NEW YORK — Only a half-day after he became a college football immortal and ascended to Olympus, just 12 short hours after winning the Heisman Trophy, Baker Mayfield was brought back down to earth.
The Oklahoma Sooners quarterback visited the Pat LaFontaine Lion’s Den at Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Long Island on Sunday morning.
“There’s always the bigger picture,” Mayfield told a small group of reporters in between signing 300 Heisman items and a stealing a catnap back at his room at the Marriott Marquis before Sunday night’s Heisman Dinner Gala.
The hospital includes a TV studio in which live productions are streamed back to patients’ rooms. Mayfield was a guest on the broadcast for about 20 minutes and even took questions from the audience.
Mayfield has visited sick children plenty of times before, but so soon after experiencing such an unprecedented personal achievement and a night of revelry with friends and family, the morning visit helped him quickly put things back in perspective.
“The thing that I tried to tell them was that it didn’t matter that they put that trophy next to me,” Mayfield said. “It wasn’t like I was the one who was the most courageous there. It was those kids. Those are the ones who are the real heroes.”
After winning the 83rd Heisman and fulfilling his media obligations on Saturday night, he was re-introduced to the winner’s suite. He popped in last year at the invitation of Lamar Jackson, and this year the suite belonged to Mayfield.
And there would be no sleep.
He said there was lots of dancing. Jackson taught Mayfield last year how to do the Electric Slide — “I picked it up pretty quick,” he said — and Mayfield’s mom, Gina, “tore it up last night to Earth Wind and Fire and Michael Jackson.”
But the trophy was noticeably absent. It might have served as a nice party centerpiece, but it was wisely elsewhere, safely under wraps.
“Probably a good idea,” Mayfield said.
Sunday afternoon, as Mayfield strolled into a small hotel workspace for a 15-minute interview with four Oklahoma writers wearing a brand new Heisman windbreaker and gray sweatpants, he was flexing his right hand.
“I just broke the record for the timing of the autographs,” he said. “I’m proud of that one.”
It seems as Mayfield sat down to sign the 300 items, someone asked if he thought he could break the record. Tim Tebow owned the mark of 43 minutes. Mayfield did it in 33.
“They said there was a record,” Mayfield said, “so I went for it.”
After signing “Baker Mayfield 6” on a few items, “they corrected me,” he said. He then signed “Baker Mayfield ’17” a few hundred times and still beat Tebow’s mark.
“I crushed it,” he said.
And therein lies the truth: winning the Heisman Trophy, being hailed in a landslide vote as college football’s most outstanding player, finally and wholly proven as the best of the best, does little to diminish the chip on Mayfield’s shoulder.
“I just broke the record for the signatures,” he said. “I still have the edge. I still have the challenge.”
Seems logical then that Mayfield’s permanence in sporting lore hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
“Absolutely not. It hasn’t. It really hasn’t,” he said. “I woke up this morning thinking maybe it would. I think that’s a good sign for me. I’m focused on getting ready for Georgia (in the College Football Playoff), getting ready to get back home and be with my teammates.”
Mayfield and the OU coaches fly back to Norman Sunday night. Monday’s practice starts at 11 a.m.
Back in Norman, fame and popularity are the price of being the Oklahoma quarterback. But winning the Heisman pushes that fame to sometimes uncomfortable levels.
Sooner historians and media once determined that Sam Bradford, trying to wade through some 3,000 fans who wanted autographs and photos after the 2009 Red/White Spring Game, had become the most popular OU football player in history.
Bradford, always a reluctant celebrity anyway, said it had become difficult to go out in Norman. Someone once plopped their baby down next to his cheese fries and asked him autograph the child’s tummy.
Those same historians and media have now determined that Mayfield’s popularity has surpassed even Bradford’s.
“I’ve signed a few baby items. Not babies though,” Mayfield said. “The people of Oklahoma are proud of their Sooner football, so they’ll do just about anything for us.”
He said having a neverending celebrity status can get “a little bit” tiresome sometimes.
“There’s times where I’m just looking to eat a meal with family or friends,” Mayfield said. “But it comes with the territory. The thing that makes it really enjoyable is when it’s the kids. That’s never a problem for me.”
It’s those kids that are Mayfield’s weakness, and his strength. He’ll do anything for them, and in turn that feeling lifts him up.
It’s especially humbling when he visits a children’s ward.
“It just shows the big picture,” Mayfield said. “It’s much bigger than football. We’re on a platform where we can give back and make somebody’s day, but at the same time realize how blessed we are and how easy we have it.”
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.