The Israeli national tackle football team has traveled to Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy, this week, for a four-team European Champion playoff tournament. The trip marks a great accomplishment by the team and what is thought to be the largest contingent to venture abroad in one sport. The journey was partly inspired by the vision of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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The Vision of the Pro Football Hall of Fame reads “It’s not just the past, it’s the future; It’s not just about Canton, it’s the world; It’s not just a great museum for football, it’s a message of Excellence EVERYWHERE!” This message has touched so many lives from the great game of football, that it has spread throughout the world.
The connection to the Hall and Israeli football started with a visit to Canton, Ohio, by the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, an avid football fan and the former quarterback for the Israel American Football League, in March of 2014. That visit turned into the planning of a historic trip for 19 Gold Jackets and their families, “Touchdown In Israel: Mission Of Excellence” in the summer of 2015.
The once in a life-time journey was also made possible by the generosity of New England Patriots’ Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. The Patriots owners, who is involved with missions to Israel, introduced American Flag Football to Israel in the late 1990s.
Since then, the game of football has grown in-part to him leading the charge as an Ambassador of football and promoting the values of the game. Kraft has even built a football stadium in the center of Jerusalem.
During the Hall of Famers visit last summer, the Gold Jackets attended two events that was hosted by Steve Leibowitz, who is the President of American Football in Israel. The Hall of Famers not only shared the vision and mission of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but they also had the opportunity to coach and share pointers from their Hall of Fame careers with young Israeli football players.
Other highlights of the trip included visits to an Israel Defense Forces base, the city of Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, and a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“These are 19 living legends, wonderful people, they came here and saw a country that’s probably familiar to them in spirit,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu of the Gold Jackets. “I’m glad to have them as Ambassadors, I don’t think we could have better Ambassador in the world.”
“The whole week has been incredible. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but no. In this situation, you really have to be here because it’s about the feeling, the emotion,” explained Gold Jacket Floyd Little, after experiencing the trip to Israel with his fellow Hall of Famers and their spouses.
Leibowitz’s love for the game is unwavering. He made a trip to Canton in early August to attend the Hall of Fame Enshrinement festivities.
The friendships built will last a lifetime. Several of the Hall of Famers and Hall staff who went on the trip answered the call by Leibowitz to support the national team in its first international competition. Money was raised to develop the Israeli National team and prepare them for their trip this week.
Now, the 45-man roster, along with 18 coaches, trainers and officials are preparing for their first play-off match-up against Italy on Friday. If a victory prevails, the team will face the winner of Serbia vs. Switzerland, on Sunday Sept. 4 for the championship.
The live broadcast of Israel vs. Italy can be viewed below at 8 a.m. eastern standard time, Sept. 2.