For the second time in two years, thanks to the generosity of New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, a group of Pro Football Hall of Famers, are traveling through Israel.
Eighteen Hall of Famers, and their spouses or guests, are participating in the weeklong “Touchdown in Israel II”. The group of football legends are accompanying Kraft on the ambassador trip to Israel. The Hall of Famers will experience the culture and history of Israel and participate in special football events showcasing the growth of the game in the country.
Pro Football Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker is also traveling on the trip that aligns 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.”
“Touchdown in Israel II” provides the football greats an opportunity to witness the growth of the game in Israel, experience a journey through the historic country, and provide inspiration through the focus on values learned from the game.
Israeli football fans and youth players will engage with the 18 Gold Jackets, a term used to describe living members of the Hall, during scheduled events. The programs were created for the Gold Jackets to provide inspiration to future generations of fans in Israel by sharing stories from their legendary careers and by illustrating how they applied values learned from the game – commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence – to their lives after football.
Daily Notes from Israel
Hall of Famers on the trip:
LEM BARNEY - Enshrined in 1992
JEROME BETTIS - Enshrined in 2015
JIM BROWN - Enshrined in 1971
CRIS CARTER - Enshrined in 2013
DAVE CASPER - Enshrined in 2002
ERIC DICKERSON - Enshrined in 1999
MARSHALL FAULK - Enshrined in 2011
JOE GREENE - Enshrined in 1987
WILLIE LANIER - Enshrined in 1986
JOE MONTANA - Enshrined in 2000
ANDRE REED - Enshrined in 2014
MIKE SINGLETARY - Enshrined in 1998
BRUCE SMITH - Enshrined in 2009
JOHN STALLWORTH - Enshrined in 2002
ROGER STAUBACH - Enshrined in 1985
ANDRE TIPPETT - Enshrined in 2008
AENEAS WILLIAMS - Enshrined in 2014
RON YARY - Enshrined in 2001
Pete Fierle, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Chief of Staff & Vice President of Communications, will share an ongoing glimpse of the historic “Touchdown in Israel II” trip.
Entry 1 | Entry 2 | Entry 3 | Entry 4 | Entry 5 | Entry 6 | Entry 7
June 21: Faith, Family and Football
“Touchdown in Israel II” wrapped up with a ribbon-cutting for the spectacular Kraft Family Sports Campus that features three fields for soccer. One of the fields is lined for “American” football becoming Israel’s first full-length football field.
After a ceremony (thankfully in an air-conditioned tent) in which Robert Kraft dedicated the complex, the group of invited guests that included the 18 Gold Jackets and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was off to cut the ribbon on the field.
At the ribbon-cutting of Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem that includes first-ever full-length football field. HOF President David Baker teaching Jerusalem Mayor how to play defense against Jerome Bettis!
As the group gathered, Aeneas Williams called for a football and before you knew it, legendary quarterback Roger Staubach was firing spirals down the field. He connected with Williams, a young Israeli woman who plays the game, and Jerusalem’s Mayor! It was indeed a GREAT day for football!
From there, the group set out to a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who shared insight about Israel that included many analogies to football.
This incredible journey concluded with a dinner during which each of the 18 Gold Jackets shared emotional testimonies about how the week in Israel impacted them. It was clear that these football legends experienced something they will never forget. The comradery was something special as they spoke about faith, family and football!
June 20: Resilience
Yesterday's stops for the 18 Gold Jackets traveling as part of “Touchdown in Israel II,” provided two very different experiences yet symbolized the resilience of the Jewish people. The morning started with a specially created Tech Expo for the Hall of Famers. A variety of Israeli companies showcased some of the most advanced innovations in the world. Several speakers throughout our time in the country talked about how Israel has become the top innovator in the world. The Hall of Famers and their spouses and invited guests saw incredible cutting-edge technology, much of which provides advancement in the medical field.
The afternoon was marked by a somber, yet inspiring, visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It does not shy away from displaying the horrors of an unimaginable time in the world’s history. Yet, at the conclusion of the visit, the architectural design and the thematic story through the museum, focuses on a message of hope and resilience. The important mantra of the museum is “never again.”
It has been interesting to see how these Hall of Famers have learned so much about Israel during a nonstop trek through country over the past week. To a person, they have commented on the spirit and determination of the Israeli people.
Interestingly, as inspiring as the people of this country have been for Hall of Famers, all who have crossed paths with these football legends have been in total awe of them. It is further proof that the values of the Game and these great men represent stretch far beyond the football field and are the same values possessed by the proud citizens of Israel.
June 19: A GREAT Celebration
The world-class “Touchdown in Israel” trip continued with perhaps the most spiritual day for the group of Gold Jackets. These 18 greats spent their Father’s Day (and Bruce Smith celebrated his birthday) on tours of the “Old City” and the City of David in Jerusalem and then toured Bethlehem.
There was no rest for the weary as the 18 Hall of Famers made their way last night to Kraft Stadium where they were greeted by 1,000 jubilant fans. The Hall’s President David Baker emceed a program that showcased these 18 “Heroes of the Game.” Loud applauses came as Baker introduced, one-by-one, the greatest players to have ever played this game. The Hall of Famers then made their way to stations set around the field to greet the excited fans.
A shared opinion of every one of those who are participating in “Touchdown in Israel” is that this American football is alive and well in Israel, thanks to the great support by Robert Kraft.
- The Old City was building by King David in 1004 BC and has always been considered the center of the world.
- The Christian Quarter of the Old City contains more than 40 churches.
- Bethlehem is located in Palestinian territory, and its economy is driven mainly by tourism.
June 18: A Day of History
Every day counts at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as we prepare to celebrate for the National Football League’s Centennial in 2020 at Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village. It will be a magical moment to reflect on the first 100 years of the NFL which during that time has been deeply embedded into American culture.
While a century is impressive, so too is 2,000 years!
Yesterday’s itinerary for “Touchdown in Israel II” included a visit to the top of Masada for the 18 Hall of Famers. Masada is a story of perseverance, power, faith, struggle and human spirit – much like an NFL game. We toured through the ruins of a once grandiose fortress built in 30 BC by King Herod. Remarkably, there are many remnants of tile and stone from the palaces built on Masada over 2,000 years ago.
The majestic mountain is actually at sea level. That’s because it hovers over the Dead Sea which, at 1,300 feet below sea level, is the lowest point on earth. The views from Masada are beyond breathtaking.
Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper touches the inside of the Western Wall during a tour of the tunnels of the holy place.
Also impressive is the star power of the Hall of Famers as they toured the mountaintop on this hot and sunny day. There was a constant element of surprise for guests who winded through the paths and were suddenly stunned to find a who’s who of football’s greatest. Certainly, it was not at Masada that an excited man, dressed in a Syracuse t-shirt, expected to come across the great Jim Brown. The gracious football legend spent several minutes engaging with the man.
Moments later, two other men found some shade inside an area on the mountain. Their jaws dropped as they gazed across the room and spotted Bruce Smith and Eric Dickerson. To their amazement, moments later, Cris Carter walked in.
As our group exited an area of the tour, a man nearly walked into Willie Lanier. He quickly exclaimed, “Go Chiefs!”
Yes, the stardom of pro football’s heroes of the game is far reaching.
The full day of sight-seeing, that included floating in the Dead Sea, wrapped up with a spectacular night tour of the tunnels at the Western Wall. There, the rich history of Israel was again on display as the Hall of Famers and their spouses or guests reached out and touched the stone that dates back more than 2,200 years.
- The Dead Sea has receded for centuries. Today, it loses 7-8 feet of water annually.
- The Dead Sea is nine times saltier than the ocean.
- The largest stones in the Western Wall are 600 tons each!
June 17: Hallelujah
It was a day the group of 18 Gold Jackets will never forget especially for a pair of Hall of Fame defensive backs!
“Touchdown in Israel II” continued yesterday when we departed Tel Aviv for a journey north into sacred land around the Sea of Galilee. Our first stop was at Mount Beatitudes. A spontaneous magical moment took place as a number of the Hall of Famers and other visitors reflected in silence inside the beautiful Roman Catholic Franciscan chapel built in the 1930s in area where a Byzantine church stood from the 4th through 7th century. Someone, despite the hand-written sign that stated “Silence,” belted out one word of song. Suddenly, the church came alive with a harmony of voices that echoed beautifully from inside the church. The football metaphor here is how passionate fans in an NFL stadium unite in cheer.
After a stop at Capernaum, the site of the world’s first Christian church, the group enjoyed lunch at a restaurant on a kibbutz.
It was off to Yardenit, that according to Christian tradition, is the site where Jesus was baptized. Many of the Hall of Famers and other guests lined up in the Jordan River to be baptized. The moment was made even more special as Aeneas Williams helped officiate the baptisms. Williams, a pastor in Ferguson, Missouri, read scripture with the same passion and dedication he exemplified as a cornerback with the Cardinals and safety with the Rams in a career that landed him in Canton.
Williams "rose" to the moment at the Jordan River
The day was capped by an enjoyable Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. A cappella group, Kippalive, provided entertainment. The energetic singers belted out song after song. After they finished, Williams stood up to tell them that former Detroit Lions Lem Barney used to be a backup singer to Marvin Gaye. Again, another magical moment spontaneously occurred as Barney joined the young singers for a moving rendition of “Hallelujah.” Soon, all were joining in, and like earlier in the day, a chorus of song echoed through the city.
I won’t soon forget the smiles on the faces of Williams and Barney, not to mention all of the Hall of Famers, as they celebrated life and togetherness.
- 50% of the world's diamond trade is in Israel
- The foothills of Galilee has fertile soil and produces foods such as bananas, olives, and mangos.
June 16: Human spirit alive and well
The game of football teaches the lessons of how an individual gets back up after being knocked down. That lesson plays out on every play of a game.
This same lesson applied to the inspiring speech, sprinkled with humor to soften the impact, shared about Israeli Defense Force (IDF) pilot Noam Gershony. The group traveling as part of “Touchdown in Israel II” toured a nearby IDF base and capped the visit with Gershony’s emotional account of his helicopter crash that left him handicapped and cost his co-pilot his life.
His message was all about getting back up. After years of rehabilitation, he today lives in constant pain. That, however, does not detract from an incredibly positive outlook on life. Gershony’s will to not give up allows him to enjoy activities such as snow skiing, water skiing and tennis. His will to persevere led him to winning a Gold Medal in quad tennis at the 2012 Summer Paralympics. He shared his perspective to love and cherish every moment of every day.
Later that night, the Gold Jackets were on hand for a special football exhibition held by the American Football in Israel at Ramat HaSharon Stadium. A large contingent of Israeli media and fans were on hand to get a glimpse of the group of football legends adorned in their Gold Jackets. The night started off with Dallas Cowboys great Roger Staubach throwing some tight spirals to Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams much to the delight of the excited crowd.
Four scrimmages, each one quarter in length, showcased how far the development of American football has come in Israel due to Robert Kraft’s great support. Several of the Hall of Famers – Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Jerome Bettis, Bruce Smith and Williams – took part as honorary captains and coaches for the exhibition.
- Tel Aviv is a city that is eleven times safer than Chicago.
- Innovation is key to Israel’s economy and identity. The country produces every helmet that is worn by an American military pilot.
- Every Israeli citizen is required to serve in the military. Men serve three years and women must serve two years.
- Tel Aviv is just a four-hour drive from the Iraqi border.
June 15: “It’s Jim Brown, it’s Jim Brown!”
This special trip of a lifetime began with 18 great heroes of the game huddling in a Logan Airport hotel ballroom in Boston before departing on an all-night flight to Israel. Hall of Fame President David Baker eloquently shared how this trip will not only impact those in the room but their presence will have a far reach. He reminded everyone of the Hall’s Mission to “Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence EVERYWHERE!” He shared how each of these living legends epitomize the values of commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence and how sports can bring people of all backgrounds together.
New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft warmly greeted the group on the plane before the 11-hour flight to Tel Aviv. The sight-seeing of this historic country began immediately led by scholarly guides serving as hosts on each of the two busses transporting the “Touchdown in Israel II” participants.
A trip through the beautiful old city of Jaffa was enjoyed by all. Jaffa, known as the place where Christianity was born, is now a part of the city of Tel Aviv. A view from next to St. Peter’s Church provided a spectacular view of the modern-looking city, kind of a cross between New York and Miami, that sets on the Mediterranean Sea. It wasn’t long until the first metaphor of football came alive. The guides shared how Tel Aviv is a great melting pot of all people and where Jews, Christians, and Muslims live peacefully together. It reminded me of how a team huddles up on the football field.
The reach and impact this game has had on the world was evident immediately. The group gathered for a tour of Tel Aviv followed by dinner. Two guests who were walking through the hotel lobby stopped in their tracks, pointed and enthusiastically exclaimed, “It’s Jim Brown, it’s Jim Brown!” Yes, they were correct in their spotting of the now 81-year-old legend whose legacy on the football field for the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s and ‘60s has left an indelible mark on history.
The “Touchdown in Israel II” group was welcomed to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the site of the Israel’s declaration as a state in 1948, by a gathering of visitors who blanketed the steps to form a gauntlet.
Suddenly, a young woman wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt was awestruck as “Mean” Joe Greene ascended the steps. She excitedly reached out and touched the legendary defensive tackle of Pittsburgh’s vaunted “Steel Curtain” defense.
Greene was equally thrilled by the notion of a Steelers fan greeting him on the other side of the world. “I’ve been a Steeler fan for a long, long time and I’ve met Steelers fans all over the U.S., every corner, and I’m not surprised when I see a Steelers fan. But, she caught me by surprise. I was not expecting that! It was very special.”
DYK? Each daily post will include a few tidbits shared by our wonderful guides.
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- Israel has a population of 9.5 million.The country is approximately 350 miles north to south and 9 miles wide at its narrowest point, an area comparable to the state of New Jersey.
- Tel Aviv is the financial and cultural center of Israel