Nineteen members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame will touch down in Israel Thursday for a week of events including meeting members of Israel’s local football league.
The week of festivities, dubbed “Touchdown in Israel – Mission of Excellence,” will feature Jewish philanthropist and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft as well as Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, plus scrimmages with Israel Football League (IFL) players.
Some of the names that are said to be on their way include Green Bay Packers great Jim Taylor, former Patriots and Jets running back Curtis Martin, former Baltimore Colts wide receiver Raymond Berry and Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Curley Culp.
On Thursday, the IFL champion Judean Rebels will play Israel’s new national tackle team in a scrimmage where some of the hall-of-famers will act as “honorary coaches” on the sidelines.
“This is remarkable. These are some of the same guys I used to cheer and boo as a kid,” Judean Rebels head coach Avi Eastman told The Times of Israel. Eastman, who grew up in Kansas City, has three sons on the championship squad.
Robert Kraft and the Kraft Family have been the leading sponsors of football in Israel since 1999 when Kraft Family Stadium was opened. Dermer is a former quarterback for the Israeli (non-tackle) national team and is in the American Football in Israel Hall of Fame.
“With the new tackle-football team, we are getting a lot more attention from other American owners,” said Eastman. The new national squad is scheduled to play its first full game in Spain at the end of the summer. The scrimmage will be a chance to get the team some practice before their main debut.
On Sunday, Kraft and Dermer will be joined by Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker and American Football in Israel President Steve Leibowitz at Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem. Hall-of-famers will also participate in breakout sessions “where they will individually share football tips, stories, and pose for photos with Israeli players and fans,” according to a press release.
The event on Thursday will take place at the Kfar Saba Municipal Field starting at 7 p.m. The Jerusalem event on Sunday, June 21, will start at 4 p.m. and will be emceed by CBS Sports’ James Brown.
The AFI (American Football in Israel) is the official federation for all football activities in the country. The AFI includes three flag football leagues totaling 70 men’s, women’s and youth flag teams, the Kraft Family IFL men’s tackle league, the Kraft Family High School IFL tackle league and Israel Youth football. Under the auspices of the AFI there are currently about 2,000 players, coaches and officials taking part in organized football activities in Israel.