While attending a Cleveland Indians’ baseball game, and while seated in a suite with his new wife and some friends, Baker Mayfield was shown on the Progressive Field video board. Someone off camera tossed a beer to Oklahoma’s 2017 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, who ripped open the can with his teeth and chugged the beer.
AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” boomed in the background. Clad in an Indians jersey, Mayfield waved his arms wildly in a call for crowd noise. The fans responded. So did the Indians, who after the Mayfield display scored five runs and went on to beat the Los Angeles Angels 7-2.
Mayfield was drafted No. 1 overall only two months before LeBron James left Cleveland for the second time. Mayfield wasn’t just a high-profile draft pick. As James hooked up with the Los Angeles Lakers, Mayfield immediately became the most significant athlete in Ohio.
Think about that. Only one year earlier, Mayfield was cursed by Buckeye fans for having planted an OU flag on the Ohio State logo, at the 50-yard line at Ohio Stadium.
Before the 2018 draft, as Mayfield lobbied for consideration as the No. 1 pick overall, there was this now-famous quote: “If anybody is going to turn that (Cleveland) franchise around, it would be me. I’d be able to put it in the right direction.”
That’s exactly what he should have said, considering the money and prestige that goes with being the first pick, but I didn’t totally buy it at the time. The Browns were the worst organization in North American big-league sports. Within that dysfunction, and as an undersized QB, I wasn’t sure Mayfield would thrive in the NFL.
He still has a lot to prove, but so far, I was dead wrong about the Browns (who now have smart leadership in general manager John Dorsey) and about Mayfield.
The Mayfield Mania movement began when he led the Browns to a Week 3 victory over the New York Jets.
Before that, the Browns in their previous 37 games were 1-35-1. As the Browns rallied from a 14-3 deficit and defeated the Jets 21-17, downtown Cleveland was overwhelmed by celebrating fans.
The 2018 Browns finished with a stunning record of 7-8-1. Mayfield achieved one of the more statistically impressive seasons ever by an NFL rookie quarterback. Now, as he is teamed with superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., there are those who actually favor Cleveland to win the AFC North this season.
While I expect Pittsburgh to be No. 1 in that division, I also expect Cleveland to make a run at a wild-card playoff berth. The NFL needs Mayfield’s personality in the postseason.
What I know for sure — and what is explained in detail in a recent Cleveland Plain Dealer series — is Mayfield owns Cleveland, Ohio. The newspaper’s series is titled “How Baker Mayfield Changed Everything.”
A few examples of the headlines:
“How Mayfield changed the Browns’ swagger.”
“How Mayfield changed the outlook of the fans.”
“How Mayfield changed Browns merchandising.”
“How Mayfield changed the Cleveland bar scene.”
“How Mayfield changed Browns tickets sales.”
This one could be added: “How Mayfield compelled a Tulsa radio station to carry Cleveland Browns broadcasts.”
Jeremie Poplin, the afternoon host on 1430 The Buzz, was already of the opinion Baker Mayfield was the most charismatic OU football figure since Barry Switzer.
It’s undeniable Mayfield is the most loved Sooner in a long time.
Kyler Murray’s greatness was appreciated at a maximum level. Any great OU player is going to be revered to some extent, but Mayfield’s popularity is on a level occupied only by people like Joe Washington, the Selmons and Switzer.
As Poplin began to connect dots, he had an even greater understanding of OU fans’ continuing obsession with Mayfield.
Poplin saw the statistics on baby names — that in 2014, no Oklahoma babies were named Baker, but in 2018 there were 48 newborns who were given that name.
Poplin saw Norman radio station KREF 1400 carry Cleveland Browns’ broadcasts last season and again this year.
A Tulsa iHeart program director, Poplin also studied television ratings.
“I saw the Browns’ numbers in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City markets last year,” he says. “That’s when it dawned on me that, wow, this Baker Mayfield (phenomenon) is legit. The Dallas Cowboys’ telecasts never get beat in OKC, and some Browns games were beating the Cowboys in OKC.
“In the Tulsa ratings, the Browns were pacing with the Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s crazy.”
Poplin contacted the Browns’ media people last year, but the two sides were unable to forge an agreement. Poplin tried again more recently. The result is a three-year deal for 1300 The Buzz to carry about 7½ hours of Browns programming every game day.
There will be two hours of pregame, followed by the game broadcast, followed by two hours of postgame coverage.
The extensive 1300 commitment includes a Cleveland preview show Wednesday nights and coach Freddie Kitchens’ weekly show Thursday nights.
“My wife and I were shopping last week.” Poplin said. “There was a Baker Mayfield jersey T-shirt and a Baker Mayfield knock-off jersey at Walmart in Broken Arrow. Are you kidding me? Cleveland Browns merchandise is being sold at a Walmart in Broken Arrow, and Baker Mayfield is 100% of the reason why.
“If there’s one thing that (former Browns) coach Hue Jackson got right, it was his comment that Baker Mayfield is the Pied Piper. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The Cleveland preseason opener — and the start of Chapter 2 of Mayfield’s run in Ohio — is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, when the Browns host Washington.
Mayfield won’t be involved beyond the first period (or beyond the first offensive series), but his presence is a primary reason why an Aug. 8 Browns preseason game has some relevance — and why you can hear the Browns Radio Network call on a Tulsa radio station.