Matisyahu wasn’t the only amazing performance in Spain recently.
Getting a lot less media attention, Israel’s National American Football Team played their first official game in Spain on Sunday.
Growing up in the America, there was only one kind of football. Football was big and football players were bigger than life.
Who would have imagined Jewish football players with Stars of David on their uniforms?
However, Israel’s team, coached by Yonah Mishaan, played just outside of Madrid against a Spanish team in Israel’s debut international experience, winning 28-20.
The highlights of the game included the play of the entire defense, which stopped Spain from scoring numerous times in the red zone. Overall, it was a defensive game that turned on big plays.
When the players arrived to the field, they were met with graffiti saying “Palestina” and four spectators held a Palestinian flag for entire game.
But, the team felt supported and welcomed. The fans in the stands were respectful “to a remarkable degree” noted one player. They stood for “Hatikva” with their hands over their hearts. They gave the Israeli team standing ovations. Three thousand fans showed pure respect to the Israeli team. And the Spanish players, according to to one player, were “kind, pleasant, and professional.
The most notable highlight of the game was the sportsmanship of the two teams, and the fans who came to cheer them on. Both teams were well-coached, and it showed on the field.
Dani Eastman, #20 (Judean Rebels), who is a three-time MVP of the Israel Football League (IFL), was responsible for many of the game’s highlight moments. Eastman threw a 60-yard touchdown pass; returned a kickoff for 90 yards for a touchdown; and late in the game, intercepted a pass and returned it for the game-winning touchdown.
Among the Israeli players contributing to the team’s success were: Jonathan Curran, #47, with multiple catches and runs; Gideon Reiz, #88, with multiple catches; Yuval Fenta, #41, making an impressive showing from the Kfar Saba Hawks high school team; Ariel Back, #21; Jeremiah Jelski, #58; Ayal Frankfurter, #65; and Uria Loberbom, #78, and newcomer Alex Swieca #13 who left the University of Michigan Wolverines this year to join the IFL. All of these players had multiple sacks and tackles for losses.
With the help of New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, American Football has gotten a big push in Israel. In June, Kraft brought a high-profile group of NFL players to Israel to help promote the game. He viewed an Israel team practice and addressed the players.
“Do your jobs and the success will come,” noted Kraft, whose Patriots in January won their fourth Super Bowl in his tenure. “Someday I hope to welcome the first Israeli player in the NFL.”
With Israeli’s victory over Spain, the Israeli team advanced their bid to qualify for the International Federation of American Football’s B-Group International Tournament in 2016. Israel will play a series of home and away games in Group B next year.
Congratulations to Team Israel on a great win, and to the Spanish team for hosting a great game.
Photos courtesy Israel’s American Football Team