NFL in Israel

While my articles are generally about Israel and the need for Jews to be a strong and proud nation, this article may seem out of place since I will now write about… the NFL. Don’t worry, I have not “fumbled the ball” nor have any of my ideas been “intercepted”, I am simply going to write about an incredible event which I attended this week in the heart of Jerusalem.

The event was called “Touchdown in Israel; Mission of Excellence” and it was organized by Robert Kraft, owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. In 1999 Bob Kraft built Israel’s first – and only – football stadium located next to Gan Sacher, a 3 minute walk from Rehavia, Shaarei Chesed and Nahlaot. As part of this trip, Kraft brought 19 members of the NFL Hall of Fame. To put that in perspective, you need to know that close to 30,000 people have played in the NFL but only 168 are alive today who are members of the Hall of Fame. Of those 168 Hall of Famers, 19 came to Jerusalem. Not bad!

These 19 men, plus Bob Kraft and CBS legendary sports announcer James Brown hosted a great event – open to one and all… and for free – in the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem. They spoke about their trip and the feelings they had towards Israel. They mentioned the hi-tech show they attended to see Israel’s latest and greatest technology and the spiritual and Biblical connection they all felt in the Holy Land. Of course, they also spoke a lot about football and it is on this point that I want to focus because – as you will read – there’s many things we can use from the game of football to become better Jews. I am not kidding.

James Brown asked Jack Youngblood to come on to the stage. Depending on your age, that name may or may not ring a bell but it certainly meant a lot to me. Youngblood played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1971-1984 and was one of the greatest Defensive Ends to ever play the game. I played tackle football in my high-school days and he was one of the stars I looked up to. I too played on the defensive line and Jack Youngblood was my hero. He was as tough as they came. Experts have said that he was the toughest man in NFL history! I watched him closely through the years and studied his movements and now, many years later, had the wonderful opportunity to listen to him – and take a picture with him – in the heart of Jerusalem!

James Brown told the crowd the famous story about how Youngblood played in the playoffs and the Super Bowl with a broken leg!! He asked him, “Jack, why did you play football with a broken leg?” Youngblood’s answer was simple and directly to the point; “Because it was Sunday! I played football on Sunday and nothing – but nothing – stopped me from doing that. I was the Captain of my team and I had a responsibility to lead!” He said that his doctors told him he was crazy and his answer was, “Tell me something I don’t already know!”

Why am I telling you this? Because that same logic needs to be applied in our lives as well. If this guy can play football in the NFL with a broken leg because “it was Sunday” then we can go to shul in the snow because “it is Shabbat”. If “nothing – but nothing” stopped Jack Youngblood from his responsibilities to his team then we must let nothing – but nothing – stop us from our responsibilities to “team” which means our Nation and our King!

The next player that James Brown asked to come on stage was John Hannah. He played for the New England Patriots from 1973-1985 and was voted Offensive lineman of the year four years in a row!! He was elected to ten Pro Bowls and Brown asked him to comment on the fact that NFL experts refer to him as the greatest offensive lineman to ever play the game of football. “How do you feel when people say that about you?” asked James Brown. The answer John Hannah gave was another lesson in life for me, and hopefully for you as well. “People say whatever they want, sometimes good and sometimes bad. I never get involved in that. I just do my job – to the best of my ability – and refuse to get caught up in what is being said.” WOW!! Just do your job. Be the best Jew you can be. Serve Hashem with every ounce of strength in your body and don’t worry about what is being said about you; good or bad… just do your job!

Finally, after the football stars spoke, each one went to a different place on the field and the fans were able to get autographs and speak to each one personally. I made my way over to Rayfield Wright who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1967-1979. This superstar played in five Super Bowls and played in 200 games! He showed me his Super Bowl rings and said, “Not bad for a guy who didn’t make his high school football team!” I couldn’t believe what I heard. “You didn’t make your high school team but ended up as a Hall of Fame player in the NFL? How did you do that?” He said, “Simple. I had a dream and I didn’t let anybody take it away from me.” Please read that again… and again. Rayfield Wright had a dream and he wasn’t stopping until that dream became reality. That is what we must do as Jews. We need to dream about King David’s dynasty coming back, about the Sanhedrin sitting in judgment and about the Kohen Gadol in the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim on Yom Kippur… and we must never let anybody take that dream away from us.

Before I went home, I paid honor to the one New York Jet that was at this event; the great running back Curtis Martin. (Note: Yes, I am a Jets fan…) Number 28 played a total of 10 years, 7 of them with the Jets and he would have gone longer but a career ending knee injury ended his playing days. Curtis was mobbed by the crowd of fans but he took pictures and signed autographs for everyone who asked. He even signed my son’s Jets hat and took pictures with kids of all ages, smiling all the way through. I asked him what he thought of Israel and he simply said, “It’s a beautiful country. You should be very proud of what you have.” And then, even though I am already a Zayda, I took a “selfie” with Curtis Martin. I guess the kid inside of me is still alive and well.

So there you have it; the NFL in Israel teaching us about life through the experiences and wisdom of some of the greatest men to ever play the game of football. Who would have ever thought that I would meet the people I listed above plus Mel Blount, Raymond Berry, Tim Brown, Floyd Little, Andre Tippett and more… in the center of Jerusalem? Well, I guess that is a lesson too. The Bet Ha’Mikdash is called a “House of prayer for all Nations” so when that great day comes we will be meeting lots of amazing people in Jerusalem. May that day come very soon, AMEN!!