(photo credit: courtesy)
Former National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue capped his first visit to Israel by giving his personal blessing to Israel's first fully-equipped tackle football league, which was officially announced at Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem on Thursday night.
Tagliabue was a special guest of Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots who donated the funds for the construction of the only stadium in Israel designed for American football and is a dedicated supporter of other Jewish causes. Kraft and his wife Myra personally lead annual missions from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Jewish Federation of Greater Boston.
In 2006, Patriots' Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady joined the mission, which was also honored at a Kraft Family Stadium event. This year, Kraft brought one of the most respected professional sports league commissioners of to Israel.
"If you build it, they will come," said American Football in Israel president Steve Leibowitz as he announced the new Israel Football League to dozens of players and guests.
"Football is about family and community and you have those here," Tagliabue told the players and fans at the ceremony.
If anyone knows about building football leagues, it is Tagliabue, who retired as chief of arguably North America's most successful professional sports league on September 1 after 15 years of service.
Over the course of Tagliabue's tenure, he wascredited with an abundance of achievements. Under his reign, the NFL had no player's strikes or lockouts, an accomplishment unmatched by any of the other current league commissioners. He is also known for negotiating the richest television deal in professional sports.
Tagliabue expanded football beyond North America, creating NFL Europe, now known as NFL Europa, and holding the first-ever regular season game outside the US, in Mexico in 2005.
When asked about US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's announcement that being NFL commissioner was her dream job, Tagliabue joked, "Be careful what you wish for."
The guests arrived at the field as exhibition games were being played. "I saw some great receivers out there on the women's [national flag football] team. The Patriots could use a few good receivers," Kraft said jokingly to the crowd.
Dori Reichmann, a San Diego Chargers fan from Rehovot, has been playing tackle football in Israel since 1994, when he played in pickup games without any pads or helmets. Next year, he'll be playing for the Tel Aviv Pioneers in the new Israel Football League. "We've been waiting for this for 10 years," he said.
While the IFL has been a three-team tackle football league without helmets and pads, the new fully-equipped IFL plans to kick off this fall with at least four teams located in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Kfar Saba.
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