'This is real bragging rights': Former OU quarterbacks Baker Mayfield & Kyler Murray set for first NFL duel
Valerie Hoke plans to wear OU crimson and cream to State Farm Stadium on Sunday. She won’t bring herself to wear the orange and brown of the Cleveland Browns or the red and black of the Arizona Cardinals. Hoke can’t declare for either Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray.
Oklahoma’s 2017 and 2018 Heisman Trophy winners are rival quarterbacks Sunday in Glendale, Arizona, in a game with limited NFL playoff implications but rampant interest in a particular state far from either the desert or the Great Lakes.
Hoke, an OU fan in Edmond, discovered the matchup on the NFL schedule and announced it would be a great birthday present. So she and her husband headed to Phoenix on Saturday, and various reports of other Oklahomans bound for the game make you wonder if State Farm Stadium will be Owen Field West come Sunday afternoon.
Are the loyalties really split down the middle for Mayfield, the three-time all-American (2015-17), and Murray, the patient backup who when finally given a chance outshined even the prolific Mayfield?
“I don’t care,” Hoke said of the Sunday outcome, before slowly talking herself off the middle. “I don’t know. Maybe the Browns. Because I want Baker to look better than he has been lately.”
That’s the script of the Mayfield/Murray showdown.
Both Heisman winners. Both overall No. 1 draft picks. Both rookie phenoms — the salty Mayfield in 2018 giving the sadsack Browns hope and belief that they had found their franchise quarterback, and the dynamic Murray in 2019 proving that 5-foot-10 QBs can thrive in the world of 6-foot-5 prototypes.
But Mayfield’s magic touch hasn’t continued in 2019. While Murray has settled in among the middle of NFL starting quarterbacks, depending on which statistical metric you use, Mayfield is among the lowest-rated, having thrown more interceptions (16) than touchdown passes (15). Meanwhile, his franchise’s dubious culture has returned to Cleveland Clowns status, and a team expected to make the post-season is 6-7, on the brink of playoff elimination.
In some ways, the Mayfield/Murray reunion has been a pleasant diversion in Cleveland, during a season in which the prime topic has been all that’s gone wrong with the Browns.
“This is real bragging rights, being in the same quarterback room for a few years and just razzing each other back and forth,” Mayfield told Cleveland reporters earlier in the week. “It is going to be a fun one.”
And historic. Never before has an NFL game matched quarterbacks who are the two most recent overall No. 1 draft picks.
“He is one of a kind,” Mayfield said. “After being around him for a few years in practice, watching him tear it up on scout team and then play, he is who he is. He is a special player.”
Speaking of being who you are, Mayfield’s provocative personality at OU — stoking enmity with rival coaches, planting flags at Ohio State, grabbing his crotch at Kansas — has continued in the NFL. Think about it. A second-year quarterback for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002 is one of the league’s lightning-rod figures.
“We’re a little different,” Murray, a virtual introvert, told Phoenix media earlier in the week. “I would never do some of the stuff he’s done. That’s my boy. He knows that. I just let him do those things, and we just laugh at him.”
Of course, they have common ground. Both came from Texas high school powers, Mayfield from Austin Lake Travis, Murray from Allen, two years apart. Mayfield was mostly overlooked in recruiting and ended up at Texas Tech without a scholarship; Murray was a renowned recruit and signed with Texas A&M.
Both played some as freshmen (Mayfield more than Murray), both grew disenchanted and both transferred to OU, Mayfield in hopes of beating out Trevor Knight and Murray in hopes of taking over after Mayfield’s departure. Mayfield indeed won the job, but Murray had to wait longer than expected after Mayfield received an extra season of eligibility.
So for two seasons, Murray and Mayfield were teammates, with Murray sitting out a transfer season and then serving as Mayfield’s backup in his Heisman season.
“I always got to sit back and just watch,” Murray said. “I’d give him stuff for it behind the scenes. We all would. To the public, obviously, he’s kind of a rebellious guy, but he’s a great dude. I look forward to playing against him on Sunday.”
And so does a state-full of Sooner fans, who have split loyalties but know that Mayfield needs this game more.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.