Ask Chris Doleman to choose the highlight of last month’s trip to Israel and the Vikings Pro Football Hall of Famer answers about as quickly as he used to zip past left tackles.
“I think the highlight was being baptized in the Jordan River,” the former Vikings defensive end said Tuesday. “Everybody can’t say that one.”
Getting baptized in the same river where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist wasn’t on Doleman’s original itinerary. But he was one of about a dozen Hall of Famers who walked into the water during the weeklong trip being called “Touchdown in Israel: Mission of Excellence.”
Nineteen Hall of Famers made the trip, which was put together and paid for by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The impetus for the trip came in March 2014 when Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, a football fan and a member of the American Football in Israel Hall of Fame, visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
There was room for 19 Hall of Famers to join the trip, which included the bar mitzvah for Kraft’s grandson on Mount Masada, which overlooks the Dead Sea.
The idea was for the Hall of Famers to be ambassadors of American football while in Israel and come back to the United States as ambassadors of Israel.
One other former Viking, Paul Krause, was selected to join the group. Vikings Co-Owner and President Mark Wilf, who was there on a personal trip with his wife and youngest son, also took part in the opening dinner.
“The Hall wanted us to write a little essay on why we wanted to be picked to go,” Krause said. “I wrote one sentence: ‘I want to walk where Jesus walked.’ It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. You get goose bumps.”
Members of the group rarely rested, rising at 6 each morning and going past midnight every night. They met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and spent time in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Damascus, the Sea of Galilee, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Palestine.
“In our country, we tear down stadiums when they’re 20 years old,” Doleman said. “Try having something around that’s 2,000 years old and it’s still here.”
The Hall of Famers also watched an American football practice and a scrimmage.
“We were signing autographs one night and this older guy came up to me and says, ‘So, you’re the one who has 81 interceptions?’ ” said Krause, who retired in 1979 and still owns the NFL record for career interceptions. “I says, ‘Yeah, I’m very proud of that.’ He says, ‘Well, I want to tell you something. I have 1,700 interceptions.’
“He was the guy who invented the Iron Dome, which protects Israel from missiles. He’s got 1,700 hits on missiles coming into Jerusalem.”
Krause paused for a second and shook the man’s hand.
“I told him, ‘Your 1,700 interceptions are a heck of a lot more useful than my 81.’ ”