THE VISITING MEMBERS of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (clockwise from top row left) Dave Kasper, Bruce Smith, Lem Barney, Jim Brown, Joe Greene, Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis, Mike Singletary, Andre Tippett, Cris Carter, Joe Montana, Andre Reed, Aeneas Williams, Marshall Faulk, Willie Lanier, Roger .
(photo credit: URIEL STURM)
There are few things in life that can make both grown men and young children giddy with excitement and awe. Meeting a group of sports heroes is one such thing.
The scene at Kraft Family Stadium on Sunday evening was one of raucous exuberance as well over 1,000 people showed up to interact with the group of 18 Pro Football Hall of Famers that came to Israel with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for a week-long trip.
The former NFL players who made the journey to the Holy Land include some of the best to ever play the game, headlined by Joe Montana and Jim Brown, who would certainly make any fan’s top-5 all-time list.
“This is my second time in Israel and the whole experience has been wonderful,” said Montana. “The people here are so amazing and it gets to the point where you start to understand how much it feels like a family wherever you go.”
With footballs flying through the air and jerseys and apparel of almost all 32 NFL teams being adorned by the crowd, the program at Kraft Stadium began with the American and Israeli national anthems being played and Hall of Fame President David Baker individually introducing the visiting former players.
Mr. Kraft took to the podium and addressed the crowd to roaring cheers while he noted how he takes great pride in the growth of football in Israel.
“My passion is the game of football and it means so much to me to see the game being developed here,” said Kraft.
In addition to Sunday’s event in Jerusalem, the impressive group of “Gold Jackets” – which also featured Lem Barney, Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Andre Reed, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, John Stallworth, Roger Staubach, Andre Tippett, Aeneas Williams and Ron Yary – was also on display in Ramat Hasharon last Thursday, where the former greats helped coach a scrimmage between Israeli high school tackle football teams.
As well, they are slated to be at Tuesday’s inauguration of the Kraft Family Sports Complex in the capital with Mayor Nir Barkat.
They also found time to visit many of the country’s holy sites, both Christian and Jewish, and several of them underwent a baptism ritual in the Jordan River.
“This has been a life-changing trip for me,” exclaimed Bettis. “You think that you know what Israel is, but when you come and see the places and the people it is truly incredible. The resolve of the Jewish people is something that really resonated with me and my wife.”
Those in attendance ranged in age from infants to elderly, all reveling in the presence of sporting greatness.
“Seeing this is heartwarming on two counts,” said long-time Pittsburgh Steelers fan Howard Weisband. “One is to see and listen to legends that I grew up cheering for.
At the same time, it is very gratifying having lived in Israel for 31 years to see these guys visit Israel and appreciate the role Israel plays and what it means as a country.”
The notions of courage, brotherhood, persistence and leadership were all brought up by various speakers as parallels between Israel and football, with Baker perhaps putting it best when he said that “if we as a society spent more money on balls and whistles, we would need less money for guns and missiles.”
While that may seem like a lofty goal, the evening was a testament to the power of sport, a message not lost on anyone.