Nick Chubb as Batman illustration (Photo: Brian Shellito/For The Beacon Journal)
About a week after Nick Chubb's left knee had been blown out on Oct. 10, 2015, he watched scenes from “The Dark Knight Rises” on his smartphone during a break from rehabilitating at the University of Georgia.
The star running back typed “Batman gets his back broken by Bane” into the search field on YouTube.
Chubb felt a connection to the 2012 movie when supervillain Bane tells Batman, “Victory has defeated you,” in the early stages of their first battle.
“I remember I was like on top of the world, coming off a good [freshman] season, feeling myself, doing good in everything, and he said that, and I feel like he was talking to me,” Chubb said.
The encounter ends with Bane lifting a beaten Batman and breaking the superhero's back over his right leg.
“I felt like my knee was broken in every piece, too,” Chubb said.
Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) rushes into the end zone to score during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal] (Photo: Jeff Lange, Akron Beacon Journal)
Then Bruce Wayne finds himself in Bane's prison known as “The Pit.” Wayne spends months recovering and training, and after several failed escape attempts, he completes a treacherous climb, rising from the “The Pit,” so he can return to Gotham City and his life as Batman.
“I felt like that wall was what I went through getting out of rehab,” Chubb said. “I had to get up the wall and get free and get back to myself. All that just was so relatable to me during that time.
“I kind of used that as motivation to keep me up and keep me going because of how he came back from that. That's how I attacked my rehab and my recovery from my injury.”
Chubb had seen the film before, but the iconic fight between Tom Hardy's Bane and Christian Bale's Batman and Wayne's subsequent ascent didn't become an obsession until the player embarked on a comeback from the gruesome injury he suffered as a sophomore against the University of Tennessee.
“The next time I watched it after that,” Chubb said, “I was hanging on every word, really into it, listening to everything.”
15. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) • Directed by: Christopher Nolan • Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway • Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 8.0 out of 10 In the final film of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, an aging Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is brought out of retirement to face Bane (Tom Hardy) and save Gotham yet again. Nolan assembled an all-star cast, featuring Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, and more. Though not the highest rated film in the trilogy, critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a Freshness rating of 87% and 90% of audiences liked it. ALSO READ: 100 Saddest Movies of All Time (Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
With Batman inspiring Chubb, he rebounded from three of the four ligaments in his left knee shredding, all but the anterior cruciate ligament, and the surgery he needed as a result. He returned to action in time for the 2016 opener, flourished in his final collegiate season in 2017 and became a second-round draft pick (No. 35 overall) of the Browns in 2018.
Nick Chubb takes on Gotham
In the buildup to the Browns playing consecutive games against the New York Giants and New York Jets in Gotham — OK, East Rutherford, New Jersey, but play along here — Chubb spoke to the Beacon Journal by phone for 15 minutes on Dec. 17 about his Batman fandom.
Chubb rushed 15 times for 50 yards and a touchdown, his 10th of the season, in Sunday night's 20-6 win over the Giants. The Browns (10-4) will be knocking on the door to the playoffs when they return to MetLife Stadium and face the Jets (1-13) on Sunday, Chubb's 25th birthday.
You can bet Chubb's gifts will include some Batman items from his family.
When Browns communications coordinator Mike Annarella informed Chubb of a Batman-centric interview request and relayed a message about the Gotham angle, Chubb realized Annarella didn't know Gotham is a fictitious version of New York in the Batman universe. Waiting on deck for a Zoom session with local media, Chubb whispered an explanation to Annarella while quarterback Baker Mayfield fielded questions from reporters nearby.
Yes, Chubb is a man of few words, but he enjoys talking about Batman.
Right tackle Jack Conklin revealed a few weeks ago he occasionally chats with Chubb about Batman in an attempt to lure the two-time Pro Bowl selection out of his shell. Chubb has also bonded with offensive lineman Chris Hubbard and practice-squad fullback Johnny Stanton over their affinity for the Caped Crusader.
Chubb considers Stanton the locker room's top Batman expert because he is well-versed in comic books. Stanton has given Chubb plenty of reading recommendations.
“He gets excited,” Stanton said by phone. “He's very curious about it.”
Batman vs. Superman
Chubb took a liking to DC Comics superheroes in high school when he and friends played the Injustice video games on PlayStation 4.
At first, Batman wasn't actually Chubb's favorite character.
“I was a Superman fan because honestly I didn't know any better,” he said. “I just know what I saw. He was flashy. He could fly. He had super strength and all that stuff. My friends were into it, too. Growing up, we'd always argue Superman versus Batman, and I'd always have Superman's side. But they brought to my attention why Batman was better, and I kind of flipped sides, joining them.”
So why is Batman the best superhero?
“He's human just like us, and if you were indestructible like Superman, would you fear anything? No, you wouldn't. If you know you can't die, you wouldn't fear anything,” Chubb said. “But Batman, we can die, we're mortal, and he still stands up and faces any challenge. He's just a man, but he has courage.”
Chubb explained his allegiance to Batman “really took off” shortly after he suffered the devastating knee injury five years ago in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“A lot of players have to deal with injuries, but the fact that Nick was able to come back from something so hard and to be able to use that as inspiration is pretty cool,” Stanton said. “I'm sure movie creators would love to be able to hear something like that.”
Chubb hasn't dabbled much in Batman movies and TV shows predating this century. “The Dark Knight Trilogy” directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Bale as Batman is Chubb's bread and butter, though he also watches animated films made in the past decade.
As far as Batman memorabilia goes, Chubb doesn't own countless comic books and action figures. However, the contents of his wardrobe and garage aren't coincidences. He wears a silver Batman symbol on a chain necklace, a Christmas gift he received during his rookie season from his mother, Lavelle. He said he dons black clothing on a regular basis and has matte black cars — a Mercedes-AMG and a Dodge Charger — with tinted windows because of Batman.
Chubb has even thought about buying a Batmobile one day.
“It would be either when I'm done with football or sometime in the offseason when I'm just feeling spontaneous,” he said.
'It would only be Batman'
Chubb doesn't have any tattoos, but if he gets one, you can guess what the theme would be.
“If I ever got a tattoo,” he said, “it would only be Batman — 100%. I've thought about it, but I don't know if it would be cool or corny. It would probably be in-between, so I don't know if I'll get it.”
Hubbard has a Batman tattoo on one of his legs, and Chubb thinks it turned out well.
“But if I'm getting it,” Chubb said, “I'm getting it right on my chest, like him gliding down, big — everybody can see it.”
All of this raises the following question: Has Chubb ever dressed as Batman?
“Yeah, I have. Yeah, of course,” he said with a laugh. “My junior year of college, I was Batman for a Halloween party.”
The Browns have had fun with this, too, mostly by following Chubb's lead on social media.
After Chubb suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee on Oct. 4 against the Dallas Cowboys, he wrote on Instagram, “Thanks for all the prayers and wishes. I'll be back soon enough. To the bat cave until then.” Don't worry — he included a bat emoji at the end of the message.
When the Browns designated Chubb to return from injured reserve on Nov. 9, the team tweeted an animated GIF of a football player standing atop FirstEnergy Stadium as a Bat-Signal of sorts featuring Chubb's face shone in the night sky.
Chubb's favorite Batman quote is, “I'm whatever Gotham needs me to be.” Last year, he tweaked the famous line from “The Dark Knight” and wrote on Instagram, “I'm whatever Cleveland needs me to be.” The caption accompanied a photograph of Chubb in his Browns uniform.
If Batman were to play football, Chubb said he would be a running back with a hell of a stiff-arm.
“He would have everything,” Chubb said. “Full-balanced running back.”
He probably would even resist the temptation to score a touchdown and instead run out of bounds at the 1-yard line if it ensured he would save Gotham.
“Yeah,” Chubb said without hesitation, “Batman doesn't kill.”
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