Probably the strongest group of NFL stars ever to have gathered outside the U.S. visited Israel this week thanks to Jewish New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft who arranged the trip, making this tour bigger and stronger than previous ones, “the best of the best!”
The 18 members of the NFL Hall of Fame visited religious sites, watched local players in action and attended an event at the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem during their week-long tour promoting the sport in Israel. These Hall of Famers are part of currently 310 U.S. players recognized as outstanding and elected by 48 members of the media.
The “gold jackets” also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before returning home Tuesday.
“I am thrilled to be a part of this trip and to experience the influence of our wonderful sport throughout the world,” said four-time super bowl champion Joe Montana. “The people here are wonderful.”
The stars included Jim Brown, Lem Barney, Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Joe Montana, Andre Reed, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, John Stallworth, Roger Staubach, Andre Tippett, Aeneas Williams and Ron Yary.
A highlight for Israeli NFL players was when the group watched local teams in action at Ramat HaSharon and several of the stars encouraged younger local players by taking on a coaching role. Israel currently boasts some 2,000 active American Football players and 80 teams in its various leagues.
The meet-and-greet event at the Kraft family stadium in Jerusalem on Sunday was certainly popular, attended by 1,000 local fans, but it is unclear how far a passion for American football is set to extend beyond this primarily English speaking American Israeli group. Robert Kraft and American Football in Israel (AFI) President Steve Leibowitz, as well as some of the Hall of Famers themselves, addressed the audience. Kraft commended the Jewish state for its “great hope, great preparation, never giving up, and winning,” echoing the mentality of his own team.
The delegation calls itself “Touchdown in Israel II — We Are All Patriots.” A previous Israeli government organized NFL tour group earlier this year saw around half the members withdrawing, with stars succumbing to pressure from the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) campaign which calls for a total boycott of Israel, alleging violations of Palestinian rights.
However, this privately organized delegation saw no withdrawals and had opportunity to meet representatives of the local Arab population, with Mike Singletary claiming they gained a picture of “both sides” of life here in Israel.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”