The Cleveland Browns will need to prove plenty of people wrong to keep their NFL season alive beyond this weekend, but for Scottish punter Jamie Gillan that is nothing new.
Last Sunday’s upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers gave the Browns their first postseason win since 1994, but the task gets no easier this weekend with a trip to face the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Playoffs.
With Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce putting up eye-popping numbers the Chiefs are overwhelming favourites to advance after wrapping up the AFC West title and enjoying a first-round bye, but that does not worry Gillan.
“I love proving people wrong,” said the 23-year-old. “When people say you’re not going to do something, I think, ‘Right bro, hold my beer’. You get some inner drive from that.”
It is an attitude which has served Gillan well in his unlikely journey to the NFL.
The ‘Scottish Hammer’ grew up playing rugby as a fly-half – attracting grief from his friends as he tried to model his approach on England star Jonny Wilkinson – before his family moved to the United States in 2013.
Gillan played college football at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, hardly noted for sending players to the NFL, and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Browns in 2019, earning his way on to the pro football writers’ all-rookie team last season.
Now he is part of a young Browns roster – led by Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett – trying to rewrite the team’s long history of underachievement.
A franchise that had not previously reached the postseason since 2002 did so this year despite seeing a string of key players sidelined by Covid-19 in the crucial final weeks of the regular season.
Sunday’s 48-37 win over the Steelers came with head coach Kevin Stefanski, four position coaches and four players all in self-isolation.
“We lost our starters, which sucks because they’re phenomenal players, but it’s next man up,” Gillan said.
“We’ve got guys playing their butts off and now we’re getting guys back so it adds fuel to the fire for us.”
The main impact of coronavirus has been that, having waited so long to see their team in the postseason, Browns fans have mostly been locked out of the building the year they make it.
Much-reduced crowds of between 10-12,000 are the most that have been allowed in to the FirstEnergy Stadium this season, but Gillan said the backing of the fans is still there.
“There are lots of messages,” he said. “When I’m out walking the dog people are saying how happy they are in this amazing year.
“People are just going bananas watching the highlights and stuff, it’s crazy. I can’t imagine it if there was no Covid how nuts this place would be.”
Support is also coming from back home where Gillan’s exploits have turned a whole new group on to the game.
“All my mates are getting into football,” he said. “I’ve got one mate texting me stats I didn’t know were a thing.
“My gran and grandad have been watching from Dunbar. Usually it’s tea and biscuits at 7 and in bed by 7.30 but last week grandad said he heard my gran turning on the TV at one in the morning to watch because she couldn’t sleep.”
This weekend’s game has a more UK-friendly kick-off time of 8.05pm on Sunday, but Gillan and the Browns will need all the support they can get against the Chiefs.
“We know this is a huge game, but you don’t make this game any bigger than any other,” he said.
“You go into every game, every snap, every throw like it’s your last because you never know. We’ll just keep going, not overthink it and stay ice cold.
“Treat it like every game you’ve played. Let’s go out and get a dram.”