NEW YORK — On Sunday night, 24 hours after winning the 83rd Heisman Memorial Trophy, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was the man of honor at the annual Heisman Dinner Gala, a black-tie charity event that celebrates not only this year’s winner, but the legacy of past winners as well as the philanthropic works of the Heisman Trophy Trust.
In all, 18 former winners and nearly 1,000 patrons were in attendance as Mayfield was honored one more time before boarding a plane back to Norman for Monday morning’s initial Rose Bowl practice.
The event was emceed by ESPN personality Rece Davis, and lasted almost three hours.
On the dais were Paul Hornung (1956), Pete Dawkins (1958), Mike Garrett (1965), Steve Spurrier (1966), Johnny Rodgers (1972), Archie Griffin (1974-75), Tony Dorsett (1976), Earl Campbell (1977), Billy Sims (1978), George Rogers (1980), Mike Rozier (1983), Doug Flutie (1984), Gino Torretta (1992), Charlie Ward (1993), Danny Wuerffel (1996), Ricky Williams (1998), Eric Crouch (2001) and Tim Tebow (2007).
Sitting on a second riser behind them were OU athletic director Joe Castiglione, head coach Lincoln Riley and Mayfield, as well as pro golfer Ernie Els, who received the Heisman Humanitarian Award for his work with autistic children, and former basketball Hall of Fame center David Robinson, the 2013 Heisman Humanitarian.
After Tebow and Torretta were honored on their 10th and 25th Heisman anniversaries (and delivered powerful speeches), the OU contingent also addressed the crowd.
Here is what Castiglione, Riley and Mayfield said:
“Well, good evening. Thank you very much, Rece. Obviously, any of us that are associated with the University of Oklahoma are bursting with pride, because we’ve had a chance to be part of and watch the great journey of Baker Mayfield from the moment that he stepped on our campus — without any of us knowing it at first. But throughout this campus, throughout our state, throughout everywhere Oklahoma can touch, Baker has done more than his part to touch the lives of so many people. Winning the Heisman Trophy certainly validates what he has done and continues to do as a representative of the University of Oklahoma football program and on behalf of his teammates, but he’ll be the first to tell you that everything he does is because of his teammates.
“For some, you may not know this story, but to pick up on several themes tonight, it was about 2001. We were trying to figure out a way to recognize the greatness of Oklahoma’s football history. And one of the ideas we had was to have statues of the Heisman Trophy winners. At that time, we had four. And we had this idea that maybe we could create this park and have life-size statues of our Heisman Trophy winners. So I called Rob (Whalen, executive director of the Heisman Trophy Trust), and I asked him, ‘Would it be permissible for us to use ‘Heisman’ as the name of this park where we’re going to recognize these winners? He said, ‘Well Joe, I gotta get back to you on that one,’ but he did it.
“We went forward in recognizing our Heisman winners. OK. So the first winner, Billy Vessels, many people know the great Billy Vessels. He was a larger-than-life person. We had the dedication of the statue, it was a wonderful ceremony. At point, Billy had just passed away a few years earlier, but his family was there. Next year comes along, we’re going to dedicate the statue for Steve Owens. And the day before the dedication, the statue arrives. And it’s literally almost three times the size of the statue of Billy Vessels. None of us knew about that error. Obviously the sculptor did and the foundry did, but it showed up and of course we’re immediately worried about the feelings of the family of Billy Vessels, because now his statue isn’t as large.
“So obviously we have to go through the ceremony, we did, and after the ceremony, somebody came up to me and said, ‘Wow, you really do a lot for your sports heroes.’ I said, ‘Nah, our sports heroes do a lot for us.’ And it was within a quick time we had a new statue of Billy Vessels made that would match the size of Steve Owens. And then, of course, we honored Billy Sims and then Jason White and of course later on Sam Bradford. And we’ll be so excited to put the statue of Baker Mayfield up in Heisman Park.
“I tell you that story because it’s also symbolic. The statue is enormous, as I said, but it sits on a great pedestal. A platform, if you will. Throughout this week and leading up to last night’s announcement and of course for the rest of history, you’re gonna see the videos and the accomplishments of Baker Mayfield on the field. But those of us at Oklahoma know for a fact how much he does off. With children, Special Olympians, veterans programs, hospitals, Special Spectators, the list goes on and on. There’s no scorecard to it, nor does it need one.
“But that Heisman Park, with those enormous statues and with those pedestals actually remind us of the platform. Tim mentioned it, Gino, everybody’s mentioned something about what you can do for others. There’s no doubt in my mind that Baker Mayfield’s larger-than-life personality, that statue which will once be someday in that platform that it will stand on, it will be a reminder to us that we know, from the bottom of our hearts, how many people will be touched by the generosity and the caring of our Baker Mayfield. And Baker, we know that from you. We see that all the time, and the people in the future will see it, too. Congratulations.”
“Four years ago, I was the offensive coordinator at East Carolina. The season was just over, had a senior quarterback there that was a good player that was getting ready to move on, and a buddy in the business calls me and says, ‘Hey, the Mayfield kid from Texas Tech is leaving and you ought to try to get him.’ So, through some connections I had, I called Baker, got him on the phone, and I went right into my recruiting spiel about why he should come to East Carolina: ‘Hey, the systems are the same; I’m losing a senior quarterback; we’ve got a ton of good receivers. This will be a perfect situation for you. You’d be crazy to go anywhere else.’
“And when I got done, without letting Baker say a word, I said, ‘So what do you think?’ And he said, ‘Well, coach’ — and Baker’s pretty to-the-point, for those of you that (don’t) know him — he said, ‘Coach, I think I’m gonna go walk on at Oklahoma.’ And this was, keep in mind, right after Trevor Knight, who at the time was a redshirt freshman, had just beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl with one of the all-time great performances in that bowl game. I said, ‘Baker, are you crazy?’ I said, ‘Trevor’s a redshirt freshman. He just beat Alabama. He’s gonna be the toast of Norman, Oklahoma for the next three years and you’re gonna go there and sit.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s where I’m going.’ And that was the end of it.
“To me, people that have not been around Baker and gotten a chance to know him, that story says it all. How many of us in this room would have taken that route? Most of us, when we get a big decision like that, a lot of times we take the easy way out. We take the road that makes the most sense, maybe the road that has the least amount of obstacles. And he followed his heart. He believed in himself, which I think is one of the greatest qualities he possesses.
“The other legacy I think that Baker will leave, that’s always very special to me because I was one as well, is the path of a walk-on. For those of you that haven’t been a walk-on, it’s difficult to explain. It’s another mountain that you have to climb as a college football player. And for him to do it twice, overcome all the obstacles that he’s done and to be sitting here today as the Heisman Trophy winner is really remarkable. Coach Stoops and I were joking about it the other day after the awards ceremony, maybe not joking, that they’re gonna make a movie about this someday. Now, I don’t know if they’ll find anybody to play Baker, but it’ll be one hell of a movie. It’s just remarkable what the guy’s done. He’s been an absolute joy to coach each and every day.
“Sometimes — in my short career it seems this way — guys that have had success at times are the hardest ones to coach. Because at times, they lose that hunger. They lose that edge that got ‘em there in the first place. And one of the things that I respect about Baker throughout all of this is despite all the success, he’s come ready to work each and every day. He’s stayed humble, he’s stayed coachable, and that’s a big reason why he’s sitting here tonight.
“As I’m sure all these former winners would attest, people that have been around the game, one person doesn’t win this trophy. It’s a great team back home, which we certainly have, and I know our team couldn’t be happier for Baker. It’s a great staff, which we have a lot of ‘em sitting over here tonight that have been instrumental in not only Baker’s success, but this team’s over the last few years. Coach Stoops, who, I told them the other night, he’s so generous. He’s talking about how well Baker had done and how well I had done, and I said, ‘You’re the one that had the vision to bring this all together in the beginning, and we wouldn’t be sitting here without him.
“So this has been an absolute joy and thrill for me. I want to thank the Heisman Trust, thank all the former winners, just how welcoming they’ve been to me and my family, to everybody from Oklahoma. It’s certainly a special, special moment that we’ll cherish forever, and congratulations to my man Bake. Thank you.”
“That (Billy Sims shouting ‘Boomer!’) never gets old. Wow. Where to start? I mean, I don’t know how a 23-year-old kid is supposed to follow up. Tim, you make me want to strap on the pads after that speech. Gino, inspirational. Unbelievable. Mr. Castiglione, coach Riley, two mentors to me that (are) unbelievable. Just being here is an honor. I said it last night, a huge college football fan growing up, and being here with guys that shaped the game of football into what it is, their passion, their work ethic, how they played the game, they showed their love for it, you guys are the reason why I fell in love with the game. It’s a special thing. It’s a privilege to play. And I’m in a position now to have a platform to give back and represent you guys. This is an elite fraternity, and I couldn’t be any happier right now to be a part of this group. So thank you.
“Fortunate enough to have almost our whole coaching staff here tonight. You guys made it all possible. It’s, like I said yesterday, for coach Stoops, you welcomed me with open arms, and coach Riley, you’ve helped me—words don’t do justice. I can’t thank you guys enough. And I’ve got Smitty (Jerry Schmidt), our strength coach, here. Thank you. And to our other position coaches that are here, you guys have made those playmakers around me and made my job easy. It’s not just me. This award’s for my brothers, and for you guys. And for my family, too. It’s much more than just my name on it. I truly believe that, and that’s what’s in my heart.
“To my family, um, love you guys. It’s been so much fun. This weekend has been so special. And the way you guys have treated them as well. I can’t thank you enough. Huge guy on family. That’s important to me, staying close. And now that I have 82 other brothers, that’s pretty special to me.
“Going back, my dad tells this story all the time, so I’m not as good at it. But I was 4 years old and I was sitting on the TV chair in the living room, and every Saturday morning, I would watch cartoons — as any 4-year-old should be doing. And I grabbed the remote and looked at my parents and said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna watch ESPN from now on.’ And I changed the channel. Like I said, I loved college football, and from that day forward, it was ‘SportsCenter,’ it was ‘College GameDay,’ it was anything that I could get out of college football. I always had a ball in my hand.
“I always wanted to go outside and play, as soon as maybe my other friends would wake up and I was done watching ESPN, it’s an experience and memories I’ll never forget. Because that’s when I learned the passion for the game, and the love for it. That’s something I pride myself on, and I’ll never lose that. I play with an edge because I love it. I don’t know what I’d do without it, and that’s why I’m here today. It’s what I have and, like Tim said, it’s such a great honor and I’ll be able to give back because I love the game. And it’s only gonna last a certain point in my life, then after that, then I get to show what it’s all about and how it can change lives.
“I’ve made the best friendships, relationships, you know, things that I’ll carry throughout my lifetime, and that’s something that I can never thank football enough for. It’s changed my life, and I’m blessed to be here today. I can’t thank all the people that helped me here to his point enough. It’s … (pause) … for a kid, I mean, you guys have all done it, for a kid to be up here and actually have his dreams turn into reality? I can’t wrap my mind around it. It still hasn’t settled in.
“For OU, I’m now the sixth person to win the Heisman. It’s an elite fraternity. Luckily, I’ve got Billy here to support me and walk me through it (fist bump). It’s so special. I fell in love with OU and I followed my heart. There were times in high school they told me I was too slow, too short — um, you know what I mean, Doug (Flutie) — and those were the things that motivated me the most. The times my mom drove me up to OU and enrolled in school, just the two of us, in a snowstorm on the way up I-35. So, it’s a crazy journey.
“Lived in the regular dorms, sixth floor of Adams Tower. … Short story here, when I moved in, my roommate, his name was Jonathan, he had a Pokémon pillow case and sheets in the bed (laughter) and didn’t know what football was. So for me, it was an amazing experience (laughter). That’s something I was thankful for, because that put it in perspective. I came there to play the game of football, but at the same time, that didn’t matter to him. I had my own agenda and he did, too (laughter). There were multiple times that I woke up for early morning workouts and he had been up all night playing computer games, and he woke me up (laughter) because I wasn’t the first one to wake up on my alarm clock. So he saved me a couple times from Smitty.
“There’s been a lot of trials, but my support system — the coaches, my family, coach Riley, Joe C., it wasn’t just me that fought through those things. I believed in myself because I had a strong support system, and I’ll never take that for granted. So this platform that I have, I’ve learned to have fun and enjoy the moment, never take anything for granted, smile, impact lives and just be happy. Because I’m in a position that’s unbelievable. I’m blessed. I can’t thank you guys enough. The Heisman Trust, the way you guys have treated my family as well, you welcomed us in with open arms, and it’s an honor to be here. I thank you for how you treated us. It’s been a weekend that we’ll remember for a lifetime. God bless you guys. Thank you so much. I’m a kid that lived out his dreams, and I wouldn’t change it right now for anything.”
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.