His shoulders are so broad and his biceps so big that one wonders how he manages to find tees that fit him. Brandon O’Neil Chillar is the archetype of an NFL player. Weighing in at a 108 kilos and standing at 6’3” the man would be difficult to ignore in India, but back home in the States, there are thousands like him.
Not everyone has the special Super Bowl ring that’s awarded to the winning team though. Chillar was a linebacker for the Super Bowl XLV champions Green Bay Packers before a string of shoulder’ injuries resigned him to the Injured reserve list last November. “It was a very special moment even though I wasn’t on field with them,” he recalls. Chillar finally called it quits before choosing an even more difficult project popularizing the game In India.
He was chosen by the Elite Football League of India as their primary investor and advisor. He joins other prominent names like former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, and former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin.
Born to an Indian father who had left India for the US at the age of 18, the EFLI is a chance for Chillar to reconnect with his roots. “My involvement with the Indian league would be overseeing coaching and focus on what’s the right direction for the game. But personally for me, this is a chance to learn about my culture. I’m trying to learn as much about India as I can and I don’t know much to be honest,” he smiles.
One of the few people of Indian origin to ever play in the NFL, Chillar – pronounced Chill-er – is only too familiar with the Indian attitude towards sports.
“Indians abroad stress on education. You see so many doctors and lawyers and scientists, but very few athletes. It’s a hard choice to make. It’s a risk but I think Indians are good at anything and if tomorrow they realize that sports is just as good an option, they’ll choose sports,” he says.
Chillar coincidentally was introduced to the game by his Irish-Italian mother, only because she wanted some time for herself or so he says. “l didn’t want to play basketball and I started playing football when I was in third grade only because my mom signed me up for it. I reckon it got me off her hands for a little while every day,” the San Diego resident jokes.
Even though he might’ve been a reluctant starter, Chillar got better quick. “I played for fun and loved it. I was good, but not the best and didn’t really know whether I would turn pro,” the 30-year-old says.
The lure of a potential scholarship in his sophomore year prompted a more serious approach though. “My older brother played all kinds of sports,” Chillar recalls, “but I focused on football right away.”
Chillar also excelled in track and field running the 100 meters and competing in the triple jump. “I ran track mainly to get faster for football,” he concedes. His father’s work schedule didn’t allow him to attend many games, but his mother became a “team mom,” shepherding her son and other players to youth-league games.
A full scholarship offer from UCLA saw Chillar moving back to his birth city, here he gained prominence and thought about going professional. A focused and fit Chillar then signed a four-year $2.4 million contract with St Louis Rams.
“I was so kicked about being in the NFL. It literally was like a dream come true,” the joy in his words is unmistakable. On March 18, 2008 the Green Bay Packers signed Chillar to a two-year, $5.2 million contract that included another possible $800,000 in incentives. A solid performance upgraded him to a four-year, $22.65 million contract with S7 million guaranteed, but life had other ideas as injuries took their toll.
Even though Ram Chillar didn’t understand the sport much, he learnt watching his son play and it was in fact him who suggested the idea of promoting the game in India. “We think there’s huge potential in India. I know it’s all about cricket here, but I believe that if you give people an alternative, and give them an aggressive fun sport to watch, they will take to it. The game has done so much for me and taught me so much, I’m sure it would do the same for many more in India.”