Israel Football League.
(photo credit: RICK BLUMSACK,Courtesy)
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is coming to Israel once again this week, this time leading a group of 19 Pro Football Hall of Famers and their guests.
The week-long “Touchdown in Israel” trip, the latest but not the first attempt on the part of the 74-year-old Kraft to merge the world of football with the larger world, follows other pigskin-related forays to the Holy Land in which he brought quarterback Tom Brady, the Vince Lombardi trophy and other notable Patriots’ stars.
“The three great religions of the world were born right there,” Kraft to the Boston Herald recently when asked about his involvement in the upcoming trip. “This is another opportunity to expose different people to Israel and to the spirituality of the place. When I was asked about it, I thought it was a great idea, so I agreed to finance it. We found someone to donate a plane and the Hall got involved seeing what players might be interested.
“I just think it’ll be great to expose some of our greatest football players to a part of the world they hear about but perhaps don’t really know about.’’ Kraft was first approached by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer to see if such a thing might be possible. The Hall of Fame sent out a letter to judge interest and 20 members responded that they wanted to be included in the trip.
Among the Hall of Famers will be the Patriots’ Andre Tippett, who made one previous trip to Israel with Kraft, who has long been involved in the non-profit American Football in Israel and is the title sponsor of the Kraft Family Israel Football League.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported on Monday that, in addition to Tippett, Tim Brown, Jim Taylor, Mike Haynes, Jack Youngblood and Curtis Martin – who was a regular guest the Kraft home for the Jewish holidays during his Patriots career – will be among the group traveling.
Tippett said he’s a strong advocate of the idea and a believer that from such small measures greater understanding can grow.
“I think we all believe this could be a great cultural exchange to have some Hall of Famers make the trip,” Tippett said. “It doesn’t matter what your religious affiliation is. Jerusalem represents all religions. I can’t really express what it meant to me to go the first time. It was a moving experience seeing all these people of different faiths there. It reminded you that even when there are such deep disagreements there are also things that can bring us all together.
“I’m glad to go back. I was surprised when I first got the letter about it from the Hall, but I think it’s a great idea to bring some of the greatest guys to ever play our game over there. Israel has football fans because of Robert Kraft. I’m sure we may do something related to the game, but that’s not why we’re going. They don’t know it yet, but this is going to be a heavy experience for the guys who go.”
“Myra [Kraft’s late wife] and I started doing this a long time ago, taking different people to Israel,” noted Kraft. We wanted them to see what it really was, not how the media sometimes portrays it. If you’re in Tel Aviv, you think it’s Paris. It’s such a vibrant place. There’s no city in the world like Jerusalem. It’s one of the most beautiful cities. Everyone coexists there. We just feel it’s important for people to see that.”
The trip to Israel will include visits with local dignitaries and some scrimmages, as well as an interactive program with the Israeli football community and the Hall of Famers at Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem.
Ambassador Dermer and the executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, David Baker, are also expected to take part.
“Robert Kraft has a great heart for growing the game through the world,” Baker says. “It’s a historic trip for the NFL, the Hall of Fame and our game, and I hope it is the first of many. Politics causes divides, but sports has an ability to unite.”
TNS contributed to this report.