Because we take college sports far more seriously than we actually should, we often read far too much into on-the-field acts of the participants. A person is “brave” if he leads a fourth-quarter comeback. He is “courageous” if he plays through injury. And he is “classy” if he doesn’t dance after scoring.
As if a football game is a morality play and we can sort out the sheep and the wolves by watching 22 players bash each other’s heads in for 200 minutes a week.
That’s exactly what happened on Saturday night when Baker Mayfield blew a hole in the Ohio State secondary and planted OU’s hideous crimson and cream flag right in the heart of Buckeye Nation.
An exclamation point, as it were, on one of the great non-conference performances in Big 12 history (which it was).
Well, well, well…. That’s how it is, huh? pic.twitter.com/gjHb4Z5UfU
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 10, 2017
The fallout was comical and more self-righteous than a temple full of Pharisees.
Oklahoma State, people said, is not defined by such classlessness. Mason Rudolph, people said, would never dare besmirch his family name by sticking a metal pole in the turf in front of 110,000 empty seats. Mike Gundy, people said, would never stand for such a thing.
Gundy may or may not stand for it, but I promise you if it happened on Owen field (or anywhere else Oklahoma State played OU), the majority of us would absolutely love it.
And yet, people said, it was another blight on the school from the south in a decade full of them.
While it’s true that Oklahoma has had its issues — most of them more serious than they’ve been handled both by the school and by the media — Baker Mayfield dotting the O in Columbus after probably the biggest game of his life is, uh, not one of them.
Mayfield is a performer. This is all part of the spectacle. He is a showman, and with his gesture he inserted a soul into the 2017 college football season.
You know what else?
I absolutely loved it.
I might be in the minority here. I both love and hate Mayfield. As if that’s not enough, I also love hating him. So I run the full gamut. I hate him for obvious reasons, mostly because he has been a thorn in Mike Gundy’s side for what feels like 11 years now. I love him because he’s a gamer, and he’s in on the act. He talks and he
walks struts, and he always knows you’re watching him do both.
He’s Patrick Reed in a lot of ways with a lot more self-awareness.
I love hating him because he’s everything you want a rival school’s antagonistic QB to be. Nobody has ever fit the mold of an OU Sooner quarterback better than Baker Mayfield. It’s him and The Boz on the All-OU first team, and everybody else is playing for second. He’s infuriatingly good, and he knows it.
What I didn’t love, and what seemed uncharacteristic for Baker the Performer, was his apology on Monday for his act of desecration on Saturday. He said he should have taken it to the locker room and shouldn’t have done what he did.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) September 11, 2017
What? Why? If you go into the 110,000-person house of the No. 2 team in the country and torch them on national television with ludicrous throw after ludicrous throw, you get to plant the flag. This is college football, people, it’s not war.
This is what makes the sport fun. Ohio State rolled OU in Baker’s house last year. This year, he got revenge and put the Big 12 firmly back in the national spotlight in spectacular fashion in theirs. This is everything we want sports to be, and it elicited the exact reaction we all wanted it to elicit.
He knew to wait until we went into the locker room to pull this one off https://t.co/JOgOdEsbQ5
— Mike Weber (@mikeweberjr) September 11, 2017
Whether anyone from Oklahoma State would have done this doesn’t make it right or wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean Oklahoma State necessarily has better human beings on its team. That might be true, but if this act proves or disproves it, then we have many, many things we need to reevaluate.
The real kicker for me in all of this is that, as fans, we think we know Player X is “a good guy” because he goes to the locker room and shakes hands with his coaches and drinks his Capri-Sun and never says a word after big wins. Those kinds of players “make us proud.” We exclusively root for the “good guys.” The only problem with that is that we don’t know Player X and we likely never will. You have no idea what kind of dudes you’re rooting for.
Justin Blackmon never says a word, goes about his business. Great guy. Tim Tebow does the Gator chomp in an OU player’s face in the national championship game. Burn him at the stake. It’s a dangerous game to start conflating ethics and touchdowns.
Also, why do we even watch sports? Is it not for these once-every-25-months moments that we’ll talk about for decades to come. Marcus Smart flipping on the Jayhawk after Oklahoma State downed KU in Lawrence for the first time in 1989.
I’m no Smart apologist, but that was a moment.
I saw many folks say if OSU won in Norman last year for the Big 12 title, they would be aghast if a flag was planted. A flag! Planted in a field! Where are we at in society? Baker Mayfield wore a back-to-back champs shirt during the game last year! If Oklahoma State had beaten OU in Norman for the freaking Big 12 title, I would have wanted Jordan Sterns to plant Burns Hargis at the 50!
I remember watching an Oklahoma State-Texas basketball game in the early 2000s with my dad. Texas dunked on OSU in Austin in the waning seconds with a massive lead. I remember being irate about it all. Now I wonder why I even cared.
We shouldn’t be under the illusion that these games are anything but that or that they’re anything different from our other forms of entertainment. Our TVs are a stage, but the performances are not soul-sanctifying shakedowns. They are live dramas with, hopefully, a bit of action.
We got all that and more from Mayfield in Columbus on Saturday evening. And Oklahoma State has yet another rallying point. The entire thing is fantastic from every vantage. Whether you’re an OU fan or an OSU fan, Bedlam looks like it’s going to be monumental once again. And what in the world could be better than ruining the senior season of a flag-planting-running-from-the-cops-handlebar-mustache-wearing legend from the other side?
Oh … I know.
Doing it twice.