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Indian American Football Player

Brandon Chillar of the Green Bay Packers plays 7th professional season.

A time-honored cry rings out across the United States at this time of year: “Are you ready for some football?” The answer for millions is a resounding “yes!” From September until February, American professional football becomes anational obsession: its apex this year was the 45th Super Bowl Championship game played in Arlington, Texas on February 6.

Among the players in this football season is Brandon Chillar, a 28-year-old Indian American, defensive linebacker for one of the most storied teams in the National Football League (NFL), the Green Bay Packers. Chillar, typical in how he reached the pro leagues, is unusual in one respect: He is the only player of South Asian descent in the NFL today.

“The Indian side of my family is very proud of what I’m doing,” he commented in a 2009 interview with the sports network ESPN.

Chillar, who is 1.9 meters and 108 kilograms, has completed his seventh professional season. He played first with the St. Louis Rams and now the Packers, located in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In the first game of the season, a win over the Philadelphia Eagles on September 12, he had seven tackles.

Chillar’s father, Ram, immigrated to the United States when he was 18, leaving a small town near New Delhi. Chillar’s mother is of Irish Italian heritage. In a classic immigrant pattern, Ram Chillar worked his way from a car wash to car salesman, and eventually bought a car dealership. Today, he owns a 7-Eleven grocery outlet, part of a chain of franchise stores that are ubiquitous throughout the United States.

In many ways, the younger Chillar has followed a typical path to becoming a football professional. He excelled as an athlete in high school and college before joining the NFL through its annual “draft” of new players.

“My father didn’t know about football. He learned as I played,” Chillar said in a 2010 Webcast. Despite concerns about  safety, both parents could see how football channeled their son’s energy. “Football taught discipline and teamwork and so many good things,” he says.

As a kid playing sports, Chillar says, all he wanted to do was fit in. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a new respect for my dad and his history. I’ve also learned more and more about my Indian heritage.”

Chillar accepts that his Indian background can make him an object of interest as an NFL player. “Stereotypes are made to be broken,” he says. “For me, I let my desire and commitment carry me to my goal.”

Chillar was born in Los Angeles in 1982, but grew up in Carlsbad, California, a coastal town 35 kilometers north of San Diego. “My older brother played everything, all kinds of sports,” Chillar recalls, “but I focused on football right away.”

Chillar did excel in track and field, however, 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 of Chillar’s games, but his mother became a “team mom,” shepherding her son and other players to youth-league football games.

Big and fast, Chillar was recruited in his high school junior year by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and signed to a full athletic scholarship. At UCLA, Chillar was a defensive standout, leading the team in number of tackles.

In 2004, when Chillar signed with the Rams of St. Louis, Missouri, “The biggest adjustment for me was mental,” he says. “New coaches, new playbook. But the main thing was being on my own for the first time, and living in the Midwest. So much more is expected of you at that level.”

He met those expectations, with 31 tackles playing the outside linebacker position in 16 games during his first season. In his last season with the Rams, in 2007, he played in 15 games with 85 tackles. The Green Bay Packers signed him for the 2008 season, and in December 2009, he signed a new, four-year contract with the team.

One of the biggest transitions from high school to college and professional football is the speed, Chillar observes. “The game is so fast now; speed and strength are so much greater.”

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has high praise for Chillar’s athleticism and flexibility. “He has good football instincts and he can make adjustments and he is an athletic guy who is very good at playing in pass coverage…. He’s one of those guys you feel comfortable working at more than one position because he can handle that mentally.”

Last season, when the Packers lost two pass defenders to injuries, Chillar stepped in and played the position for two games. “Very seldom do you ever see a linebacker move back and play strong safety, but he did, and we ended up winning the next game,” Capers says.

Moving to Green Bay, Wisconsin, represented a different kind of adjustment for Chillar. “Playing with the Packers almost has a college feel to it,” he says. “There’s a small town atmosphere where you can walk down the street and everyone recognizes you.”

Green Bay has another distinction: it gets very, very cold in the winter, and playing games in ice and snow on the Packers’ Lambeau Field is not a prospect many teams relish. The “Ice Bowl” championship game in 1967 between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys has become part of NFL lore.

Chillar says that despite coming from California, he has gotten used to the cold. “I took it as a challenge. You can tell when other teams don’t like the cold—it makes it kind of fun.”

The Green Bay Packers have a remarkable history. The team, named for a local company that first donated uniforms, has played professionally since 1921 for a community that still numbers little more than 100,000—against teams from large metropolitan centers like New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. The Packers also remain the only publicly owned team in the NFL—unlike most other teams, which have a single individual or corporate owner.

Nevertheless, Green Bay has compiled one of the finest records in the sport. The Packers have won 12 NFL championships—more than any other team—and four Super Bowls, including this year’s. As a result, Green Bay has a strong following across the Midwest and, indeed, throughout the United States.

Green Bay rose to dominance in the 1960s under legendary coach Vince Lombardi, when the team won a series of league championship games (including the “Ice Bowl”), along with the first two Super Bowls. After his death in 1970, the Super Bowl Championship trophy was renamed the Lombardi Trophy.

“In pro football, I’ve always believed in the premise, ‘The more you can do, the more valuable you become,’ ” says defensive coordinator Capers. “Brandon can see the big picture and you can make those adjustments with him, and with his athletic ability, it makes him very valuable.”

Like every player in the NFL, Chillar dreams of winning that trophy for his team. Sadly, he was injured and unable to join his team in their Super Bowl victory on February 6.

Howard Cincotta is a special correspondent with

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