Joe Montana, Jim Brown and Roger Staubach & Give Israeli Football Huge Boost (PHOTO GALLERY)

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LEGENDARY NFL quarterback Joe Montana (center) poses with members of the Kfar Saba Hawks high school tackle football team at yesterday’s Hall of Fame event in Ramat Hasharon.. (photo credit:ALLON SINAI)

The visit comes on the heels of the Israeli government’s bungled attempt earlier this year to arrange a goodwill visit of current NFL players, of which half eventually pulled out because of pressure from pro-Palestinian boycott activists.

Some of the greatest NFL players of all time descended on a converted soccer field outside Tel Aviv to watch local youths scrimmage in a big boost for the burgeoning sport of American football in Israel.

Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Roger Staubach and Mike Singletary were among the 18 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who arrived for a weeklong visit to the Holy Land to meet some of the 2,000 active players in Israel’s various leagues and to learn about the growth of gridiron in the country.

Joe Montana signs autograph for Israeli fan. Credit: The Associated Press

Scores of young players, fans and officials erupted upon the arrival of the delegation, a group donning their signature gold Hall of Fame jackets that included Jerome Bettis, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, “Mean” Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith and John Stallworth.

The mission was organized by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has been sponsoring the sport in Israel since it was launched in 1999.

Credit: The Associated Press

“I love football. I love Israel. I love America. I think kids in America would die to have this group of players come and view them,” Kraft told The Associated Press. “The game of football teaches you lessons in life that nothing else does.”

While still lagging far behind soccer and basketball in popularity, football has made great strides at the grassroots level thanks to live NFL TV broadcasts and the expansion of the Israel Football League, now 10 years old. Unlike baseball, which still mostly appeals to American-Israelis, football has resonated with native-born Israelis who have taken a liking to the army-like strategy, camaraderie and collisions.

In this Thursday, June 15, 2017 photo, former NFL player Aeneas Williams takes selfie with an Israeli football player in Ramat Hasharon, near Tel Aviv, Israel.(AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The game has really taken off in the high school league, where nine teams play across the country, and it is now no longer unusual to see kids tossing the pigskin around in city parks.

On Thursday, the NFL greats watched scrimmages between various high school teams, including the six-time defending league champions Kfar Saba Hawks _ who have become an unlikely breeding ground of future commandoes in the Israeli military. Together with the eight flag football leagues for men, women and youth, there are currently about 80 teams playing football in Israel.

In this Thursday, June 15, 2017 photo, former NFL player Joe Montana shakes hands with an Israeli football player in Ramat Hasharon, near Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

“This is only going to get bigger and better over here because of him,” Montana said of Kraft.

The four-time Super Bowl champion said he hoped their presence would promote the game, but that the emotional visit _ which included tours of religious and historical sites, lessons on its history and an audience with the prime minister _ was incredibly rewarding for the former players, many of whom were Christians who spoke warmly about the country.

FILE: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and quarterback Tom Brady visit Nahal Haredi IDF soldier

“A lot of guys learned a lot about Israel and the people that they really had no idea of the culture,” Montana said. “While we come here on a mission for American football, I think we take home a lot more than we bring.”

The visit comes on the heels of the Israeli government’s bungled attempt earlier this year to arrange a goodwill visit of current NFL players, of which half eventually pulled out because of pressure from pro-Palestinian boycott activists.

According to a Jerusalem Post interview “When the mainstream media speaks about Israel, it is usually brought up as a place not to visit,” noted Marshall Faulk. “But so far, our experience in Tel Aviv has been nothing short of incredible.”

Robert Kraft and the Kraft Family have been the leading sponsors of football in Israel since 1999 with the opening of Kraft Family Stadium.

“It is really amazing to see how football has really taken hold here in Israel,” exclaimed Montana.

“I am thrilled to be a part of this trip and to experience the influence of our wonderful sport throughout the world.”

 

 

AP and Jerusalem Post contributed to this story

 

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