Joe Montana, Jim Brown and Roger Staubach were among 18 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to begin a weeklong visit to Israel on Thursday, with a small field in Ramat Hasharon playing host to one of the most impressive groups of former athletes to ever visit the Holy Land.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker are leading the delegation named “Touchdown in Israel II – We Are All Patriots.”
“It is so special to bring the best of the best to ever play my favorite sport to my favorite country in the world,” Kraft told The Jerusalem Post. “In almost 100 years of the NFL, I don’t believe a group of this caliber has ever come together outside of the US, and I am very proud to be able to put this trip together.”
The star-studded group of Hall of Famers – which also includes Lem Barney, Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Andre Reed, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, John Stallworth, Andre Tippett, Aeneas Williams and Ron Yary – viewed a series of scrimmages between local teams on the artificial turf in Ramat Hasharon.
“When the mainstream media speaks about Israel, it is usually brought up as a place not to visit,” noted Faulk. “But so far, our experience in Tel Aviv has been nothing short of incredible.”
Several of the former NFL greats joined in as honorary coaches, adding to the festive atmosphere and the excitement of the young players.
As well as touring the country and visiting the holy sites, the “Gold Jackets” will be hosted by the American football community in Israel at Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem on Sunday.
The program in Jerusalem will include addresses by Kraft, Baker and American Football in Israel President Steve Leibowitz. Several members of the Hall of Fame will recall stories from their playing days and the visitors will take part in a breakout session, where they will have an opportunity to “meet and greet” their Israeli fans.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, opened in 1963 with 17 original inductees. There are currently 310 Hall of Famers who have been elected. Those enshrined are chosen annually on the day before the Super Bowl by a group of 48 selectors, who are members of the media.
Robert Kraft and the Kraft Family have been the leading sponsors of football in Israel since 1999 with the opening of Kraft Family Stadium.
The AFI is the official federation for all football activities in the country. The AFI includes the Kraft Family IFL (men’s tackle football), the Kraft Family IHFL (youth tackle), and eight flag football leagues (including men’s, women’s and youth) totaling over 80 teams. Under the auspices of the AFI are currently almost 2,000 players, coaches and officials taking part in organized football activities in Israel.
“It is really amazing to see how football has really taken hold here in Israel,” exclaimed Montana.
“I am thrilled to be a part of this trip and to experience the influence of our wonderful sport throughout the world.”