Autographs are rarely one-sided affairs
Saturday was Media Day at the University of Oklahoma. Lincoln Riley took to the podium to hold his first press conference of the fall. He was followed shortly by Mike Stoops and Baker Mayfield.
But earlier in the day, players and coaches took part in Fan Appreciation Day. This is a day for kids to come and get autographs from players they see on TV every week during the football season.
These kids cheer for these players from the stands as they make flying tackles, incredible catches and spectacular runs. It’s one of the biggest days of their young lives.
Autographs seem to be something that is about as old school as old school gets. Hasn’t the autograph been surpassed by Instagram and Snapchat?
Shouldn’t we change this thing and make it ‘Selfie the Sooners’ instead of ‘Meet the Sooners’?
If you’re thinking that’s a good idea, you better just shut your mouth. Because Meet the Sooners is a day these football players have been training for since they were little kids too.
“It was probably the fifth grade,” recalled Baker Mayfield of when he first started practicing his autograph. “I couldn’t even tell you how many times (I’ve changed it since).”
That’s right! How dare you think about taking away a day that little Baker Mayfield has been dreaming about since he was 10 years old!
It’s not just Mayfield that has been training for this day. It’s a pretty good bet that most people practiced their autographs as kids hoping to one day become a famous athlete, actor or musician.
“That was back in middle school when everybody was talking about how they were going to be rich and famous,” said offensive lineman Dru Samia of working on his signature. “Sure. If I went back and found a notebook, you would see pages filled with just my signature. I’m sure it was ugly back then because it’s kind of ugly now.”
This is all critically important stuff for a 12 or 13-year old to come up with. What parts are swoopy? What part is a line? Do I write out the lowercase letters or make a cool scribble?
“I’ve gone through three different ones,” said star sophomore linebacker Caleb Kelly of his autograph. “I did ‘Caleb K. Kelly’ and then ‘Caleb Kelly’ and I do ‘Caleb Kelly’ different now. I wrote the ‘Kelly’ different but I kept the ‘Caleb’ the same.
An athlete’s autograph is a big deal to them. It’s their calling card to the world. It’s something that they have that people want. It needs to be good!
Starting center Erick Wren even went so far as to incorporate something beyond just his number with his autograph.
“I added a symbol on it, a cross at the top of my name to let people know that God is first in my life,” said Wren, who started working on his signature in the 8th grade because he would always see his father signing papers.
But not every player at OU has been practicing this sacred art since his pre-teen years. We found one Grinch in the group.
Mr. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo never practiced signing his autograph until he got to OU.
“I just..” stammered Okoronkwo as he could sense my disappointment. “A lot of kids ask us for signatures and I didn’t want to write chicken scratch on their stuff.”
Okoronkwo did rebound quickly. But there were others on the team who were called out by their teammates for having terrible autographs. Most notably running back Abdul Adams and offensive lineman Ashton Julious.
“Ashton Julious has, honestly, it was scribbles,” said Mayfield as he picked up a pen and scribbled on a nearby piece of paper. “I swear. It was the worst thing I ever saw.”
As players hit the locker room after Meet the Sooners, Julious and Adams took quite a ribbing.
“Oh yeah, it’s horrible,” said Okoronkwo of Adams’ signature.
So the next time anyone says autographs are stupid, just remember, it’s not just the little kids that think autographs are a big deal. The athletes have been training for this most of their lives.
It’s a big deal to them too.
And guess what? Most of them are still working on perfecting what they started as little kids.
“It’s all about the first initial. I am happy with the starting point,” said Mayfield. “After that, no, not so much.”