Faith and football often intertwine.
It's common to see players from both teams join together in prayer after a game. A recent trip to Israel funded by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft allowed 18 Pro Football Hall of Fame members, including Bills greats Bruce Smith and Andre Reed, the chance to explore their spirituality in greater depth.
The group took part in "Touchdown in Israel II," an eight-day visit to the country that included stops at landmarks such as the Mont of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Masada, the Dead Sea and the Western Wall. The group also spent an afternoon in Bethlehem and toured an Israeli air force base.
Smith served as an honorary captain during a scrimmage put on by youth and high school football teams organized by the non-profit organization American Football in Israel.
"It exceeded expectations. The historical sites, the spiritual journey, the bonding, the love, experiencing the culture of Israel,” he said. "These are resilient people and, in a lot of cases, there are some things that African Americans have in common, that common denominator with the Jewish people. Having had the opportunity to spend eight days in Israel and particularly the last six days in Jerusalem were amazing. It has been a life-changing experience."
During the trip, the group took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony held at the Kraft Family Sports Complex in Jerusalem, which officially opened Israel's first regulation-sized football field.
"This is something I will always cherish, the time that I had to spend with" Kraft, Smith said. "There need to be more owners like Robert Kraft. He’s a class act. He’s personable. He’s genuine. He cares. He’s my kind of guy."
While on the trip, the Hall of Famers held a meet-and-greet with more than 1,000 fans at Kraft Stadium.
"I think it’s a moving experience, not only to me, but to all the guys are involved in this trip. I can’t thank Mr. Kraft enough for allowing us and giving us the opportunity to be here and not only experience the place, but also the people and what they mean," Reed said. “One thing about this trip that I’ve noticed … is that guys you don’t really know – you just see them at enshrinement week – you’re able to talk to them a little bit more, not about football but about different things, about your family, about whatever comes to mind … when we’re on trips like this, you kind of see what a person is really like and you bond with them in more ways than you think you would… so this is just a great experience to be with these guys other than being on the football side of it – just guys and their faiths and what they feel and how they go about doing things every day. It’s a pretty good thing.”