BAREA, Ohio… When Bob Stoops was on the road seven years ago, he kept hearing strange rumors about the transfer to Oklahoma of Baker Mayfield, then a freshman at Texas Tech.

I said, well, he hasn’t called me, I haven’t heard from him, he calls back. And then I asked my coaches: Have any of you heard from Baker Mayfield? I heard he was coming to OU. And nobody heard it. I said: We’ll see when we come back from our break if he’s here.

Of course, Mayfield came to Normandy unannounced and uninvited from Lubbock. Then he did what he has always done: he first beat his teammates and then led them to victory on the field.

That’s what he says about himself, said Stoops, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this week. He always did, he always won…. And there’s a lot in common with the feeling, deep down, that I won. He’s been a winner his whole life. … And it’s contagious, everybody eats it, everybody absorbs it, and you can’t fake that.

People take it, feel it and begin to believe it.

Error! The file name is not specified. Baker Mayfield has never lacked confidence. He really has enough to help his teammates and the city of Cleveland believe in them. Jason Miller/Getty Images

After his first playoff win in 26 years, Mayfield now believes the Cleveland Browns have surpassed the star.

Without coach Kevin Stefanski, Pro Bowl defender Joel Bitonio and cornerback Denzel Ward – who all stayed home after testing positive for COVID-19 – the Browns faced the Steelers on Sunday after Mayfield’s postseason debut.

The No. 1 pick in the 2018 overall standings went for 263 yards and three touchdowns, including a fourth quarter scoring screen to Nick Chubb who was the dagger in a 48-37 win.

Ghostbuster Baker Mayfield exorcising playoff demons, giving Browns confidence – Cleveland Browns Blog

– Matchups, X-Factors and more for every team
– Experts predict outsiders, QB under pressure
– Schedule, brackets, TV time and more
– What went wrong for teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, the Browns only practice once a week, not including the visit the day before the game. But despite this unprecedented turmoil, Cleveland came out of the locker room with strong momentum, scoring 28 unanswered points in the first half alone, while the Browns lost by 17 points in their first playoff game against Pittsburgh since 2002.

He then heads to Kansas City on Sunday (3:05 p.m., CBS), where Cleveland will take on defending Super Bowl champions Cleveland, with the opportunity to play in their first AFC championship game since 1989.

We’re here for a reason, Mayfield said boldly. I wasn’t there for things that happened in the past, some of which I was too young to remember.

There is a new standard and we will try to maintain it.

Error! The file name is not specified. Baker Mayfield’s weekend win over the Steelers helps the Browns dispel the ghosts of past playoff failures and a decade-long losing streak in Pittsburgh. Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

Before Mayfield arrived, the standard of living in Cleveland could not have been lower. The Browns were coming off their second 0-16 season in NFL history, a year after passing the 1-15 mark. But at the NFL meet, Mayfield said if anyone can turn this franchise around, it’s me. He said the Browns will have a winner and he can point them in the right direction. It only takes one man at quarterback, he said at the time, to make a difference.

Three seasons later, Mayfield made that ambitious promise. And the Browns are starting to believe in a new standard.

He’s a winner, that’s his mentality, Chubb said. It’s big. …and definitely contagious.

Eleven years ago, Hank Carter walked onto the practice field at Lake Travis High School to evaluate new freshmen. It didn’t take long for the smallest man on the field to stand out.

He was a bit of a general on the small field, not only did he command the conversation and maybe some of the more mundane discussions, but he played at a very high level, said Carter, who will soon be promoted to head coach of the Austin, Texas power plant. I’m from the country, so I think of him as a sheepdog. How can a sheepdog herd an entire herd of bulls or massive cows just because his bark is so fierce. That’s what Baker always reminded me of.

Although he was only 5’10 at the time, Mayfield already had the gift of inspiring those around him.

Error! The file name is not specified. Even before his time at Oklahoma, Baker Mayfield was a driving force behind every team he led. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s his secret sauce and the reason the guys play him and believe in him, Carter said. And he was the same everywhere too. …Baker has always been able to build strong bonds and relationships with his teammates, both offensively and defensively, and he will support them no matter what.

To date, Mayfield is the only Carter quarterback to be reported for a personal foul in a 7-on-7 summer. Although this has happened more than once, Carter noted that these penalties always come from Mayfield defending a teammate.

We were playing against a team that wanted to kick our asses and make us feel it, Carter recalls. They went blind and crushed our cornerback and really showed him. On the next play, Baker went after the guy who was also playing defense, and Baker shot him and threw a touchdown pass to him. Of course, Baker rushed to him and told him to defend his teammate. He has a bit of Jordan’s memory, doesn’t he?

He is very loyal to his teammates, coaches and friends. The people who invested in him, he invested in them too, and he’s trying to be their advocate. To me, that’s an admirable trait because it covers your brother’s back, which you talk about a lot in sports, right? Playing for each other and being there for each other, and he walks around and talks about this deal.

Carter still frequently refers to Mayfield’s leadership qualities when addressing his teams. But the quality Carter refers to may seem surprising.

I don’t think people use that word in reference to Baker because they don’t know him, but it’s his humility, Carter said. And I mean, he wasn’t afraid to run, he wasn’t afraid to be the quarterback for the scout team. She’s not a diva. He goes in and gets his hands dirty. He’s everybody, and sometimes quarterbacks aren’t like that.

Aside from having attended college twice, Mayfield was not a sophomore in high school. He hasn’t started his junior season either. But Mayfield could always rally around him. And one of Carter’s favorite stories came the morning after Mayfield sent the Cavaliers’ quarterbacks to a playoff victory.

Our group was supposed to participate in a state game, but the players didn’t want a farewell party for the group. They thought they were too cool for that, Carter said. But Baker led the entire team and was at the front of the line, singing and yelling to cheer the kids on as they boarded the bus, which meant a lot to them.

He was the humble one. He’ll go to war with you. And he has a very contagious personality.

This made for a return to the field, and soon Mayfield Lake led Travis to the 2011 state title.

In 2013, Mayfield became the first true freshman to start in a Power 5 program. Sonny Cumbie, co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech University at the time, recalls that Mayfield walked over with confidence during fall camp, despite showing up without a scholarship.

He’s had it since he came here, said Kambi, who recently returned to Tech as offensive coordinator. I mean, the moment he came in, the other players just came up to him.

Error! The file name is not specified. Baker Mayfield just moved from Texas Tech to the Oklahoma football team, beating his teammates and ultimately winning the Heisman Trophy, the first in the history of this award. Scott Winters/Sportswire Icon/Getty Images

Mayfield gave the Red Raiders a 5-0 start in short order before injuring his knee. When coach Cliff Kingsbury didn’t give him the starting position at the end of the season, Mayfield decided to transfer him – but not before welcoming quarterback Patrick Mahomes on his official visit to Lubbock.

At the same time, the Sooners had just beaten Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, behind young Trevor Knight, who had the best quarterback performance in OU history. Mayfield still transferred to OU, a team he encouraged from a young age.

Stoops said he wasn’t shocked at all. That describes a man’s confidence. Everything you need to know.

He approached me at our first team meeting in the second half of the year. We’re all getting ready to eat. He comes along and says: Coach, I’m Baker Mayfield. And I looked at him: Are you sure it’s not? And I said: Look, I’m damn glad you’re here. You get all the opportunities that every guy on this team has to be the starting quarterback. And when you look at it after a week or two of training, you think: We should give him a scholarship. We’re not going to hire someone who can do what this guy can do.

As a transfer, Mayfield had not yet worn a redshirt during the 2014 season. But starting with his rival, the reigning quarterback of the scout team, Mayfield gradually began to win over his new teammates.

I remember when Baker came in and we played 7 on 7 and I said a bunch of crap to him and he said: Well, I’ll tell you what. Then I remembered he threw the ball at my head and we almost came to blows. After that day, I knew I liked him, said Los Angeles Rams linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, then an Oklahoma rookie, who texted Mayfield this week saying he was cheering him on for the NFC playoffs. If you’ve ever been his teammate, if you’ve ever sat in the locker room with him, you’ll love him to death.

While Mayfield remains the talk of the town, the Sooners battled back this season, ending with a humiliating 40-6 loss to Clemson at the Russell Athletic Bowl. The following spring, however, Mayfield took over the team, which the new offensive coordinator, Lincoln Riley, immediately acknowledged.

He’ll go to war with you. And he has a very contagious personality.

Hank Carter, the coach of Baker Mayfield High…

You could say the competitiveness, the approach, I mean, he already had a pretty good relationship with the team because he never played there when I first arrived, Riley said in an interview with ESPN.com this season. I found it all very impressive. The fact that he could do all this in such a short time – winning the team, getting the starting position – was pretty incredible.

That year, Mayfield led the Sooners to their first college football game. And he will lead them there again in 2017 to become the first former Heisman Trophy winner.

One of the most important things about being a quarterback… is picking up people around you. I think the trust does that, Mr. Mayfield said this week. I don’t have an answer for everything.

But that’s the way I did it… and that’s the way I’m gonna keep trying.

Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Stoops knows a lot about the Browns and their fans.

My dad was a big [fan], Stoops said. With the Browns, he threw a lot of stuff on TV.

Ghostbuster Baker Mayfield exorcising playoff demons, giving Browns confidence – Cleveland Browns Blog

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When Cleveland hired Mayfield in 2018, however, Stoops thought a change was possible.

I liked it, Stoops said. When he’s on your team, he motivates you and makes you play harder, makes you work for him. He’s just a guy with an infectious personality on top of his talent. It’s incredibly positive to have that on your team.

That promise was immediately realized in Mayfield’s first season when he broke the NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. However, the success lasted a little longer thanks to four different head coaches. Even after going 6-10 last season, the Browns didn’t give up on Mayfield. And he didn’t give up.

Baker has probably been that way since birth, said JC Tretter, a Browns Center veteran. It’s who he is, it’s who he is every day. As a team leader, it’s really a great trait because everyone starts to copy that personality.

Confidence and complacency, it follows him and the guys follow him and that’s why Baker is such a leader for us.

Error! The file name is not specified. In the regular season finale, Baker Mayfield sealed the victory – and a playoff spot – in the fourth quarter against the Steelers. Jason Miller/Getty Images

So it was fitting that Mayfield made the play that ended the longest drought in the NFL playoffs.

In the third and first game of the regular season against the Steelers, Stefanski brings quarterback Mayfield into the lineup with a minute to go. After the lead blockers, Mayfield takes over and pushes the game to the sideline first. He immediately jumped up and pumped his entire arm before spinning the ball on the ground.

One of the best things about Baker is that he’s always alone, Stefanski said. He’s a real man. It’s reflected in his team, and the guys respond.

We’re off to Cleveland’s best season since Mayfield was born. Curses and panting along the way.

Baker is the leader of our football team and we rallied behind him, Ward said. We believe in him.

And he believes in us.

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