Behind the scenes at Israel's best Super Bowl party
Nearly 400 die-hard fans will stay up all night to watch the game live via satellite at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv.
During halftime of Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons led the New England Patriots by a score of 21-3. At a bar called Mike's Place, many of those who had gathered to watch the game decided to call it a night and go home early. It wasn't worth sticking around until the end. The game was virtually over. But one optimistic Pats fan remained, and when his team roared back to win 34-28 in overtime, he raised his glass and shouted "Oh, happy day!"
Jason Jungreis, the bar's owner, said it reminded him of a famous Boston-based sitcom. "It was like a scene out of 'Cheers,'" he laughed. "Everybody was hugging."
That story could've happened in any bar, in just about any city in America. But Mike's Place is not in any city in America. It's in the coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv, steps from the Mediterranean Sea, and is home to one of the biggest annual Super Bowl parties in all of Israel.
"It's a really wonderful atmosphere. The crowd is really great," Jungreis told From The Grapevine. "It's a really great haven for Americans who visit, or college students or expats that are here."
And this year will be no different. Jungreis and his crew are putting the finishing touches on the party for this Sunday night, when nearly 400 people are expected to crowd into the bar. And these fans are a dedicated bunch. The game, which will take place in Atlanta, doesn't begin until 1:15 a.m. in Israel and ends as the sun is rising. To secure a spot, patrons are told to arrive no later than 11 p.m. For those who get in, they can expect an authentic dining experience: wings, nachos supreme and IPA draft beer from America.
The Patriots, who will be taking on the Los Angeles Rams, will be making their third trip to the Super Bowl in four years. The team has a particularly strong following in Israel. Patriots owner Robert Kraft has diligently worked to popularize the sport there. He built the Kraft Family Sports Complex in Jerusalem, a 25-acre facility that is home to three football fields and hosts an American-style football league. There are 1,350 active football players in Israel with a semi-professional tackle league and dozens of high school teams. In 2017, Yaniv Kovalski became the first Israeli-born football player to earn a college scholarship in America.
Kraft, the 77-year-old businessman from Boston, has also organized several trips for NFL players to visit Israel. 19 Hall of Famers – including former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown – visited in 2017, while another seven players arrived last year.
In the summer of 2015, New England Patriot Julian Edelman inaugurated new direct flights from Boston to Tel Aviv with an excursion to the Mediterranean country. "This was an amazing, memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience for me," Edelman said at the time. "I fell in love with the people of Israel." Here's a video of him working out during his trip:
As for Jungreis, he's rooting for the underdog Rams this year. When asked why, the sports-obsessed Philadelphia native joked, "Because Tom Brady does not play for the Rams. I think Boston has won enough games to hold them over for the next hundred years." Although, ideally, he wishes his hometown Eagles would've made it to the big game. The 39-year-old Jungreis is a member of a Facebook group made up of Philadelphia Eagles fans who live in Israel. He's one of 83 members.
Mike's Place, which also hosts annual St. Patrick's Day and Halloween parties, is known for its love of American football during the NFL season. They broadcast multiple games every Sunday and die-hard fans know it's the best place to be. When former Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Wolf was in Israel on a recent business trip, he watched his team play from a stool at Mike's Place.
Jungreis has been throwing Super Bowl parties since 1997, and this year's shindig has special meaning for him: he and his wife are expecting their second child just days after the Super Bowl. He's juggling fatherhood – he literally had his son in one hand and the phone in the other during our interview – as he plans this year's party, which is expected to be one of his biggest yet. "Whoever wants a home away from home should stop by," he said.
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