From June 16th to the 23rd, nineteen members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame took a week-long tour of Israel in a historic trip called “Touchdown in Israel: Mission of Excellence.” You can check out some of the photos from the trip in the slideshow at the bottom of the page.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a champion of the NFL’s international efforts and sponsor of the Israeli Football League, stepped in to make the idea happen. The trip provided an opportunity for the players to see how football has grown in Israel and it gave them a chance to interact with residents and visit historic sites to learn more about the region’s history and meet the country’s current leaders.
“First of all, you have to thank Mr. Kraft for putting all of this together,” Paul Krause said. “What he did was absolutely unreal. He took care of everything. We had the best of everything, and then you go meet the Prime Minister Netanyahu. I think the world of him and what he’s doing. The Israeli Ambassador to the United States (Ron Dermer) was with us almost every day. They made you feel a part of that and welcomed us with open arms.”
The group visited places that they had read about in the Bible like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Masada and Capernaum.
The Minnesotta Viking website has an article about the groups experiences that you can read at this link: Hall of Famers Krause, Doleman Inspired by Israel visit. Here are some excerpts from the article:
“It’s back in Bible times, and everything you’ve read about, heard about, is true,” Krause said. “All of a sudden it comes to life.”
Chris Doleman immersed himself in the history of his Christian faith as one of the group members who was baptized in the Jordan River. Group members also floated in the Dead Sea, at the lowest elevation on earth (1,407 feet below sea level).
“If you’re a Christian and follow this and believe this, to actually put your hands on it and touch it and be a part of it, then take yourself back to what it was like to travel back then was awe-inspiring,” Doleman said.
Krause had previously been baptized and did not receive baptismal in the Jordan River, but he did observe a tight bond within the group follow. “The biggest thing I saw come out of that was the closeness of those 19 guys and families. You could just see the whole group came closer together, and that’s what we need,” Krause said. “I don’t care if your red, white, black or yellow, I saw the closeness mold everybody together, and that’s what the world needs. I don’t know if we’ll ever see it, but that’s what everybody should try to do.”
Krause and Doleman noted the proximity of Christian, Jewish and Muslim people living in the Old City of Jerusalem and the commitment that they have to their religions.
“Muslims and Jews and Christians, you’re able to tell what area of town you’re in if there’s a mosque, synagogue or cross,” Doleman said. “It changes quickly. I got a picture that has a mosque in the middle of it, and right behind the mosque, there’s a cross.”
Added Krause: “They’re not bothering anybody and they live together. The Palestinians weren’t in there, but it really brought to light that there’s something better if people can work together and live together. I really enjoyed my time there. I met some great people.”
Former Broncos running back Floyd Little said “It was something we wanted to do it, it was on our bucket list to see what it’s really like, and actually walk in the Bible. You don’t realize it, but you’re walking in the Bible. The experience for us was enlightening, it was totally renewing our beliefs and who we are and what we are, our faith.”
Little was one of several of the men re-baptized in the River Jordan, an emotional experience.
“They say one picture is like 1,000 words? There are no words to describe what it’s like to be baptized in the River Jordan,” Little said. “It was just unbelievable.”
Former Bills running back Thurman Thomas and his wife were also baptized, but the couple were so enamored of the trip that they have decided to return with their four children. Because of that, they didn’t visit every attraction, such as Bethlehem and the Dead Sea, wanting to experience those for the first time with the rest of their family.
The group toured Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, visited Israel’s Hatzor Air Force Base, took a late night tour of the Western Wall tunnels, and visited Kfar Saba Stadium, where they supported football scrimmages, and Kraft Stadium, which was built by the Patriots Owner.
Mike Haynes, one of five Hall of Fame players with Patriot ties, floated the idea of returning to hold clinics to continue to try to grow the game.
I wouldn’t be surprised if someday in the not too distant future, the NFL has a team based in Israel. And what would their team name be? How about the “Bethlehem Stars”?
The following 19 Pro Football Hall of Fame members took part in “Touchdown in Israel: Mission of Excellence.”
• Raymond Berry – Class of 1973 – End – 1955-1967 Baltimore Colts
• Mel Blount – Class of 1989 – Cornerback – 1970-1983 Pittsburgh Steelers
• Tim Brown – Class of 2015 – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner/Punt Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
• Curley Culp – Class of 2013 – Defensive Tackle – 1968-1974 Kansas City Chiefs, 1974-1980 Houston Oilers, 1980-81 Detroit Lions
• Chris Doleman – Class of 2012 – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1985-1993, 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers
• John Hannah – Class of 1991 – Guard – 1973-1985 New England Patriots
• Mike Haynes – Class of 1997 – 1976-1982 New England Patriots, 1983-1989 Los Angeles Raiders
• Ken Houston – Class of 1986 – Strong Safety – 1967-1972 Houston Oilers, 1973-1980 Washington Redskins
• Paul Krause – Class of 1998 – Safety – 1964-1967 Washington Redskins, 1968-1979 Minnesota Vikings
• Floyd Little – Class of 2010 – Running Back – 1967-1975 Denver Broncos
• Tom Mack – Class of 1999 – Guard – 1966-1978 Los Angeles Rams
• Curtis Martin – Class of 2012 – Running Back – 1995-97 New England Patriots, 1998-2005 New York Jets
• Ron Mix – Class of 1979 – Offensive Tackle – 1960-1969 Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, 1971 Oakland Raiders
• Jim Taylor – Class of 1976 – Fullback – 1958-1966 Green Bay Packers, 1967 New Orleans Saints
• Thurman Thomas – Class of 2007 – Running Back – 1988-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Miami Dolphins
• Andre Tippett – Class of 2008 – Linebacker – 1982-1993 New England Patriots
• Roger Wehrli – Class of 2007 – Cornerback – 1969-1982 St. Louis Cardinals
• Rayfield Wright – Class of 2006 – Tackle – 1967-1979 Dallas Cowboys
• Jack Youngblood – Class of 2001 – Defensive End – 1971-1984 Los Angeles Rams
And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Gen. 12:2-3
Slideshow: Pro Football Hall of Fame players in the Holy Land