KENNESAW — Not that there should have been much doubt, but if you weren’t entirely sure just how beloved Nicholas Jamaal Chubb is within Bulldog Nation, you wouldn’t be if you happened by Town Center mall Saturday.
I happened by there, and I’m here to tell you, the kid from Cedartown is beloved. Make that the active verb, “being loved.”
Chubb was at the mall to cash in for the first time on his new status as a professional athlete. Well, technically he’s not a pro football player just yet. That will come in late April when whatever team decides to draft him. But there is no doubt that he will be taken and, once he is, I think there’s little doubt that he’ll make the roster and earn an NFL paycheck for a good while.
In the meantime, as all of us around here know, Chubb put off the opportunity to earn money from his craft for a year. He did that so he could return to Georgia for his senior season. That was for two reasons: (1) so he could improve his draft status; (2) so he could right some wrongs from Georgia’s 2016 season and give the Bulldogs a little bit better of a season.
He did pretty well on both counts.
As has been well-documented for a while now, Chubb finished second only to Herschel Walker in SEC history for career rushing yards (4,769). In UGA history, Chubb is second to Walker in career rushes (758), career touchdowns (48), 100-yard games (24) and all-purpose yards (5,130). So, yeah, the kid did some pretty good work at UGA.
To get Chubb’s autograph Saturday, fans queued up in a long, cordoned-off line that literally zig-zagged from one end to the other of the entirety of Town Center mall and ended in front of Sports Addiction. That’s the sports memorabilia store that contracted Chubb through his marketing agency to come there for a signing on Saturday.
And it looks like everybody got a nice bang for their buck. I was told that 600 individuals bought tickets in advance of the event, which charged $49.95 per item to be signed per person (with a maximum of three items). And those people began lining up at the mall for the right to get said signatures at 8:30 a.m.
Kevin Nunley was first in line. And that’s saying something, considering he came all the way from Knoxville, Tenn., to meet Chubb.
“We left at 4:30 this morning,” said Nunley, accompanied by his girlfriend, Nikki Yoakum, and their children Akira, 11; Jaedon, 7, and Kendrick, 3. “But it was worth it. Nick’s one of the greatest Bulldogs of all time, one of the greatest backs of all time. And he came back for his senior year.”
That was a sentiment repeated often from fans lined up for hours waiting for their turn to meet Chubb. While Walker will always be considered the greatest Bulldogs player ever, he did leave after his junior season. And that has been a long, long time ago now, more than 35 years. So while everybody still knows who he is, his legacy is more legend and lore.
Chubb’s feats are still from the here and now, and the magical run that was the 13-2 season and run to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game is still fresh on everybody’s minds. So these people couldn’t wait to meet him.
And when I say “meet,” I mean so in the most superficial of ways. The fact is, trying to get more than 600 people through a line — and most folks were accompanied by one or more friends or family members — and getting whatever they had with them signed, plus a picture taken with Chubb, between 1 and 5 p.m. on a Saturday was a challenging affair for organizers.
Lorin Gresh, owner of Sports Addiction, was running around frantically throughout my brief visit. He was trying to keep the line moving while also giving his customers what they wanted most — a little bit of time and access to one of the icons from Georgia’s 2017 team.
In fact, I couldn’t even get a minute with Chubb. This, after all, was not a media event, and I hadn’t bought a ticket in advance like all the people who were being herded through like cattle. I just happened to be in the area to deal with some family business, so I decided to swing by around 1:30 p.m. to check out the scene.
It was impressive. I was surprised to find the back of the line right where I came in from the main entrance at the rear of the expansive mall. That’s where I happened to run into Phyllis Darling of Acworth. At the moment, at nearly 2 p.m., she happened to be the absolute last person in line. She was holding a white, No. 27 Chubb jersey, one of three items that she hoped to get signed.
“It’s kind of like traffic,” said Darling, who had sent her boyfriend to the food court to grab some sustenance. “You hope somebody’s behind you to make you feel better. I knew the doors opened at 10 but I honestly didn’t expect there would still be this many people here.”
Darling got her wish. A short time later a man showed up and stood behind her with a helmet and some other things to be signed.
Way, way far ahead of Darling was Joe Palmer and his two kids, 11-year-old Tay and 8-year-old Dallyn. They had driven down from Dalton and arrived at about 10 a.m. to find at least 100 people already in line. At 1:45 p.m., they were just about 10 feet outside the entrance to Sports Addiction, in which the line continued to snake a little farther until it reached Chubb at a desk along with a representative from Everett Marketing.
But Palmer and his kids weren’t complaining.
“I think it’s great,” said Palmer, who works in the flooring business. “I believe Nick is donating part of his proceeds to St. Jude. But I just think it’s a great opportunity to meet somebody who’s going to be an all-time legend.”
Tay agreed. “He’s one of the all-time greatest running backs. I just think it’s cool to meet him. I play running back, too, and I want to be just like him.”
Ah, yes, there is a lot of “Be Like Nick” going on among the Georgia youth. And that’s a good thing.
It seems that Chubb will always hold a special place in Bulldogs hearts. There’s just something about him, his quiet demeanor, his blue-collar work ethic, his combination of brute strength and surprising quickness, that endears him to the local populace. And he’s one of their own, hailing from nearby Cedartown where he’s currently training for the draft.
Next week, Chubb will be holding a football camp at Roswell East Park. It was supposed to be held Sunday but was postponed because of rain. It, too, is already sold out and expected to command a lot of money. But nobody seems to begrudge Chubb that, since he delayed his financial gratification from football for a whole year.
While I didn’t get a chance to talk to Chubb, I did have a chance to speak to his mother. La’Velle Chubb Gregory and her husband of less than two months, Walter Gregory, sat to one side along with Chubb’s 20-year-old sister, Neidra, and a couple of Neidra’s friends.
Mom also was impressed with the scene, although not entirely surprised. Having been beside her son every step of the way since he arrived at Georgia four years ago, she is used to the chaos created every time Nick goes out in public.
“It’s great; it’s awesome,” Chubb’s mother said. “I’ve just learned to embrace the moment. Not many people get to see their child live their dream. He has been ordained to do what he’s doing. But, at the same time, I appreciate that he doesn’t try to be a celebrity or whatever. He’s still the same Nicholas that he was growing up. It’s just awesome. I don’t even know what to say.”
Nothing need be said. Six hundred people paying at least 50 bucks a head to stand in line all day in a mall on a Saturday to get a minute or two with one of the greatest Bulldogs of all time pretty much says it all.