shaking hands at the beginning,” Sherman said. “That’s some college s---. It’s ridiculous. We’re all trying to get psyched up, but shaking hands with your opponent—that’s NFL etiquette. And when you pull bush league stuff, that’s disrespectful to the game. And believe me, that’s gonna get us fired up.”
That’s right, folks. We got ourselves a BakeShakeGate.
Sherman’s teammate DeForest Buckner backed up his claim on Monday night. And this situation initially seemed to be the inverse of what had happened in Mayfield’s senior season game against Kansas, when Jayhawks players refused to shake his hand before the game and Mayfield later grabbed his crotch in their direction.
Just one problem, though. On Tuesday, internet detectives unearthed video evidence revealing that Mayfield did shake Sherman’s hand at the captains’ meeting. If anything, Sherman is the one who moved on rather quickly down the line.
WHAT IS SHERM TALKING ABOUT HE LITERALLY SHOOK BAKER'S HAND— Cappin America (@FlammyMarciano) October 8, 2019
BAKER SHOOK EVERYONE'S HAND pic.twitter.com/Vl5AjYt5Jv
So did Sherman fabricate the entire snub? In his eyes, no. He defended his case with a pair of updates. First, he said the actual snub had happened after the coin toss. This part seems to be true. As with all internet investigations of sports etiquette failings, a grainy, not-quite-properly-angled video exists of the post-coin-toss moment, and Mayfield does seem to quickly sprint back to his sideline while the 49ers stick around:
So Richard Sherman is mad Baker Mayfield ran off the field and didn't shake hands a second time during the coin toss? This might be the dumbest controversy of all-time pic.twitter.com/zZssOt7CMW— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 8, 2019
Sherman also tweeted that Mayfield’s pre-toss handshake was insufficient, claiming Mayfield had given a “petty shake.”
So you don’t see any difference in the way I shake everyone else’s hand and the guy who stands back with the petty shake. Was Bs and I took offense to it then turns and runs off. It’s not that big of a deal.— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) October 8, 2019
To fully solve this controversy, we must answer three questions:
1. Did Mayfield shake Sherman’s hand?
This one is easy. Before the toss, yes; after the toss, no.
2. Sherman claims it is NFL etiquette for players to shake hands again after the initial coin toss. Is that true?
To answer this one, I tried to break down the All-22 tape of coin tosses on NFL GamePass, but alas, those replays tend to start at the kickoff. So I had to go searching deeper for answers (a.k.a. go to YouTube). From that research, I would say that more often than not, the players reconvene to shake again after the toss.
That’s not always the case, though. In the most recent Super Bowl, Jared Goff felt the need to reshake, but the rest of the Rams didn’t:
In this Colts-Texans video—which I found because Houston uploads every single coin toss to YouTube for some reason?—Andrew Luck is the only guy who goes back for more handshakes. Maybe quarterbacks have to do this and it doesn’t matter for anybody else?
Sometimes the players only seem to shake hands because they need to directly walk past each other to get to their respective sidelines:
And in this video from December of last year, there’s no shaking at all. Note the team … the Cleveland Browns, noted dastardly refusers of second handshakes:
Here’s a video a fan uploaded to YouTube of a Vikings-Broncos coin toss. Does it tell us anything? Yes: That I have officially watched too many videos of coin tosses.
From what I can gather, there aren’t many rules on how the pregame post-toss moments should go. Of the videos I watched, there are relatively few where people act with purpose; in most of them, everybody just kinda waits around and goes, “Uhh, I guess we should shake hands now?” They pretty much seem to be guessing how to avoid breaking rules that may or may not exist—you know, like basically all social interactions. Perhaps Mayfield is making a distinct choice to snub opponents if he sprints back to the bench every time, but doing so is also not entirely unheard of.
3. Sherman says that Mayfield gave him a “petty” handshake. Is he right, and if so, who is to blame?
Looking at the on-field angle of the interaction, it’s clear that the Sherman-Mayfield handshake is among the least passionate of the exchanges going down the line. And to some people, a limp handshake is worse than no handshake at all.
So Richard Sherman claims Baker Mayfield refused to shake his hand at the coin toss. This video seems to indicate otherwise: pic.twitter.com/4CgOsLKLPL— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 8, 2019
Sherman is more than willing to embrace the rest of his opponents, giving a full-body hug to Jermaine Whitehead and putting his non-shaking hand on the shoulder of Adarius Taylor, but he just gives Mayfield a simple shake.
From his tweets and quotes, Sherman seems to think that Mayfield is the problem here. Whitehead and Taylor do appear to have more welcoming stances, angling themselves roughly perpendicular to the shaking line so as to encourage body contact, while Mayfield is parallel and therefore seems willing to accommodate only the most formal of handshakes. Is the onus on Sherman to approach Mayfield with a more vigorous greeting, or on Mayfield to adopt a less formal stance?
Is it time for me to drop in the Key & Peele skit?
After thoroughly examining all the evidence, I have come to two conclusions. First: While Sherman was initially incorrect about Mayfield failing to give any handshake, his follow-up comment that Mayfield opted for the bare minimum by offering just a purely formal one-two pump and immediately exiting the post-toss line does hold water. That said, I would argue Sherman bears some responsibility for the weak primary shake and made too big a deal out of the unrequited second shake.
Secondly, I now realize that I just completely wasted my time by looking at any of these videos, and that I should go outside.