As the NFL play-offs kick in to high gear this weekend, Cleveland Browns punter Jamie Gillan will be flying the flag for Scotland.
The man known as “the Scottish Hammer” – a nickname given to him by his high school coach Brian Woodburn – will take to the field for the Browns as they look to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs and continue their history-making run to the AFC Championship game.
Victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their final regular season game saw them finish with an 11-5 record, enough to secure one of the AFC’s three wildcard spots.
The Browns had not made the play-offs since 2002, prior to this season, and had not recorded a post-season win since New Year’s Day 1995. That it was against divisional rivals Pittsburgh, in which they ran out to a 28-0 first-quarter lead before triumphing 48-37, made it all the sweeter.
This was all done without head coach Kevin Stefanski, four positional coaches and four players, who were in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19. Special teams co-ordinator Mike Priefer – Gillan’s position coach – stepped into the brief of acting head coach.
The beer will be extra tasty #broons
— Jamie Gillan (@ScottishHammer7) January 11, 2021
Their prize for a generational win is a trip to reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City. The Chiefs had the best regular-season record in the AFC at 14-2, earning them a bye to the divisional round.
Kansas City have been permitting fans to attend Arrowhead Stadium and will continue to do so on Sunday, albeit at a reduced number from the raucous 75,000 who would usually make it one of the NFL’s most atmospheric away venues.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is one of the league’s superstars, a reigning Super Bowl MVP, a league MVP in 2018 and with the world at his feet. The Chiefs look like a team intent on repeating last year’s success.
But in running back Nick Chubb, the Browns have a great outlet to try and keep Mahomes on the sidelines. He passed 1,000 yards rushing again this season from just 12 games and he accounted for 145 of the Browns 390 offensive yards in the victory over the Steelers.
Gillan is in rarefied air just now. Only two Scots have ever reached this stage of the post-season in the NFL and both have gone on to play in the Super Bowl.
Lawrence Tynes was the New York Giants’ kicker when they defeated the New England Patriots in February 2008; he was born in Greenock and grew up in Campbeltown. Eight years later, Arbroath-born kicker Graham Gano was on the losing side for the Carolina Panthers against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
The thread all three have in common is coming from military families. Gillan’s father Colin served in the RAF and US Navy, which saw the family reside in Kinloss, Forres, Inverness, Edinburgh and then Maryland, where his odyssey in American Football began.
Gillan junior grew up in Inverness, playing youth rugby for Highland RFC, before his passion for rugby took him to Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh.
When his father was stationed at Patuxent River in Maryland, Gillan played five games for Leonardtown High School. When a friend saw on Facebook that Arkansas Pine-Bluff needed a kicker, he sent Gillan’s highlight reel to them and he was offered a full scholarship.
Four years with the Golden Lions, where he handled both kicking and punting duties, was not enough to get him drafted, but an impressive performance at a pro day – where NFL scouts assess the best collegiate talent – held by Arkansas State drew him to the Browns’ attention.
He caught the eye not just for his kicking ability, but for the additional work he did beyond that, completing a lot of the physical drills special teams players would never normally touch.
Gillan was picked up by the Browns during free agency and beat out the experienced Britton Colquitt for the job. His stock – and cult hero status – have done nothing but rise ever since.
Dear men, what is preventing you from looking like this? pic.twitter.com/5R2U0zMrt3
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) May 28, 2020