The Cleveland Browns vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers is a storied NFL rivalry dating back to 1950. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and his Steelers counterpart Mason Rudolph, on the other hand, are close friends since college.
Their Thursday Night Football throwdown was to be the next big moment in a series of strong battles between these two young quarterbacks. As we all now know, a different narrative overtook that plotline in the final seconds of the game.
Let’s rewind to before that blemish for now, and explore how Mayfield and Rudolph channeled their gridiron matchups into a sweet bromance.
How Baker Mayfield met Mason Rudolph
Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph first found their fates tied together back in 2015. Mayfield got the starting QB honors with the Oklahoma Sooners. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma State Cowboys had a string of injuries that put Mason Rudolph at the offensive helm.
These teams have a built-in rivalry embraced by fans from both camps for decades. Mayfield and Rudolph’s obvious paths to the NFL turned these “Bedlam” games into must-watch throwdowns for college football fans on a national scale.
The two players faced each other down three times in their college years. Mayfield took all three wins. Rudolph told ESPN, “Your rival games hurt more when you lose, for sure. You wouldn’t be human if you said otherwise.”
Yet that frustration didn’t affect how the two perceived each other on the field.
Friendly rivals on the field, close friends off it
They became fast friends who bonded over playing big games for Oklahoma crowds. Mayfield explained the quirky dichotomy to Sports Illustrated, saying:
“When it comes down to it it’s like playing your brother or your sibling. You never want to lose and they’re the exact same way so it makes it intense on the field.”
They even jokingly shaved their mustaches into Fu Manchus ahead of a Bedlam showdown. This isn’t standard protocol for rivalry games, where fandom ferocity often boils over into legitimate nastiness between players.
They even spent spring break together before the current NFL season. That brotherly friendship was supposed to be on display for the NFL audience, in the context of another storied franchise rivalry.
Up to the final eight seconds of the game, that’s what it was.
The much anticipated Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph clash
Rudolph fell to Mayfield’s Sooners in all three of their matchups. For their NFL reprisal, things were a bit more up in the air. The Steelers repeatedly dominated the Browns in the recent history of the AFC North. And despite the preseason hype surrounding a full season of Mayfield as the Browns starting QB, the team sorely underperformed for much of the first half.
Regular starting QB Ben Roethlisberger injured his elbow back in week 2, knocking him out for the rest of the season. Even this mirrored the injuries that brought Rudolph to the top spot with Oklahoma State.
Between the franchise rivalries, the need for both teams to pull themselves towards .500 and both quarterbacks performing below standard, it was one of the most interesting games of the week.
Mayfield and Rudolph both played hard, but the game quickly went ugly around them. Two Steelers took hits that knocked them out of the game entirely. The vibe on the field went dark, marred by late hits and obvious trash talking.
Then it happened.
The awkward fallout of an unfortunate sequence of events
The game was essentially over, with seconds left on the clock and the score an insurmountable 21-7 in Cleveland’s favor. Rudolph took a late hit from Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, and in light of the nastiness throughout the game, reacted by trying to tear Garrett’s helmet off.
Other Steelers rushed towards the scene. Garrett reacted with a disturbing choice, smashing Rudolph in the bare head with his own helmet.
The ensuing brawl led to $732,000 in fines across both teams. Instead of a post-game interview focused on recalling the Mayfield/Rudolph rivalry, the fight turned into the biggest sports story of the week. The two friends were stuck in the awkward position of defending their teammates without trashing one another in the process.
The two will get to try the whole thing again on December 1st. Hopefully, in light of the rush of negative media coverage and the NFL’s harsh fines, this time we can focus on one of the most enjoyable bromance-fueled rivalries in the NFL.