Israel Football League
The Israel Football League (IFL; Hebrew: ליגת הפוטבול בישראל), also known as the Kraft Family Israel Football League for sponsorship reasons with the Kraft Family, is an amateur American football league consisting of eight teams. The IFL is the highest level of American football in Israel and each season culminates in the IsraBowl. The Jerusalem Lions are the reigning IsraBowl champions, having defeated the Petah Tikva Troopers in IsraBowl XI.
|Current season, competition or edition:|
2018–2019 Israel Football League season
|No. of teams||8|
|Most titles||Jerusalem Lions,|
Tel Aviv Sabres
The original incarnation of the IFL consisted of pick-up games without helmets, pads or referees and was founded by Ofri Becker in 1999. However, American football was present in Israel dating back to 1988, when American emigrant Steve Leibowitz founded a touch football league. In the Summer of 2005, Becker and Leibowitz agreed to merge their leagues and founded the current incarnation of the IFL. However, it wasn't until 2007 that the first official season took place with coaches, referees and full equipment under the governing body of American Football in Israel (AFI). The inaugural season consisted of four teams and concluded with the Jerusalem Lions winning IsraBowl I.
In 2008, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family began to sponsor the IFL and donated Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem to the league. The IFL also received support from Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his family, as well as hedge fund manager Henry Swieca.
Until 2017, there were no American football fields in Israel and, other than Kraft Family Stadium, which was only 80-yards long and narrower than an American football college field, the teams had to reserve soccer fields which weren't always available. That changed when the Kraft Family Sports Campus opened in Jerusalem in June 2017. The Kraft Family Sports Campus includes multiple sports fields, including Israel's first regulation size American football field which now serves as the site for the IsraBowl.
The inaugural season of the IFL, with regulation pads and staff, consisted of four teams: the Jerusalem Lions, the Haifa Underdogs, the HaSharon Pioneers, and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres. In the championship game, IsraBowl I, the Jerusalem Lions defeated the Haifa Underdogs in overtime. The first and only Most Improved Player award was given to Erez Kaminski.
The IFL grew to five teams with the addition of another team in Jerusalem (Jerusalem Kings), while the Pioneers moved to Modi'in. The Pioneers defeated the defending champion Lions, 32–26, in double overtime in IsraBowl II.
The IFL expanded to seven teams with the addition of two expansion teams: the Be'er Sheva Black Swarm and the Judean Rebels. The schedule grew as well, as each team played ten regular season games with the top six teams qualifying for the playoffs. The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres defeated the Jerusalem Lions in IsraBowl III.
The IFL expanded to eight teams with the expansion Herzliya Hammers joining the league. The Pioneers relocated to Tel Aviv. The league split into two divisions; the North Division with the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres, Tel Aviv Pioneers, Haifa Underdogs and Herzliya Hammers; and the South Division, with the Jerusalem Lions, Jerusalem Kings, Judean Rebels and the Be'er Sheva Black Swarm.
The Sabres won the North Division and clinched a first round bye in the playoffs and then defeated the Pioneers in the semifinals, who had defeated the Hammers in the first round. In the South Division, the Lions earned the first round bye. The Rebels defeated the Black Swarm in the first round and then upset the Lions in the semifinals by overcoming an 18-point deficit with 7:40 left in the game. The Rebels then held off a comeback attempt and defeated the Sabres in IsraBowl IV, 32-30. Rebels QB Alex Swieca was named league MVP.
The IFL expanded to ten teams with the expansion Petah Tikva Troopers joining the South Division and the Northern Stars joining the North Division. In the playoffs, the 5th-seeded Haifa Underdogs routed the defending champion Judean Rebels in the first round but were defeated by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres in the semifinals. The Tel Aviv Pioneers defeated the Jerusalem Kings in the first round, and then routed the previously undefeated Jerusalem Lions behind a record-setting performance by running back Ilan Bielas.
IsraBowl V featured both Tel Aviv teams. The Sabres took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but had no answer to Pioneers RB Ilan Bielas, who lead his team to a 28-22 lead in the second quarter. The teams were tied at halftime and the third quarter was a scoreless affair, which set the table for a back-and-forth fourth quarter. After exchanging multiple scores, the Pioneers were driving with one minute to go and the Sabres up by two. A miscommunication between QB Itay Ashkenazi and RB Koby Nimrod lead to a Pioneer fumble, which the Sabres recovered to clinch their second IsraBowl championship.
The IFL expanded to eleven teams with the expansion Rehovot Silverbacks joining the league. The division format was replaced with a simpler schedule where each team played the other once. The first round saw two upsets, including the Kings' Hail Mary pass to defeat the Hammers. In the semifinals, the Sabres routed the Kings and the Rebels upset the Pioneers in over 100°F heat. The Sabres defeated the Rebels in IsraBowl VI to secure their second straight IsraBowl championship and became the first team in IFL history to go undefeated through the regular season and postseason.
Betzalel Friedman took over as commissioner of the IFL and the league expanded to play nine-on-nine instead of eight-on-eight. The IFL also implemented a foreign-player limit for the first time and the Hammers relocated to Ramat HaSharon. During a regular season game between the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres and Judean Rebels, the Sabres walked off the field in protest of the refereeing. The team was handed a postseason ban and subsequently folded.
The Rebels and Hammers earned the top two seeds for the playoffs, but both were upset in the semifinals; the Rebels lost to a strong Pioneer defense and the Hammers lost an overtime thriller to the Lions. IsraBowl VII was the most lopsided IsraBowl ever, as the Pioneers routed the Lions, 80-28.
The Silverbacks relocated five kilometers southeast to Mazkeret Batya. The Judean Rebels finished the regular season undefeated for the second consecutive season, behind the highest scoring offense and the second-best defense (in PPG) in IFL history. This time they were able to win the championship, defeating the Tel Aviv Pioneers, 20-10, in IsraBowl VIII.
The season consisted of a ten game schedule and the Judean Rebels defeated the Tel Aviv Pioneers, 32-14, in IsraBowl IX.
The season consisted of a ten game schedule with two divisions and the fields were enlarged to 80 yards. The season concluded with the Jerusalem Lions defeating the Judean Rebels in IsraBowl X.
Only seven teams competed this season, with the Ramat HaSharon Hammers going on hiatus. The season concluded with the Jerusalem Lions defeating the Petah Tikva Troopers, 28-20, in IsraBowl XI to win their second consecutive championship. David Abell was named IsraBowl MVP for the second year in a row.
|Tel Aviv Pioneers||2007|
|Be'er Sheva Black Swarm||2009|
|Ramat HaSharon Hammers||2010|
|Petah Tikva Troopers||2011|
|Mazkeret Batya Silverbacks||2012|
|Tel Aviv-Jaffa Sabres||2007–2013|
The IsraBowl, also referred to as the Israel Bowl, is the IFL championship game, with the champion awarded the Ofri Becker trophy.
The Jerusalem Lions, Judean Rebels, and the now-defunct Tel-Aviv-Jaffa Sabres have each won a record three IsraBowl championships. The Lions and Tel Aviv Pioneers each have a record six IsraBowl appearances.
|IsraBowl I||2007–2008||Jerusalem Lions||Haifa Underdogs||Kraft Stadium, Jerusalem||March 28, 2008||Moshe Horowitz (Lions)|
|IsraBowl II||2008–2009||Modi'in Pioneers||Jerusalem Lions||Kraft Stadium, Jerusalem||April 3, 2009||Assaf Katz (Pioneers)|
|IsraBowl III||2009–2010||Tel Aviv Sabres||Jerusalem Lions||Kraft Stadium, Jerusalem||March 26, 2010||Evan Reshef (Sabres)|
|IsraBowl IV||2010–2011||Judean Rebels||Tel Aviv Sabres||Kraft Stadium, Jerusalem||March 18, 2011||Zack Miller (Rebels)|
|IsraBowl V||2011–2012||Tel Aviv Sabres||Tel Aviv Pioneers||Kraft Stadium, Jerusalem||March 30, 2012||Adi Hakami and Jonathan Curran (Sabres)|
|IsraBowl VI||2012–2013||Tel Aviv Sabres||Judean Rebels||Kraft Stadium, Jerusalem||March 22, 2013||Jonathan Curran and Banning Fudge (Sabres)|
|IsraBowl VII||2013–2014||Tel Aviv Pioneers||Jerusalem Lions||Kraft Stadium, Jerusalem||April 11, 2014||Ronny Moscona (Pioneers)|
|IsraBowl VIII||2014–2015||Judean Rebels||Tel Aviv Pioneers||Kraft Stadium, Jerusalem||March 26, 2015||Dani Eastman (Rebels)|
|IsraBowl IX||2015–2016||Judean Rebels||Tel Aviv Pioneers||Moshava Stadium Practice Facility, Petah Tikva||April 14, 2016||Dani Eastman (Rebels)|
|IsraBowl X||2016–2017||Jerusalem Lions||Tel Aviv Pioneers||Moshava Stadium Practice Facility, Petah Tikva||March 30, 2017||David Abell (Lions)|
|IsraBowl XI||2017–2018||Jerusalem Lions||Petah Tikva Troopers||Kraft Family Sports Campus, Jerusalem||March 22, 2018||David Abell (Lions)|
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