SOME THOUGHTS on the Baker Mayfield 98 yard drive with two minutes to go and no time outs after joining the Rams less than 2 days earlier.
Much is being made about this. And much should be made about this. It was a great lesson on many levels - and for me, a great reminder of great lessons that I have repeatedly learned the hard way.
The first is “it isn’t over until it’s over.” For the Raiders, the game ended when their punt miraculously stayed in bounds as it rolled to the Rams 2 yard line. They were jumping around and hugging each other as if they had just won the game. And apparently in their minds, they did.
The second is “never give up.” And the Rams didn’t. And I would speculate that the real reason they didn’t give up was not because of any great ideal or pep talk from the coach. The Rams, last year’s Super Bowl champions, had lost 6 straight games and had lost most of their star players to injuries. I think at this point they were thinking “well, we tried.”
But that night they had a new guy on their team who couldn’t afford to lose, who couldn’t afford to say “well, I tried.” And that was Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield had been a highly touted #1 draft pick in 2018. But by Thursday night, he was on his third team in 4 years, and like a lot of #1’s before him, appeared to be headed towards early retirement, lost promise, and obscurity.
In fact, after being placed on waivers by the Panthers, his second team, only the Rams showed interest, and they only showed interest because their whole roster of QB’s had been injured or otherwise proved ineffective, and they basically had no one.
This brings us to the third lesson, which is rooted in the second (never give up) and that is “sometimes the stars align.” It’s sort of the opposite of “when it rains it pours,” or “when it’s bad it’s really bad, and when it’s good, it’s really good.”
I learned this especially in business. There are days (weeks and months) when no matter what you do everything goes wrong. And there are days (weeks and months) when you do nothing different or special and everything goes right. I could write a book about this, but for now, the real lesson is “just stay in the game,” and stay long enough to “catch the wave.”
I think the Rams, as a team, had given up when that punt rolled down to the 2. One could see it on the coach’s face. He wasn’t rallying his troops. His facial attitude was “we just got to get through this season.” And you could see it again on his face a few minutes later when the impossible happened: total shock and surprise.
Meanwhile, there was one man on the team who couldn’t afford to “just get through this season.” Baker Mayfield knew he had one chance, one chance to live up to his previous promise, and this was it. Talk about a guy falling from grace. From a 2018 #1 pick to a washed up quarterback 4 years later who was placed on waivers and the only team that picked him up was a team that had lost all its quarterbacks and was just trying to limp home.
In fact, I think they let Baker play that night, even though he hadn’t had time to hardly open up the Ram’s playbook, let alone know it, because the Rams, at that point, had nothing to lose. Their season was over. So it was a sort of “why not.”
It’s not that Mayfield did anything spectacular in that final 98 yard drive with no time outs to win the game. He was even intercepted on his second play of the final drive - but saved by a penalty on the other team. And then saved again when an impetuous Raider did something stupid which gave the Rams 15 yards they very much needed. But Mayfield needed to win, and needed to win much more than rest of his team.
And that’s why “the stars aligned.” When you are down and out with nowhere to go and the only direction you can look is up because you are flat on your back, that’s when you choose to get up or get lost. Baker chose to get up. And in so choosing, “the stars aligned.”
Lots of success books are full of this stuff. They speak of this “law of success” or “law of attraction,” or stuff like that. But there is no magic formula. Someone still has to make a decision, and beyond that, “stay in the game” long enough for “the stars to align.” i.e. go through the valley of death, this “vale of tears” (as the Salve Regina puts it), in other words “be willing to suffer.”
The real lesson though is to know that your good fortune, when you win - as Baker and the Rams did Thursday night, is to know that you won, not because the stars magically aligned, but because you stayed in the game long enough for them to do so. And that you will do it the next time when everything is dark and going wrong…again.
As Winston Churchill once said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”