Comment: Wild-card wonderment at Jerusalem’s HaGov

It’s the NFL playoffs and Jerusalem’s only true sports bar “The Lion’s Den” is getting ready to air the day’s second wild-card game.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS & New Orleans Saints 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS & New Orleans Saints 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
It’s 2:30 a.m. on a cold and blustery Saturday night in Jerusalem and while the majority of watering holes in the center of town are starting to empty out, one pub is just starting to fill up.
It’s the NFL playoffs and Jerusalem’s only true sports bar “The Lion’s Den” (or HaGov; located at the corner of Yoel Solomon and Shamai streets) is getting ready to air the day’s second wild-card game, a highly anticipated rematch between last year’s AFC Champions the Indianapolis Colts, and the AFC runner-up New York Jets.
In 2010, the Colts came back from 11 points down at the half against the Jets to punch their ticket to Superbowl XLIV.
On this night however, the Jets would get their revenge defeating the Colts on a last second field goal 17-16 to earn a trip to Foxborough, Massachusetts to battle their arch rival and heavily favored New England Patriots in the Divisional Round.
According to one of HaGov’s owners Yonah Mishaan, the Jets are “the most popular football team at the venue, with the strongest fan base” due to the influx of New York ex-pats living in Jerusalem, and the many Yeshiva and college students who call New York home.
Dressed in their green and white, these rabid fans surround the multiple plasma screens throughout the bar in anticipation of their contest.
While the Jets/Colts game is the featured attraction, in actuality a diverse NFL fan base of Anglos living in Israel – Hebrew speakers, tourists, and students – have already been at HaGov for several hours to watch the first game of the evening between the Seattle Seahawks and the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.
Neither franchise has a strong Israel fan base, although one Seattle native at the bar, Ben Bloch, watches with a mixture of nervousness and delight as the 10 point underdog ’Hawks come from behind to take a precarious lead, late in the game.
Bloch, a Seattle transplant who made aliya three years ago continues to follow his beloved team religiously at all hours of the night.
With Seattle up by only four points with nine minutes to go, Bloch sits at the bar biting the nails on his left hand to the cuticle while nursing a huge one-liter mug of draft beer in the other.
“Just give me the ball, and I would run over [New Orleans],” says Bloch, only semi-jokingly. Bloch does in fact play offensive line for the Jerusalem Kings in the Kraft Family Israel Football League.
The clock runs out on the champion Saints, and Bloch jumps off his chair to do a small victory dance in celebration of the Seattle win.
“We’re not going to win the Super Bowl,” he says, “but at least we won tonight,” he adds before joyously disappearing through the bar’s doors into the cold Jerusalem night.
As he and several other patrons exit following game one, a horde of Jets supporters quickly claim the vacated seats. It’s now almost 3:30 a.m. and the bar is pumping with chants of “J-E-T-S. Jets. Jets. Jets.”
Three hours later as the sun begins to rise, the Jets escape with their one point victory on a last second field goal.
Despite sacrificing an entire night of sleep, these adrenaline- filled fanatics pour out into Kikar Zion in festive celebration of their team’s success.
The Jets will most likely lose to New England next week, but for one long night only, their team is on top of the NFL world.

Josh Hasten is a disappointed Indianapolis Colts fan living in Israel. He co-hosts the AFI/WAFI football hour, on every Wednesday at 5 p.m.