This is the way it’s supposed to happen. Bad teams are supposed to turn the corner eventually by stockpiling top talent through the draft. Bad teams — even those with bumbling front offices — are supposed to find a franchise quarterback. The NFL is usually a cyclical story, more a place with upward mobility than impenetrable caste constraints.
That’s the way it should work. For the Cleveland Browns, though, that’s not the way it has played out. They’ve been trapped in a hellish nightmare, living a Groundhog Day-like existence in which mistakes by the lake pile up and crush souls. For 635 straight days, they woke up without a victory to savor. Six hundred thirty-five mornings of mourning. This on top of a decade-plus of irrelevance.
Baker Mayfield changed all that. The brash, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback stepped into the spotlight Thursday night a delivered the prodigal win to Cleveland’s tortured fan base. He did it with flash and brilliance, going 17-for-23 and 201 yards. He overcame a 14-0 deficit and sank fellow rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
Mayfield looked like a No. 1 pick. He looked like the damn savior. He looked like hope and change and the light at the end of a tunnel. And consider that did it all without the benefit of first-team reps, That he did it all, in some ways, despite the worst-laid plans of his coaches. He was never supposed to be in this spot, this early, playing this well.
It’s Week 3. It was the Jets. It is the Browns. Add all your caveats here. But what happened Thursday night was legendary. The atmosphere, narrative, and undeniable feeling that we were watching something special combined to make a bizarre reality — one in which Mayfield became a folk hero over night.
He’s the pied piper playing the tune of victory. The mysterious man who showed up in town and performed imaginary feats. The guy who did the impossible.
Mayfield’s comeback was not LeBron James scoring 25 straight points and becoming superhuman against the Detroit Pistons. But it was the dawning of a new age, the anointing of a new hometown hero.
And this hero will do it his own way. He’ll do do it with confidence and completed indifference to the Browns’ past failures.
Among his thoughts after delivering a long-awaited win? The fate of all that free beer.
Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. Beer is a close second. Mayfield brought both to a desperately thirsty franchise. This is the beginning of his folklore, but every story needs to start somewhere.