When Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson posted a picture of himself hanging out with 21-year-old Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun at the March 21 Coyotes-Panthers game, it made a lot of sense because ... yeah, I have to be honest, it didn't make a lot of sense.
Some quick background here. If you're from Baltimore, this particular columnist is probably the only Arizona Coyotes fan you know. I worked in Phoenix from 2006-2008, working directly with the team during part of that stretch. Having never had a hockey team in Baltimore growing up, it was my first real taste of the sport and I truly fell in love. I regularly travel to Washington or Philadelphia to see them play.
So when I was approached by PressBox editor Luke Jackson about this picture of Lamar Jackson and Chychrun, I was equally puzzled and dumbfounded. Did they perhaps share representation? Oftentimes athletes with the same agent end up spending a lot of time together. But considering Jackson's agent is his mother, that didn't seem likely.
Were Jackson and Chychrun particularly good friends growing up? (I knew both were from Florida.) Was this maybe just another get-together for lifelong buddies who happened to end up playing different sports? Would that explain why Jackson went as far as to refer to the budding star as the "hockey G.O.A.T.?"
"That was actually the first time we met," Chychrun told PressBox.
As it turns out, the two have developed a friendship that began just after Jackson was drafted by the Ravens, but it started simply because the hockey player was a fan.
"I've followed Lamar ever since he went to Louisville," Chychrun said. "I've always just kinda been a big fan of his. I loved watching him play. I went to a big football school in Florida, American Heritage in Delray -- it was always a big football school. We had a bunch of [highly-rated] recruits. I was able to kinda gain a friendship with a lot of the guys there.
"Through them, I was able to meet some other guys, some other football players. I think when I followed Lamar on Instagram he might have saw that we have a couple of mutual friends, a couple of mutual football buddies. He followed me back right away. It was pretty cool."
As if the follow back wasn't enough, Chychrun quickly found a kinship with one of his favorite football players, which included offering him moral support.
"We just started messaging on there a little bit," Chychrun said. "And I was kinda just showing him support throughout his rookie season in Baltimore. I'm just a big fan of his and his game. … Before games I just like to say, 'Hey, good luck today.'"
His fandom of Jackson was so real that he actually made a questionable decision in his fantasy football draft last year just to show his support.
"I did a fantasy football pool with my teammates this year and I picked up Lamar," Chychrun said. "They were all giving me heck for it. Sure enough, he ended up being the starting QB and he actually put up really good numbers. I defend him when my teammates talk smack about him. I think he's gonna be a good player, gonna be a star."
It's not just his teammates he finds himself defending Jackson to.
"My trainer in Arizona is a big Cleveland Browns fan," Chychrun said. "He's from Cleveland. So we have little side wagers going on all the time on Baker vs. Lamar. I think Lamar had a better QBR than Baker and everybody's saying he can't throw. Their head-to-head matchup, we were watching it -- that was fun."
You have to give Chychrun credit. He's such a fan of Jackson and a supportive friend that he's willing to overlook how Jackson's Total QBR (45.1) was actually a good bit lower than Mayfield's (53.6). But you can't fault the man for rushing to defend his pal.
So how exactly did this friendship go from social media banter to Jackson hanging out with the Coyotes in South Florida?
"He said on social media he wanted me to send him a jersey," Chychrun said. "And I realized we were gonna be playing in Florida shortly after so I just said, 'Why don't you come to a game? I'll set you up with some tickets and we'll meet after.'
"It was cool because I had all of my family there at the game. And I think it was pretty cool for my young cousins and some of my high school buddies to see me interacting with him and they all got pictures with him. I think it's pretty cool because they just know me as their cousin Jake or their childhood buddy Jake, and now they see me hanging out with a guy like Lamar.
"I think it was pretty cool for all of them to see that. He was really nice. He was really nice to my dad. My dad gave him the jersey when he met up with him before the game. He was really nice to all of my family and friends."
Jackson's response indicated there was a bit of a mutual admiration society between the two athletes.
"I think that was his first game," Chychrun said. "But he loved it. He brought a little entourage and they loved it. He said they had a blast. He just wants to stay in touch. South Florida is really a small community, everybody supports each other down there."
Additionally, Chychrun got a bit of a boost from having a former Heisman Trophy winner and budding NFL phenom post about him on social media.
"Instagram -- that was pretty cool," Chychrun said. "I was surprised he posted as much as he did. But that's great. It's just showing support for one another. I definitely got a few clicks on Instagram."
For what it's worth, there are no current plans for Jackson to get out on the ice with his fellow native Floridian, although Chychrun would be open to it after the Coyotes' season ends. The Coyotes recently hosted legendary Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
"He had never skated before in his life, it was hilarious," Chyrchrun said.
And while the Coyotes actually lost the game Jackson attended, 4-2, the defender says he's not so superstitious that he wouldn't want Jackson to come out to more games. And more importantly, Chychrun has, of course, now converted into a Ravens fan who would love to reciprocate the support Jackson showed him and get out to a game at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I'd love to," Chychrun said. "Unfortunately I don't think our seasons mesh well and I don't think they come to Arizona at all either."
(Note: He's right -- the Cardinals come to Baltimore in 2019.)
"But he told me if I ever wanna come to Baltimore he's gonna hook me up. That would definitely be something I want to do for sure."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jakob Chychrun @jakobchychrun on Instagram