Football fans - Emil Salman - 20012012
Football fans cheering at Mike’s Place on Sunday night during the Giants-Packers game. Photo by Emil Salman
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Neither job nor studies nor time zone, it seems, can prevent dedicated throngs of local North American sports fans from watching the NFL playoffs well into the early morning hours. With the American professional football season now in its final weeks, fans in Israel have been glued to projection screens in sports bars and homes for a glimpse of this riveting, winner-takes-all elimination round.

The competition will culminate in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Indiana, on February 5.

"I grew up with the New York Giants, and wherever I am, no matter what I'm doing, I'm going to watch them," said 19-year-old Ilana Lissak of South Orange, New Jersey, a visiting student enrolled in a year-long Young Judea program. Lissak and her friends chose Mike's Place, the popular Anglo bar in Jerusalem, to watch the Giants take on the defending champion Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

"I bleed green and gold," 18-year-old Zack Nye, a Young Judea participant from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said of the Packers' team colors.

A test of endurance and resilience

For North American sports fans, following their favorite sports teams is a marathon-like trial-by-fire, testing one's endurance and resilience. With the seven-hour time difference, the league's late game - which begins on weekends at 8:30 P.M. EST - is seen in these parts at 3:30 A.M., continuing until sunrise.

One hopes precision tool operators are not among the night owls. "Four hours of sleep is enough for me," said Ari, a 21-year-old Chicago native, who asked not to give his last name because he studies at a religious yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Seated at a corner table at the bar with about a dozen of his classmates, Ari is a weekly customer, watching two consecutive games over a span of six hours. By the time the second game's final whistle blows at around 1:30 A.M. Israel-time - well after the city's public buses and new light rail have ceased to operate - Ari departs the famed franchise's kosher bar and begins the four-mile trek to his yeshiva in the suburb of Ramot.

"The distance is not a problem," he said. "I'm all fired up."

Aryeh Guterman, a 19-year-old student from Plainview, New York, now studying at a yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, was clad in a Giants' cap and jersey. He had planned to watch the entire game, but apparently he answers to a higher authority.

"When my dorm counselor calls I'll head back," he said, prepared at any moment to embark upon the nearly two-mile walk. "I must be in the building before he can go to bed."

Fans, balancing their priorities, must calibrate their schedules accordingly. Some with morning jobs might watch only early games. Those with Mondays off may indulge in the pleasure of late games. Others, like Rabbi Yaakov Beasley, who follows several sports, may choose to take an early nap - in Beasley's case before watching football and Toronto Maple Leaf hockey broadcasts with his five sons.

"Where I come from, God comes first and the Leafs come second," joked Beasley, 43, a Judaic and general studies teacher from Oakville, Ontario, who neither frequents sports bars nor owns a television. He opts instead for high-speed Internet connections in the privacy of his home in Alon Shvut, south of Jerusalem.

Beasely marvels at an evolving communications landscape that affords sports viewers multiple options. He vividly remembers the frustrations he and others shared two decades ago, when Israel's cable television industry was in its infancy.

"My mother would call from Oakville and put the phone next to the radio," Beasley said, recalling the year he made aliyah, when his Toronto Blue Jays played in baseball's 1993 World Series. "Today, with high-speed Internet and P2P [Peer to Peer], you can watch anything."

For sports fans following North American teams, the dalliance with televised sports has evolved into a year-round ritual. Fans like Beasley are also watching NBA basketball with renewed intensity, with its truncated schedule in the wake of a prolonged labor strike.

Though fans could conceivably watch the rebroadcast of games the following evening, when they air on cable systems at a more convenient hour, it is an option deemed worthy of ridicule by the sports purist.

"Would you read today's paper tomorrow morning?" asked Marc, an ulpan student from New York, who preferred not to give his full name because he misses most of his Monday morning classes.

Just how functional is Marc the morning after a game? "I'm not," he confided. "But it's definitely worth it. I wouldn't miss these games for anything."