INDIANAPOLIS - Talk about surreal experiences! I’m about to bring in Shabbat here in downtown Indianapolis, exactly 1.9 kilometers away from the 50-yard line of Lucas Oil Stadium, site of Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday between the New England Patriots and New York Giants.
Precisely 30 hours ago – on Thursday at 9 p.m. – I set off from a Kraft Family Israel Football League game between the Big Blue Jerusalem Lions and Petah Tikva Troopers at Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem for the sports journey-of-a-lifetime, a religious pilgrimage of sorts – “Aliyah Leregel”- personified (at least in my eyes.) What do you know? Quite the familiar cast of characters, with Big Blue and the Kraft family managing once again to play prominent roles in this dream-come-true of mine.
Just three days earlier, I was finalizing my party plans for the Big Game – HaGov or poker buddies (life’s eternal dilemmas!) – when the lightbulb flashed in my head, “Uriel, why don’t you just go to this Super Bowl? No, seriously, WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO TO THIS SUPER BOWL??” A frantic, past-deadline media pass application later, followed by a desperate plea for last-minute flights, a $600-a-night studio apartment secured on Craigslist and literally begging people to cover for me at both my weekend jobs, and I was all set (There’s definitely a Mastercard “priceless” commercial in there somewhere).
Oh yeah, can’t forget the private sit-down interview with Pats’ owner Mr. Robert Kraft in the team’s hotel on Friday, VIP passes to the Patriots’ pre-game party on Saturday night (and to Sunday night’s exclusive 10:30 p.m.-3:30 a.m. “Post-Game Party at Victory Field”), an invitation to the Giants’ official tailgate party on Sunday (rivaling Chabad’s for the hottest ticket in town), Madonna, Lenny Kravitz, The Fray… and I don’t even know how to stop gushing.
It would be more than fair to describe me as the proverbial kid in a candy store.
What a day! 12:40 a.m. (Israel time) – 12- hour jaunt from Tel Aviv to New York with my motley travelling crew of American Football in Israel President Steve Leibowitz, his 17-year-old son Mikey and Israel National Women’s Team quarterback Shana Sprung, each of us more excited than the next.
6 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time) – Limo-transfer from JFK to Newark for a Big Blue charter flight to Indianapolis with a plane-full of rabid (as in, I was seriously worried about contracting rabies) Giants’ fans.
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Picked up four copies of hot-offthe- press Sports Illustrated, with a picture of Mr. Kraft on the cover and the title “Kraftwork: How Robert Kraft turned the Patriots into the NFL’s model franchise.”
11 a.m. – Chilling 20,000 feet in the air with retired Giants’ punter Sean Landeta, trying on his two Super Bowl rings (XXI, XXV), cajoling a semi-commitment from him to come to Israel to teach kicking clinic (“If it’s hot there, I’ll come,” he said.) 1 p.m. – Airport scene in Indianapolis.
Thankfully, not the mob I had feared, the smell of football in the air (the good, ‘palpable excitement, anticipatory hope’ smell, not the ‘disgusting, moldy equipment, locker room’ smell; that’ll come post-game Sunday as I interview the winners and losers) 1:30 p.m. – Picked up from airport by super-nice Christian (his name; likely his religion too), owner of said $600-a-night pad, who drove me to his apartment (he moved out for the weekend to stay with friends – hey, who wouldn’t for 2,000 dollars?) and then waited for me to unpack and drive me to the University Place Hotel, where the Patriots are staying, for a meeting with Mr. Kraft.
2:30 p.m. – Detained at the entrance of the hotel by security (and plenty of it) until being escorted in by Dan Kraft, Robert’s son.
The Patriots have taken over the hotel for the weekend, turning a large part of the mezzanine lobby into a working office for the week, with 7-8 full-time staff having essentially transferred shop from Foxborough.
We pass a number of players (Danny Woodhead, Patrick Chung, sorry, no Tom Brady… or Giselle) on our way to the back conference room.
When Mr. Kraft sees Shana and me, he immediately comes over and takes us to his desk to proudly show us the painting that the players on the team had commissioned in memory of Mr. Kraft’s late wife, Myra, who passed away just prior to the season. (“I’d take 0-16 just to have my sweetheart back for even one more year,” Kraft wistfully remarks.) Over a 25-minute conversation that ran the gamut from the contents of the Shabbos package that the local Lubavitch rabbi had just dropped off at the hotel to the contents of the playbook for Sunday’s Super-clash with the hated G-Men, one prevailing theme emerged.
Best summed up by Mr. Kraft; “I bought this team 18 years ago now, Chai. Myra thought I was a little meshuga with how much I paid [$172 million in 1994], but over time she came to love every player as if they were her own children.
“That’s what this team is about. The values that it takes to be a good football player – passion, dedication, teamwork, discipline, willingness to listen and on and on – are exactly the values that my sweetheart stood for and imparted onto this team.
“This year was dedicated to Myra and it touches my heart to see how every player has internalized that. At the end of the day, you have to just go out there and beat the other team, but with all the intangibles, who knows? Maybe her ruach will lead us to victory on Sunday.” (full, feature interview to be published post-trip) 3:45 p.m. – Cab to the media headquarter hotel to pick up my press credentials. Leave cab after five minutes of standstill traffic, walk to hotel, another mob scene of fans just swarming without really knowing what they are waiting to see, but just being happy to be there and breathing in all the excitement.
4:30 – Leave hotel, buy pre-Shabbos beer for walk home. People on the street trying to buy Super Bowl tickets (best sign, held by a 65-yearold woman, “will trade sex to be at the game”).
The entire downtown packed with people gathered in a festival-like, “Mardi-Gras-of-sports” atmosphere.
Walk through the Super Bowl Village, by this time in dire need of a supermarket to buy food for Shabbos (candle-lighting is at 5 p.m.) Since no one around is from Indianapolis, asking people is of limited help.
Finally, stumble upon a CVS, dash through the aisles, throwing cereal and milk, drinks, granola bars, corn, peas, mustard, mayo and tuna fish into the cart (oh, travelling kosher, what an absolute delight!) Jump into a cab, get back home with roughly 30 seconds to spare (and for me to scribble this piece down during the 18 minutes) and prepare a Friday night feast of tuna sandwiches and a package of prepared schnitzel that I had fortuitously brought in my carry-on bag, picked up in Shaarei Chesed on Thursday afternoon.
And so begins my Super Bowl adventure.
A schnitzel and tuna Super Shabbos in downtown Indianapolis I know I’m living out a dream, but please don’t pinch me, I don’t wanna wake up yet! P.S. Oh yeah, my prediction: Pats 34, G-men 30.
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