Rob Oller | Baker Mayfield may be just what doctor ordered for Browns

Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is hard to miss on and off the field.

The days of NFL quarterbacks posing in pantyhose and pinning women’s panties to the wall have ended. Or maybe not. Because … Baker Mayfield.

Long before today’s corporate NFL QBs arrived on the scene selling insurance, playing it safe was the last thing on a quarterback’s mind when pursuing commercial success. 

In 1973, Joe Namath went off-Broadway by appearing in a commercial for Beautymist pantyhose while wearing the product. 

“Now, I don’t wear pantyhose. But if Beautymist can make my legs look good, imagine what they’ll do for yours,” Namath said, stretched out on the floor in green satin shorts and his No. 12 New York Jets jersey.

Shocking? Not really. Joe Willie already had proved himself a wildman before donning his sheer stockings. And he wasn’t alone. Unlike today, when NFL quarterbacks keep things mostly corporate, a handful of QBs from yesteryear brought a party-hardy panache that went against the squeaky-clean image associated with both the position and the league.

Namath wore full-length fur coats and boldly provided bulletin-board material, most famously guaranteeing that the Jets would defeat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Don Meredith sang country songs in the Dallas Cowboys huddle. Former Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports reporter Frank Luksa said of “Dandy” Don: “He was not a student of defenses, to put it kindly.”

Then there was Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken “Snake” Stabler, whose devil-may-care attitude made for deliciously naughty stories. Stabler recalled in his autobiography that “the collecting of female undergarments became an annual rite of training camp for many of the Raiders. I liked to tack my collection up on the walls.”

Maybe if Stabler had spent more time in his playbook than his little black book the Raiders might have won more than one Super Bowl (or maybe not, considering the strength of Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain). But I like to think that Stabler’s off-field personality — he bragged that he studied his playbook by light of a jukebox — helped shape his on-field success. Gunslingers like him and Mayfield don’t sit home reading Dostoevsky.

I know what Browns fans are thinking: “That all sounds good until you remember Johnny Manziel.” Fair enough, but Johnny Football’s problem was that he failed at being able to play the position in the first place. A better comparison for Mayfield is Brett Favre or even Jim McMahon, the former Chicago Bears quarterback whose bizarre behavior complemented coach Mike Ditka. In the case of the 1985 Bears, opposites absolutely attracted.

Ditto Mayfield and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who is as unassuming as his quarterback is front and center, to the point where a slam-dunk Progressive insurance commercial would be playing a quiet Stefanski off the boisterous Mayfield. 

Here is where I offer my confession, that on draft day 2018 I urged Cleveland to select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen No. 1 overall, based on my belief that knuckleheads like Mayfield don’t turn themselves into franchise quarterbacks. 

Was I wrong? Not entirely. The Buffalo Bills are 11-3 this season with Allen, whose numbers this season stack up better than Mayfield’s. But it is close. Allen has completed 68.7% of his passes for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns against nine interceptions. Mayfield’s stat line reads 64% for 3,082 yards, with 25 TDs and eight interceptions for the 10-4 Browns.

Long term, I still think Allen turns in a better career. But I must admit my original thinking — that Mayfield’s behavior is too scattershot to effectively lead the franchise to a Super Bowl title — may have been off the mark. It could turn out that Mayfield is the exception to the rule that insists counter-culture quarterbacks don’t last long in an NFL environment that places a premium on playing by the corporate protocols.

Mayfield could be exactly what Cleveland needed – a quarterback to rip the scar tissue off wounds that have left the Browns broken and without confidence.

The question becomes how much a flashing neon light personality impacts wins and losses, compared to more specific measurables such as size, mobility, arm strength and composure in the pocket.

Mayfield’s height (listed at 6 feet 1 but really 6-0 at the most) is a liability, especially when he faces pressure, when his completion percentage drops nearly 20 points. But he has a strong arm and increasingly looks to possess a confidence that contends anything is possible.

How Browns fans ultimately view Mayfield will come down to how willing they are to live with his mistakes, compared to his positive plays. If he continues to make crunch-time throws to win games, then Cleveland will have itself a celebrity quarterback whose appeal is enhanced by his entertaining personality. If not, his commercials will come off looking like a run in the stockings.


Baker Mayfield has posted good passing stats this season, especially when he has not been pressured.