BOZICH | Lamar Jackson love warms cold Louisville crowd
On Saturday Lamar Jackson made his first appearance in Louisville since announcing he was leaving for the NFL -- and more than 800 fans turned out in pursuit of an autograph.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The three gentlemen at the front of the Lamar Jackson autograph line Saturday afternoon pursued Jackson’s signature as vigorously as any linebacker chased the former University of Louisville quarterback last season.
Ed Cecil started the line at Planet Fitness off the Outer Loop at 9 a.m. Steven Simon joined him 30 minutes later. Ryan Ray, a Louisville native who lives in Savannah, Ga., was arrived third, closer to 10.
Cecil topped the line by arriving roughly five hours before Jackson made a back-door entrance with his mother, a family friend and a security guard.
By then the line wound across four aisles of fitness equipment, out the front door, across the sidewalk in front of the building as well as the along the wall near the side parking lot. By then Louisville fans had launched several renditions of the C-A-R-D-S cheer and squeezed into position to snap any possible picture of Jackson, who was dressed in a black knit cap, gray hooded sweatshirt, torn jeans and trademark smile.
Those folks, the ones at the end of the 800-or-so person queue, huddled outside in the 20-degree weather even after they were informed there was no guarantee Jackson would have time to sign one item for them during his 2-hour appearance.
Didn’t matter. They waited.
“I love collecting autographs and I love Lamar,” Cecil said. “He’s a great kid. He and (former U of L quarterback) Teddy Bridgewater, I don’t know anybody like them.”
Said Ray, “Saw it on my Facebook feed and said, ‘It’s a good thing I’m going to be in town.’ “
You know why: Jackson’s status as the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, the guy who led Louisville to a pair of victories over Florida State, the dynamic performer who helped get ESPN College Game Day to town twice, the professional prospect who is working to get drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft and dozens of other reasons.
Lamar Love will last forever here.
Cecil has the signatures of Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Abraham Lincoln and others.
Simon has Ted Williams, Muhammad Ali, Derek Jeter, Darrell Griffith, Pervis Ellison, Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and many more.
Cecil wanted Lamar – and made certain he was first in line. He carried a green T-shirt that highlighted Jackson’s leaping touchdown at Syracuse. Simon brought a copy of a similar photo, the one that made the Sports Illustrated cover.
“I’ve been waiting three years to get his autograph,” Simon said. “You couldn’t get him until today. I’m an autograph collector and this was my shot.”
Jackson had been discouraged from signing autographs because of NCAA issues that other college players have had with collectors selling signed memorabilia. Now that he is NFL-bound, Jackson can enjoy every inch of the celebrity he earned over the last three seasons.
“He’s been an icon here for three years,” Simon said. “I’ve been a U of L football fan since Howard Schnellenberger arrived in 1985 and Lamar is probably the best player we’ve had.”
I apologize for not delivering more news about Jackson, but he declined multiple requests to speak to about 10 local media representatives. Rick Kueber, chief executive officer for Planet Fitness franchises in Louisville, flew to West Palm Beach, Fla., Saturday morning on a private jet to bring Jackson for the signing Saturday. Jackson will sign again Sunday from 1-3 p.m. at Planet Fitness in New Albany. Do not be surprised if Jackson returns on future weekends.
Club members were eligible for one free autograph. Non-members paid $25, with a portion of that money designated for the Blessings in a Backpack charity.
“His legacy will be the most iconic figure in Louisville sports history,” Kueber said. “Look at how the city honors Paul Hornung and he didn’t even play here. (Hornung went from Flaget High to Notre Dame and the Green Bay Packers).
“Lamar is an outstanding person who has represented Louisville so well over the last three years. He’s humble. He’s polite. He’s everything you’d want your son to be. The crowd shows how much fans appreciate him.”
All true. Jackson was polite Saturday as he declined multiple requests to answer even one question.
“I’m here to talk to the fans today,” Jackson said, quietly.
So I do not have answers for the questions many have about Jackson:
*What feedback has he received from NFL personnel about his draft forecast?
*Who has Jackson chosen to represent him?
*Where will he prepare for the Draft –- and will Jackson participate in the NFL combine?
*How seriously did Jackson consider returning to Louisville for his senior season after his uneven performance in the TaxSlayer Bowl?
*Has he second-guessed his decision to play in that game after throwing four interceptions?
*Is Jackson convinced he will receive a legitimate chance to play quarterback in the NFL?
*Is he open to trying another position if his future does not unfold at quarterback?
Maybe another day. Lamar Love is still heating up. All you had to do was check the lines at Planet Fitness.
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