Mayfield. He’s Looking Awful Good
“Pendleton. He’s looking awful good.”
— “Heaven Can Wait”
This has been the strangest NFL season for me as a fan, for all the obvious reasons I’ve talked about. As you know, I lost my taste for the Cleveland Browns after they sold every piece of their souls to get Deshaun Watson, and it simply hasn’t come back. I will admit that as Watson plays terribly, I have felt this nudge of hope that he will bomb out as a quarterback and the Browns will start anew, and maybe then some of the old feelings will return. Who knows? The sports heart is fickle.
I’ve been splitting my team fanhood between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, and have been delighted by both. I feel a bit closer to the Chiefs because my wife and oldest daughter are devoted fans and because I do feel like I paid some Chiefs’ dues as a sports columnist in Kansas City for many years. I mean, I did go to just about every game of the Herm Edwards Era. That gives me some cred, I think.
But … I can’t lie about it, I feel guilty rooting for the Chiefs. They’re SO good. I’ve never actively rooted for a team that good. The LeBron Cavaliers were good, but not this good. The Thome-Albert-Manny former-Guardians were good, but not this good. I don’t quite know how to handle this much goodness. It’s like whenever the Chiefs go two possessions without scoring, I find myself thinking: “Hey, what’s going on here?”
The Bills are a little bit more my speed in this way. I mean they’re really good, too — hey, they beat the Chiefs — but even at 12-3 they feel a little bit more unpredictable to me. Some weeks they look utterly unbeatable. Other weeks they look oddly mediocre. Plus, Buffalo weather is more like Cleveland weather, so all sorts of zaniness figures to happen in January.
My problem with the Bills is that I feel too much like a bandwagon fan.
So, while I expected to have a decision made by now, the truth is that I’m still vacillating, still waiting for my sports heart to tell me where it points. I suspect I’ll be all in on the Chiefs come playoff time. But we’ll see.
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I can tell you this: There is one NFL story I’m rooting for without any qualms, misgivings or uncertainty.
I’m seriously thinking about getting a Baker Mayfield jersey.
I love Baker’s story so much, I can barely think about anything else in the NFL. It makes sense. I had invested a LOT of hope in Mayfield in 2018 when the Browns made him the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma. He was exactly who I wanted them to draft. I mean, he wasn’t perfect, obviously, he wasn’t always super classy (“Go cheer on basketball!” he reportedly yelled at Kansas fans after beating them 41-3) and he sometimes let his emotions get away from him, but the guy had fire, and he worked his way up from walk-on to Heisman Trophy winner, and he just seemed like the right guy.*
*In retrospect, yeah, maybe Josh Allen was more right … though there’s an argument to be made that if Allen had been drafted by the Browns, he never would have developed into the superstar he’s become.
Anyway, Baker Mayfield’s time in Cleveland was decidedly mixed … he infused a whole bunch of energy into the franchise, then he was kind of terrible, then he led the Browns to the playoffs (and a playoff victory!), and then he was kind of terrible again, and then the Browns were so ready to move on from him that they traded their next 300 first-round picks along with the bulk of their 21st-century salary cap to get Deshaun Watson.
All the while, he made delightful television commercials which I miss dearly.
After all that, Mayfield went to the Carolina Panthers, which kind of excited me since I live in Charlotte. But that didn’t go well at all. Something just didn’t click. Mayfield looked lost. The Panthers seemed to have no idea how to get anything out of him. And finally, after six unpleasant games, the Panthers released him. The Mayfield NFL career kind of looked over. There was always Canada.
Then the Rams signed him as sort of an emergency pickup … and after two days of practice, he played shockingly well and led the Rams to a comeback win.
He came down from that with a predictably sour effort against Green Bay … but Sunday against a supposedly good Denver defense, he looked absolutely amazing. He completed 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams didn’t punt the entire game*. They won 51-14, and Mayfield won the Nickelodeon MVP award (the NVP) for the game, which I imagine will sit proudly on his living room mantle.
*Rams punter Riley Dixon was grateful to get Christmas off.
Mayfield really looked fantastic. It was so wonderful. Nothing has made me happier in this NFL season.
“Heaven Can Wait” is one of my favorite movies. I think I brought it up recently in another context; in the movie, Joe Pendleton’s only wish in life is to be the Los Angeles Rams quarterback and to lead the team to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, he dies in a bicycle accident, sort of; he wasn’t supposed to die, but the angel charged with escorting him couldn’t bear to see him crash and pulled him out just before impact. As it turns out, Pendleton was a good enough athlete that he would have avoided the crash.
The movie then follows his journey to find a body that he can use to become the Rams quarterback.
I don’t know exactly how, but this Baker Mayfield story FEELS like Joe Pendleton’s story. Maybe he switched bodies. Maybe the soul of Bob Waterfield has taken over his body.
Sure, I know it’s a temporary thing, Mayfield will obviously not be the Rams’ quarterback once Matthew Stafford returns, and I don’t know what other team will give him a chance, and Mayfield’s history suggests that this crescendo of goodness will be followed by a valley of sacks and ill-advised throws.
But I’m going to enjoy all of it for as long as I can. He’s looking awful good.