Pigskin in Kosher Country
Posted on January 20th, 2011
The sight of two teams in full gear playing tackle football in the middle of Jerusalem may seem a bit out of place. After all, this is a soccer country [Technically, Israelis call it football -Ed.] where the instinctive impatience of Israelis may seem to go against the controlled violence that is at the heart of a football game. I remember once back in Maryland trying to teach an Israeli friend to play. He liked the tackling part but couldn’t get used to the concept of letting the tackled player get up and waiting for the next play to tackle him again.
Yet Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, had a dream. Well, another dream besides having his team win the Super Bowl every year. Maybe more of a thought or even a notion than a full fledged dream in fact. But the bottom line is that he built the stadium that bears his name in the heart of Jerusalem in hopes of encouraging American football in the holy land.
Now Kraft stadium is not exactly Foxborough. The field is only 70 yards and lacks goal posts. Yet this is real, full contact football. To step onto the sidelines and see a football scoreboard, hear the announcer calling the plays, and feel the roar of a crowd (well, maybe “crowd” is a stretch but we sure did roar) brought back lots of memories. I guess football is one of the few things that I really miss about America (that and insulation).
To say that my son Max was excited about playing his first regular season game would be like saying Lance Armstrong was excited to race in the Tour de France. As one of the youngest players on the team, he is mostly regulated to special teams. That’s okay, because without names or numbers on the jerseys, I couldn’t tell any of the players apart. I just assumed he was the key guy on every play. I think I need to buy him some brightly colored socks before the next game.
Max’s team is coached by a good friend whom Israeli blog readers might recognize as the “Dearly Beloved” from the always uplifting Ki Yachol Nuchal! blog. He inspires the kids and as a former college football player himself, knows what he is doing. The defensive coach is another immigrant from Baltimore, so it is no surprise that the team wound up as the “Ravens.”
The first game was against the Kfar Saba Hawks. Now the Hawks seemed to have brought about twice as many players to the game, and they all looked twice as tall as the Ravens. But the boys were not intimidated. Max was extremely pumped for the game, even getting himself a Mohawk haircut beforehand. (Honestly, I don’t know where the boy gets these crazy ideas from…)
Yet things looked grim when the Ravens fumbled the opening kickoff right into the hands of the Hawks. For a little while, I was sure that I would end up like all parents who attend school plays to show support for an event one’s child is in that is notably lacking in any sort of entertainment value.
But when the Ravens used their next possession to score a touchdown off an amazing pass into the corner of the end zone, I realized that we had a real football game goin’ on. And you know what that means…
Despite sitting on concrete in freezing cold temperatures, there was no way either I or my seven-year old were going home before the final whistle. (Yes, I think I picked up another “Parent of the Year” nomination when I wrapped my scarf around my first grader’s head to try and warm him up as the midnight hour approached.)
The game stayed close with the Ravens staying slightly ahead but unable to finish the Hawks off. What they lacked in size when compared to the giants from Kfar Saba, they made up for with skill and cunning. Mixing passes, runs, and some well executed fakes, they were able to go toe to toe with a team that could rely on a much greater number of fresh players. Max was able to get in on a few a tackles which made both our days.
So while the referee sported a beard and side-curls, the announcer was way too polite, and they were selling Crembos rather than beer and pretzels on the sidelines, this was an actual, honest-to-goodness American football game.
As the time ran down, the Hawks were trailing by six points but in good scoring position. Three times the Hawks’ quarterback dropped back and put the ball in the air. With receivers streaking toward victory in the end zone, they were literally rap, rap, rapping on the Ravens door.
But quote the Ravens:
Final Score: Ravens 40, Hawks 34
Now, Israel has everything. (Well, everything cool that is.)
Mr. Kraft, I’m sorry that the Jets beat the Pats this year, but thanks for bringing the ol’ pigskin to Kosher Country.
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