Football is supposed to be fun. Some of the things that have always made college football so much better than the NFL are the passion of the fans, the energy of the players and the emotion of the coaches. College football has personality. The NFL is a homogenized product that has become so carefully packaged it’s sometimes hard to tell two teams apart if it weren’t for their uniforms.
On Saturday night, Baker Mayfield led Oklahoma to a 31-16 upset win over Ohio State in Columbus that could very well serve as a launching pad for the Sooners’ second CFB Playoff run in three seasons. After losing by more than three scores to the Buckeyes last season in Norman, there’s no doubt revenge had been stewing in Mayfield’s mind for the last year.
Boy oh boy, was Mayfield magnificent. He threw for 386 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He picked apart an Ohio State defense chock full of NFL talent. In a career full of memorable comebacks and jaw-dropping moments, this was Mayfield’s best game as a Sooner.
It makes perfect sense that after the game, emotions would run high through Mayfield and the rest of the Sooners, and in a moment that everyone has seen by now, Mayfield let this emotions get the best of him.
It seemed like everyone immediately loved it. This was fun! This was harmless! This is what college football is all about!
This is not what college football is all about.
College football is not about taunting. It’s not about showing up your opponent in such a visible way. Mayfield could have easily taken the Oklahoma flag, run a lap around the field, stopped in front of the Sooners fans who’d made the trip to Columbus and waved it with them. How hard would that have been?
When I think of great players in the past who were known to taunt their opponents, I think of Terrell Owens or Johnny Manziel. Terrific, terrific players…but not champions. A championship leader has respect for his opponents. Can a championship leader can be emotional in victory, or even in defeat? Absolutely. But Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Deshaun Watson — I could keep going — never embarrass an opponent before, during or after a game.
Does planting a flag at midfield mean Oklahoma’s not winning the national championship this season? No, of course not. But if I am a Sooners fan, I’m embarrassed at the optics.
Mayfield apologized on Monday and of course, Twitter lost its mind.
I don’t think I saw a single person on my Twitter feed who thought Mayfield needed to apologize. I’m glad that he did.
It’s hard to look at Baker Mayfield now and think about him as someone who understands how a quarterback, how a leader of a program, should carry himself. He’s a young kid and he makes mistakes. I’m not burying him. But just this past offseason, video of Mayfield drunkenly trying to escape an arrest hit the internet. I’m not equating planting a flag on a football field to being arrested. Many of us have been where Mayfield was that night in Arkansas. That doesn’t make him a bad guy. I just can’t help but see Mayfield making a habit of poor decision-making, and I start to question his maturity. It might not catch up to him while he’s at Oklahoma. I hope it never does.
College football is my favorite sport in the world because of the passion and pageantry each school brings to the field every Saturday in the fall. Mayfield showed that passion on Saturday night in Ohio. But he also showed a lack of humility that has no place in the sport.