Let the bone-crunching, stomach-churning, tenacious tackling begin! Oh yeah, and let's not forget the precision passing, rambunctious running and titillating touchdowns, to boot!
Opening weekend of the Kraft Family IFL regular season has finally arrived, and not a moment too soon for the throngs of action-starved fans throughout the country who have been anxiously awaiting this moment since March, when the Dancing Camel Modi'in Pioneers capped the second season of tackle football in the Holy Land with a stunning double overtime Israel Bowl victory over the inaugural title-holder Big Blue Jerusalem Lions.
Things have gotten a little more interesting in the Israeli football scene, circa 2009/10, with a "welcome-to-the-league" theme pervading the Week 1 festivities. The IFL welcomes two new expansion clubs this year - the Judean Rebels and the Beersheva Black Swarm -- to bring the total to a much more intrigue-inducing seven. With the somewhat insignificant dress-rehearsal games out of the way, both incoming first-year squads will be given a "sink-or-swim" introduction with tough opening week matchups on the road against the Lions and Pioneers, respectively.
The regular-season action gets under way on Thursday night at 7:30 in the capital, when the Rebels - coached by the Texas Tornado, Ty Rogers - take the field in a meaningful game for the first time as a franchise under the lights of Kraft Stadium. Expecting to take the rest of the league by storm with a wide-open spread offense, the team from Judea was humbled slightly in a preseason loss to the Black Swarm. However, with almost a month to get back to the practice-field and recoup, the Rebels will most-assuredly show up for Thursday's soiree ready to rumble.
Their opponents, the new-look Lions - who boast a new sideline general in Hanan Stern as well as imported all-star quarterback Itai Ashkenazi at the offensive reigns - have still retained the trademark smashmouth personality that is synonymous with the Big Blue brand of football. Having steamrolled the Mike's Place Tel Aviv Sabres in their only preseason outing, the Lions enter the 2009/10 campaign with formidable balance on both sides of the ball. Combined with a fierce hunger to get back to the champions circle that will surely serve as ample motivation through the entire season, Big Blue will be a dangerous date on every team's schedule and Judea better have some tricks up its sleeve if it is hoping for an opening-night upset.
Saturday night's backend of the weekend slate pits the title-holding Pioneers against the IFL's second brand-new team, the first to hail from the South. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at the Modi'in-Macabim Reut Soccer Complex, where the Israel Bowl championship banner will be raised to the fence of its most recent winner's home field prior to game time.
The Black Swarm - a predominantly Israeli horde who are coached by a quartet of highly-experienced Americans with US military affiliation and backed by new Jerusalem sports spinster Guma Agiuar - were the only team in the league to play twice in the preseason, splitting the pair. With a confident and capable quarterback in Sagar Patel and a disciplined and, yes, swarming, defensive strategy, there is no reason Beersheva can't take host Modi'in to the wire.
Dancing Camel, for all of its early 2009 glory in the Israel Bowl, is coming off a shock preseason defeat to the Papagaio Jerusalem Kings, albeit with some starters only seeing first-half minutes. In the "what have you done for me lately?" landscape that is the sports world, Dan Brunwasser's prideful Pioneers will certainly want to quash any rumblings of potential vulnerability with a strong showing in Week 1, especially against a supposedly inferior expansion opponent.
However, it's the beginning of a new season, and the IFL certainly wouldn't be the first football league in history (I can think of a certain one of National distinction) to exhibit a penchant for the almost-annual powerhouse changing of the guard if Modi'in fails to live up to its title as champion. In a certain sense, league-wide parity is the ultimate goal for any objective fan, as it creates the week-in-week-out drama that always manages to play itself out on the field in the most unimaginable and creative manner possible.
Throughout every one of the seven locker rooms league-wide over the past week, the sentiment has been some variation of, "everybody is over-excited and super geeked-up for gridiron already. It's time to stop just practicing and playing for fun and start playing for real."
After all is said and done, the Kraft Family IFL is about one thing, and one thing only - playing the most exhilarating sport in the world right here in the Holy Land. As much as it is only the first game, no team wants to get behind the eight-ball early and find themselves in back of the pack. So without further ado, let's get started with the one week that will set the tone for the entire 2009/10 IFL season.
Rebels-Lions at Kraft on Thursday night, Pioneers-Black Swarm in Modi'in on Saturday night....has anyone else been dreaming of skinned pigs for the past few nights? I know I have!