Baker Mayfield can be the greatest Sooner of them all
By Guerin Emig
Dec 30, 2017
Updated 9 hrs ago
LOS ANGELES — Many of you will go to your graves asserting Lee Roy Selmon is the best Oklahoma Sooner there ever was. Can’t blame you for that.
He was a gargantuan player during OU’s most romantic era, a defensive lineman capable of swallowing offenses by himself at a time the back-to-back national champion Sooners seemed to grow bigger than their game.
Selmon also happened to be a graceful man from a beautiful family of proud, humble Oklahoma roots. That helps preserve his aura 40 years later. It helps secure his legacy.
Baker Mayfield is not graceful. He is from Austin, Texas, of all places. His back story isn’t as endearingly simple as Selmon’s was. He plays at a time the Sooners are very, very good, but an 80-yard drive from the program’s mid-70s gold standard.
Remove circumstances and bias, though, and something astonishing crystallizes: Mayfield is two wins from supplanting Selmon as the greatest Sooner of them all.
He must beat Georgia in Monday’s Rose Bowl, then Clemson or Alabama in the national championship Jan. 8. Otherwise the mere suggestion is pointless.
A reporter at OU’s Rose Bowl media day appearance Saturday raised the best-ever possibility, to which Mayfield said: “It’s pretty crazy. The thing for me is, and we talk about it all the time, hanging a banner in our indoor facility. And the big one would be a national title banner. I’m not worried about the statue (the Heisman Trophy). I came back to win the big banner.”
Mayfield knows a quarterback’s legacy is hitched to wins. Without the ultimate victory, a national title, Mayfield’s place in OU history is regal, but not worthy of Selmon’s. He is like Sam Bradford, Jason White and Billy Sims, with their Heismans and multiple conference rings and make-believe career statistics, but lacking a grand prize.
Actually, Mayfield has risen above Bradford, White and Sims. He is beyond Steve Owens, Adrian Peterson, Brian Bosworth and Bud Wilkinson-era pillars Billy Vessels and Jerry Tubbs. Monday’s Rose Bowl isn’t going to change the fact that at worst, Mayfield is the second-best Sooner to play on Owen Field.
As prolific as those aforementioned legends were, none meant more to his team, or to any one OU season, than Mayfield has meant to the Sooners in 2017.
He decided some games with moments of inspiration, like when his 59-yard strike to Mark Andrews carried the exhausted Sooners across the finish line against Texas, or his 48-yarder to Jeff Badet buried troublesome Baylor. He decided others with extended brilliance, as at Ohio State and Oklahoma State.
Mayfield had the best first half a Sooner played all year in OU’s initial win over TCU. He had the best second half to rally his team at Kansas State.
This was his encore to 2015 and ’16 seasons in which he went 22-4 as OU’s starting quarterback, captured a Sugar Bowl and back-to-back Big 12 championships, won national awards and set national records.
This was one season after OU offensive detenators Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook moved on to the NFL. This was one season after Bob Stoops, with more wins than any coach in OU history, turned the program over to Lincoln Riley, the offensive coordinator who had never been a head coach.
The Sooners still had Mayfield. It was all going to fall on him.
He had to distribute the ball to unproven teammates and instill confidence in unseasoned ones. He had to influence practice during the week and games on Saturdays. No player affected the locker room so obviously. No player spoke on behalf of the team so authoritatively.
Mayfield didn’t get it right every time. OU lost a game to Iowa State. He lost respect at Kansas.
Selmon once lost to Kansas, but you never worried about respect. He commanded it with a blend of physical strength and personal esteem.
He also never had the ball in his hands for half a game. He had his brother, Dewey, lined up next to him. He had Rod Shoate and Jimbo Elrod flanking him. He had Joe Washington, Steve Davis and Tinker Owens playing offense for him.
That array of teammates drew attention from Selmon. A sassy young coach drew even more. Selmon had Barry Switzer.
Lincoln Riley might be Switzer one day. He might stockpile blue-chippers and turn his program into a talent mill. He’s not there yet, however. He wasn’t there this season.
He did have Mayfield, though. The day Riley stripped Mayfield’s captaincy over the Kansas antics, he cried over him.
It was a sign of a unique player-coach relationship, and a metaphor for the weight Mayfield carried across this season. Fans will be the ones shedding tears as soon as the season ends and Mayfield isn’t winning games for them any longer.
If that doesn’t happen until late the night of Jan. 8, and Mayfield has just won again to give his program its latest national championship, at least it will be a worthy cry. For it will come after they just cheered for the best player in Oklahoma Sooners history one last time.
For BC, who thinks Mayfield is trash rejected by all the Texas schools, I quote Psalm 118:22. "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner."