LOS ANGELES — In typical Baker Mayfield fashion, the Oklahoma quarterback staged a furious comeback on Saturday.
Stricken all week with an undisclosed illness — he’s practiced every day, “the same routine,” he said, with less post-practice conditioning, but has sat out every media obligation in an effort to heal up — Mayfield unexpectedly showed up to the final 20 minutes of OU’s portion of Rose Bowl Media Day.
It was like he was back in Neyland Stadium in 2015, down two touchdowns, the Tennessee pass rush bearing down, and he pulls off a dramatic escape and saves the day.
That is, he saved a lot of reporters’ story ideas.
Absent all week from interviews, Mayfield’s health was the day’s only compelling topic before the No. 2-ranked Sooners play No. 3 Georgia in a College Football Playoff semifinal on Monday.
“There was something going around and a couple other guys on the team got it,” Mayfield said. “It’s flu-like. I wouldn’t say it’s the flu but it’s pretty much something like that.
“It’s something bad. You don’t want it.”
The Rose Bowl PR staff set aside a 45-minute morning block for Media Day starting at 8. OU was up first, then Georgia.
Mayfield originally stayed back at the team hotel, resting up. But he turned on the TV and heard the first question to coach Lincoln Riley: What happened to Baker Mayfield?
The day before, Mayfield’s offensive teammates all answered versions of the query with a well-rehearsed answer: “You’ll have to ask coach Riley.”
When Riley finally answered — “We’re trying to push him to get better. Trying to get over the hump. Haven’t been able to get over the hump.” — and then fielded three more questions about Mayfield’s illness, Mayfield had had enough.
Mayfield said he and Riley on Friday night had discussed attending Media Day, but said he “wasn’t feeling too hot.”
But upon watching Riley’s opener, Mayfield got dressed, went downstairs and grabbed a shuttle to the media hotel.
“I realized everybody was gonna have to answer questions on my behalf again,” Mayfield said, “so I decided I need to be here.”
Riley had no idea. Last he heard before busing to the media hotel was that Mayfield would sit this one out.
“We a conversation before we left,” Riley said, “and he is not in a place to be able to come to it yet.”
A few minutes later, Mayfield unexpectedly popped into his previously empty makeshift interview stage, sat down and began taking questions.
He spoke for some 20 minutes, very hoarse, a bit tired and trying to describe his treatment without giving too much information.
“It’s a medicine that I’m sick of taking,” he said. “Antibiotic.
“Lots of rest.
“Lots of medicine. Lots of boxes of tea. And lemons. Couple boxes of Kleenex.
“We stress about hydration all the time. It’s a huge thing. To be able to stay out there the whole game and be 100 percent for all four quarters or however long it takes, that’s a big thing for me. Being able to eat and keep up my fluids, I’m pretty sure that’s been a positive.”
The Heisman Trophy winner, three-time Big 12 champion and arguably greatest quarterback in OU history will play in the Rose Bowl, Riley said.
“He was pretty sick on the trip out. Got a little worse there for a couple days, and hopefully starting to level off now,” Riley said.
“We’ve limited him in some areas. Energy level is not normal for him right now. But nothing major as far as having to remove him or him just not physically being able to do anything.
“He’ll be ready to play. Will he be at 100 percent physically? We’ll see. But he’s not going to miss this one.”
Mayfield is the most popular — or perhaps most polarizing — player in America. Not having him on the biggest stage of the year where hundreds of local, regional and national media need a few minutes with him seems consequential, at least on the surface. But Riley isn’t worried.
“If he had been a guy that nobody had ever talked to, I would understand it,” Riley said. “He’s been interviewed I think by every single reporter on the face of the earth over the past six months. I mean, he’s not answering anything that he hasn’t answered a hundred times before.”
And as for the game itself, Mayfield still has more than 48 hours to get healthy.
“We’ll deal with it,” Riley said. “I don’t think it’ll be a big factor in this game.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.