Tackle football league established in Tel Aviv [pg. 11]

After slow start, tackle football has evolved into three-team league, big plans on the drawing board.

Tel Aviv may be thousands of kilometers removed from Ford Field in Detroit but that doesn't mean that Israeli tackle football players don't approach their game with the same intensity as the players in the Super Bowl. After a slow start, tackle football is beginning to flourish in Israel. Beginning as a regular pickup game, it has evolved into a three-team league, with bigger plans on the drawing board. Football is king in the US, a country that is mad about sports. Americans love it and it is a passion, if not obsession, that can't be transmitted, only experienced first-hand. To the uninitiated, tackle football looks like a mishmash of flailing arms and legs, with people running at each other from all directions from which the ball emerges. Don't be mistaken, though, even though the game is called football, it has very little to do with kicking the ball. Ofri Becker is the spiritual patriarch of tackle football in this country. "I developed a love for the game in Ann Arbor, Michigan, watching the [University of Michigan] Wolverines play... When I came back to Israel I wanted to play the game," Becker told The Jerusalem Post. Becker's initial attempts to get his dream off the ground did not produce any results. After advertisements did not generate much response, Becker thought his vision was as realistic as the Cleveland Browns winning a Super Bowl. Another approach was then taken, this time with Middle East TV, an evangelical Christian station that began broadcasting the NFL to Israeli audiences about a decade ago. "I e-mailed the channel asking them to place a message during the broadcast," Becker said. "I was away at the time but when I got back there were over 200 messages waiting for me from people registering their interest in wanting to play." Out of that response, about 20 people turned up to play. The chance to play tackle football was and is an attractive selling point for starved ex-pats. It also serves as an alternative to an established touch/flag football league in Jerusalem. This season, a three-team league was formed, which plans to hold the first Israel Bowl in April. Two teams hail from Tel Aviv (the Sabres and the Pioneers) and one from Haifa (the Underdogs) with plans for expansion. "There are thoughts of starting teams in Jerusalem, Beersheba and the Golan Heights but we will have to see," said Becker, who hung up his cleats and isn't playing any more, but has returned with a whistle to be a referee. The rules for the Tel Aviv tackle league are not the same as the NFL. Each team has eight (as opposed to 11) players on the field at one time. For now, there are no helmets or shoulder pads and they play four quarters of 25 minutes each (as opposed to 15 minutes). While the clock stops at various points throughout the game as it is played in the US, in Tel Aviv the clock runs continuously except for the last two minutes of each quarter. In addition, other various rules have also been modified. Becker and the rest of the aficionados have even bigger plans. "We are looking for sponsorship and if anyone wanted to assist us, we would be most interested in hearing from them," he said. There is something else they are looking for that can't be bought. "There is no real tradition for the sport here in Israel. We are looking to develop it over time." Anyone interested in the Tel Aviv tackle football league should contact Raviv Faig at rains@walla.com.