Ready for Some Football, Israeli Style?

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- It didn't draw Super Bowl attention but Israel's first-ever international tackle football game made history.

It was American football, Israeli style, complete with the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn).

Played on a Baptist baseball field, Israel's national team took on a foreign opponent for the first time ever -- the Crusaders from Wisconsin's Maranatha Baptist Bible College.

"It's great. It's taking part in history," Tani Kramer, one of the Israeli players, told CBN News. "I grew up here when there was no tackle football and now there's a high school league and the adult league."

The Israeli team was comprised of players from Israel's 10 teams and had only been practicing together for two months.

Flag football started here in the '80s and Steve Leibowitz, president of American Football in Israel, helped make the move to tackling just five years ago.

"So I got the idea from just love of the sport and then it's just grown from the grassroots. It's all just people who loved the game, wanted to play and we're building it step by step," Leibowitz said.

And even in a kosher country, pigskin fever is catching on.

"Now's there's a lot of Israelis, guys that have never been to the States but watched American football, love to play. And that's what's exciting is it's not just Americans, it's Israelis, people born here that just love the sport," football coach Jay Armstead said.

After graduating from Maranatha in the 90s, Armstead came to Israel as a volunteer. He returned later to coach the Israeli team. Despite his dual loyalties, he said he was rooting for Israel.

Tal Assor from Beersheba has never been to the United States but saw some of the kids in his neighborhood playing the game.

"I saw a couple of guys play football, my neighbors, so I went out [and asked them if I could play. Since then] I play just football," Tal said. "It's the greatest game I play ever."

Skills on the field may have fallen short of expectations, but the good will on both sides of the ball made up for it.

Another Israeli player, Joe Martisius, told CBN News, "They're good guys. They help you up. They tackle as a team."

"I think we're not as organized as them and we see it. We're trying to pass the ball, we're trying to run the ball -- just things aren't really working too well right now," he said.

American Bobby O'Brien praised Israel's efforts.

"They're playing awful hard. To be honest I'm very impressed. A couple of those guys have only been playing football for one year, and they're doing a great job," O'Brien said.

Two cheerleaders and some 400 fans pulled for the Israelis in their premier game.

Michael Davison, who coaches a local team called the Tikvah Hammers, pointed out Israelis don't grow up with an American football culture, and soccer is a totally different sport.

"Soccer's not the same kind of physical contact mentality and Israelis are not used to hitting people," he said.

Leibowitz called this game a measuring stick to see how far the Israelis have come.

Although the lopsided final score of 44 to 6 show they have a ways to go, the night was considered a success.

"We're satisfied with the turnout. We're satisfied with the level of play [and we're] having a good time," Liebowitz said.

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Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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