Sporting goods

An expat's long trek from the Holy Land to the Super Bowl.

superbowl 88 (photo credit: )
superbowl 88
(photo credit: )
My journey to Super Bowl XLII began at about 2:30 am on a Monday morning at the Japetto pub on Shlomzion Hamalka Street in Jerusalem. There, on a big-screen TV, I and a group of 50 other veteran American immigrants watched the New York Giants make an improbable overtime victory on the frozen rotunda that is Lambo Field, home to the Green Bay Packers. Three hours before, the New England Patriots had scored their own victory over the San Diego Chargers. This meant that it would be the Giants and the Patriots competing at this year's Super Bowl. If the Patriots won, they would become the first team to ever to have an unblemished record in a 16-game regular season. The moment the Giants clinched a berth at this year's title game, I knew I had to make the trip. As I have written in these pages, my earliest childhood memory dates back to 1958, when I was about seven years old and listening to the Giants/Colts championship game on the radio with my father in Laurelton, New York. I have been a passionate Giants fan ever since - as are all my friends in the "old country," one of whom, Barry Liben (a close buddy from our days in the Betar Zionist youth movement), has since become president of Big Blue, the official travel agent of the Giants. But it wasn't only my love of the Giants that caused me to stop everything, and fly across the world with my 13-year-old son, Mikey, to Glendale, Arizona. First and foremost, there was my relationship with the Patriots to consider. As the president of American Football in Israel, I owe a debt of gratitude to Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his wife, Myra - after whom Jerusalem's Kraft Family Stadium is named. Due to their great generosity, football has flourished in Israel, as has my personal friendship with them. This Super Bowl for me, then, was basically a win-win situation - altogether unusual for someone like me, who normally does not root for two competing teams simultaneously - particularly not when one of them is the Giants. The problem was getting tickets to the event - far and away the largest, most spectacular on the American sports calendar. No easy feat when both the Giants and the Patriots each had more than 60,000 season ticket holders, most of whom were just as anxious to make the trip as I was. And the University of Phoenix Stadium, where it was being held, seats only 73,000. THIS IS where a combination of Jewish geography and Israeli hutzpa came in handy. Between Kraft's willingness to sell me tickets, Liben's arranging flights and a rental car, and a long-lost cousin in Phoenix who was happy to host family from the Holy Land, I was thankfully able to take my son and my friend, leading Israeli football player Yonah Mishaan, on a six-day trek to watch a three-hour game. THE MORNING after our arrival in Arizona (after a 36-hour trek via Newark, Houston and Los Angeles), we made our way to the Westin Kierland resort hotel to pick up the tickets Kraft had left there for us to the Super Bowl and to the Patriots' post-game party. There, we happened to notice a room in which there were hundreds of Patriots fans, players and cheer-leaders having a festive breakfast. As hungry as we were curious, we asked the hostess at the entrance whether we could enter. When we told Alice Richmond that we had come all the way from Israel, she said, "I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors," adding, "baruch haba," before ushering us inside. Our next stop was the "NFL Experience," a giant traveling road show built alongside the game venue. We joined countless thousands of football fans experiencing a series of interactive exhibitions designed to impart the history and culture of American football lore. In the evening, we joined over 500 Big Blue Giants fans in a gala pre-game banquet hosted by WFAN's Mike Francesa and attended by a host of former Giants players, including Hall ofFfame members and former Super Bowl stars Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson. On the day of the game itself, we arrived at our seats about two hours early. Security around the stadium was intense, even by Israeli standards. While most of the other spectators wore the colors of the team they were rooting for, we dressed in neutral sweatshirts baring the logo of American Football in Israel. The game turned out to be one of the best and most exciting in Super Bowl history. It was a seesaw battle, decided by a last-minute Giants touchdown. Drained from the emotional rollercoaster of a game, we headed to the party that was supposed to have been the Patriots' victory celebration. Win or lose, we had been told, the party would go on. And go on it did, though it felt more like a shiva than a simha. Nevertheless, thousands of fans, players and, of course, Robert and Myra Kraft, were in attendance. Popular singer Alicia Keyes performed to a less-than-cheerful crowd. Robert Kraft was gracious in defeat. The Patriots, after all, are still the classiest organization in American sport. That's why we at the AFI are proud to call the Patriots "Israel's team." On our long journey back home, we turned our attention to the upcoming Holyland Bowl at Kraft Family Stadium. Not quite in the league of the event we had just attended, to be sure. But it's a league of our own. The writer is president of American Football in Israel and director of Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem.