Eighteen members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with their spouses or guests, recently returned from a weeklong “Touchdown in Israel II.” The historic trip made on June 13-21 was led by New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. The trip marked the second journey in two years to Israel by Hall of Famers, courtesy of Kraft’s generosity.
Pro Football Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker also accompanied the group on the trip that aligned with the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Mission is to “Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence EVERYWHERE.”
“It exceeded expectations. The historical sites, the spiritual journey, the bonding, the love, experiencing the culture of Israel,” shared the NFL’s all-time sack leader BRUCE SMITH. “These [are] resilient people and, in a lot of cases, there are some things that African Americans have in common, that common denominator with the Jewish people. Having had the opportunity to spend eight days in Israel and particularly the last six days in Jerusalem [were] amazing. It has been a life-changing experience.”
The eighteen Hall of Famers who participated in “Touchdown in Israel II” included:
“Touchdown in Israel II” included sight-seeing to Israel’s most historic and sacred sites including Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Masada, the Dead Sea, the City of David and the Western Wall, and an afternoon in Bethlehem. The group toured an Israeli airforce base and later attended a specially created tech expo that showcased technological advancements by Israeli start-up companies making an impact across the globe. Israel is regarded as one of the top innovators in the world.
The Hall of Famers engaged with fans throughout their tour of the country that included stays in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The growth of football in Israel was on display during the second night of the trip when multiple youth and high school teams scrimmaged during an event organized by American Football in Israel, a non-profit organization. Several Hall of Famers such as Carter, Smith, Bettis, and Williams served as honorary captains and coached the youth players.
Three nights later, more than 1,000 fans, dressed in apparel of nearly every NFL club, were on hand for a special meet-and-greet with the Hall of Famers at Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem. The programs were created for the Gold Jackets to provide inspiration to future generations of fans in Israel by sharing stories from theirlegendary careers and by illustrating how they applied values learned from the game – commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence – to their lives after football.
The Hall of Famers were invited guests to a special ribbon-cutting ceremony held at the beautiful Kraft Family Sports Complex in Jerusalem that features Israel’s first regulation-sized football field.
Several guest speakers presented to the Hall of Famers and their spouses and guests during the trip. Among those to address the group were Tal Brody, a former pro basketball player and iconic Israeli sports hero; Dr. Michael B. Oren, the former Ambassador to the United States; and Captain Barak Raz, a reserves officer and spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. On the final day of the journey, the group met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was enthralled with the football legends. Netanyahu used football analogies as he shared insight into the complexity of issues his country faces
and described the spirit of Israeli people.
Bettis commented, “On this trip, if there is one thing that sticks out to me more than anything, it’s the Jewish people –
their resolve to overcome all the obstacles that they’ve been faced with throughout their lives and going back thousands of years.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ABOUT “TOUCHDOWN IN ISRAEL II” FROM PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMERS.
“I think it’s a moving experience, not only to me, but to all the guys are involved in this trip. I can’t thank Mr. Kraft enough for allowing us and giving us the opportunity to be here and not only experience the place, but also the people and what they mean.“One thing about this trip that I’ve noticed ...is that guys you don’t really know – you just see them at enshrinement week – you’re able to talk to them a little bit
more, not about football but about different things, about your family, about whatever comes to mind ... when we’re on trips like this, you kind of see what a person is really like and you bond with them in more ways than you think you
would... so this is just a great experience to be with these guys other than being on the football side of it – just guys and their faiths and what they feel and how they go about doing things every day. It’s a pretty good thing.”
“[Robert Kraft] is still a fan. You talk about Roger Staubach, “Mean” Joe Greene, so many guys that are here... he watched all these guys play at the highest level. To be shoulder-to-shoulder and have a conversation and talk about the game that he loves, what he’s done for the Patriots organization, the winning, what a lot of these guys have done for their clubs, there is a lot of common bond there. I think with that common bond is a deep appreciation for the game and what goes into it.”
“The spirit that David [Baker] and Mr. Kraft have shown have been infectious. I think that every player that’s been here, that’s made the trip has been impressed and moved.”
“The trip absolutely lived up to my expectations. The first thing, the people here have a special tenacity. And as an activist myself, this is the epitome – Israel and the people of Israel would be the epitome of a spirit that people have not been able to kill and they live on and apply themselves.”
“It’s gone way beyond my imagination. It’s been a spectacular trip. It’s been fulfilling, not only emotionally but spiritually, and there’s a group of people that you develop relationships with. I’ve known Mr. Kraft for a long time, but is the first time I’ve gotten the chance to spend seven, eight days with him and see his commitment to the people
of Israel –get on the ground, touch the people of
Israel, see what the state of Israel is about. It’s an amazing story about a culture and about people that refuse to give up or refuse to lose.”
“For the most part, the Hall of Famers, we could come over here ourselves. But to be able to do it this way, it makes it even more special. And what does [Robert Kraft] want from us? Nothing. Just our experience. What does he want? Even as a media person, he didn’t want anything from me but just for me to able to enjoy the experience that he’s been able to enjoy for over fifty years...I mean, there are a lot of people who are rich, but what do they spend their money on? Bob Kraft decided to spend his money on the state of Israel and bringing the best football players ever to the state of Israel so we can grow the game in Israel and also the culture, the exchange between different belief systems, different cultures coming together. Because ultimately what do we want? We want peace.”
“It’s like you’re back in the locker room but we’re back with some maturity. It’s an unbelievable affirmation and there’s such a great deal of respect. There is no diva. There is no first team in the Hall of Fame. There is no one guy in front of
another. We’re all on the same team. We’re all the greatest team that’s ever played, and that comes through. I think that we’re very, very respectful and appreciative of the 96 years of the National Football League... So the overall appreciation we have for the game and trying to continue to grow the game, we feel it is a responsibility. But you can’t even talk about the Hall right now and all these other opportuni
ties without talking about Dave Baker. He’s a great man.
He’s brought great leadership... As we say right now, it’s a great time to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
“My motivation [to come to Israel] is really to get to a place where I’ve had a lot of respect for. I was real involved at the Naval Academy (during Vietnam). With World War II and saw the evils of what took place, especially in Germany with
the Holocaust. So I’ve always been very involved in many causes at times for the Jewish people... I’ve studied it. I’ve learned a lot about it. So I had this great opportunity to go with football players and with Robert Kraft. And what he’s
done is just fantastic to take care of us and let us come over here. I was really [excited] to come to Israel, and this was the perfect time to do it.”
“This trip was filled with so many spiritual sites and miracles that took place and Jesus’ walk. But I’ve got to tell you, to me, there was nothing more powerful than seeing his birthplace, being born and then put in the manger. It was just an incredible feeling and power and it just had substance to me. It’s going to be something that I’m going to talk about for the rest of my life.”
“This is something I will always cherish, the time that I had to spend with [Robert Kraft]... There need to be more owners like Robert Kraft. He’s a class act. He’s personable. He’s genuine. He cares. He’s my kind of guy.”
“What a great experience. What a great opportunity to be a part of something that is hopefully growing a game that all of us enjoy and loved all our life, and then to have the opportunity to be in a beautiful place like this. All in all, it’s been so much fun getting to know all these guys, but being able to spend a week with them and really getting to understand them and know them better is also one of the big highlights of that trip.”
“My takeaway from this trip is regardless of your faith –whether it’s Muslim, whether it’s Jewish, whether it’s Christian – you need to come to Jerusalem
because it is a spiritual place. You’ll get a better appreciation for your faith, and the people here are amazing. It’s a sight to behold to come here and see everything that Jerusalem has to offer and the state of Israel has to offer. I will
be a strong advocate for telling people you need to see it with your own eyes and feel it and be a part of it because it’s really special. The fact that all the religions come together here – it’s a tremendous melting pot. For whatever
religion you’re a part of, you will be spiritually fulfilled in coming and spending time here in this incredible place.”
“My expectations were not even close to what the trip has lived up to... seeing some of the sights and seeing the different quarters – the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter –to see it, you really don’t have a true understanding of what
you’re going to see. To go to the Western Wall, to go in the tunnels and go underneath, you have no idea. You think you have an idea, but once you get here, you see it. It blows you away. You really feel that the Lord is here. That’s an amazing feeling to have. So it definitely surpassed any idea of what we thought we were going to see.”
“It was great to get to a field and see American football being played in Israel. Your expectations, the assumption is that they don’t really know what they’re doing. Maybe they don’t even know how to hold the football correctly. So you think that, but then you see the kids on the field. You see they have a true affinity for the game... I was impressed. I’m saying to myself, ‘They get it.’ They have the essence of what football really is. Maybe the X’s and O’s, you know you
can practice more and you get this better, but they have a fundamental understanding of what football is all about, and that’s what you love to see.”
“So you hear the story of how the Jewish people were exiled, how they were banished from their own lands, and eventually they found their way back home. Yes, there was tremendous tragedy involved in that process, but it never stopped the resolve of the people to come back to their homeland. And that story, it resonates so much because you can appreciate that. Being African American, having to through, my people, a similar struggle. We were persecuted
and we were taken from our lands. You get a connection there and you appreciate that... My takeaway is you have a greater understanding of the Jewish fight and their resolve as people. It’s just amazing.”
“In 97 years, there’s never been a greater group of players. They could go anywhere. And so it’s a treat for me in a small way to show them the country. But also, so many of them are spiritual, and I think that’s great because that’s going to continue to bring people together, and we need more of that in this world.
“I hope that if they’ve had the experience we hope they’ve had that they’ll become ambassadors for the state of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, and talk about what a great country it is and what a great place it is to visit and encourage people to do that.”
In 2015, Kraft led 19 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on a week long tour of Israel in a historic trip called “Touchdown in Israel: Mission of Excellence.”
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