Eliana Pieprz said she figured meeting Josh Norman and receiving a pair of autographed gloves from the cornerback at Redskins training camp in Richmond two years ago would be a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” After all, Pieprz and her family had traveled nearly 6,000 miles from Israel, their home since 2010, to see her favorite player and team. On Wednesday, Norman returned the favor, reuniting with Pieprz, 14, in the ancient city of Shiloh during a surprise visit to Israel with six other current and former NFL players.
Eliana was born in Seattle and raised in Washington state, but she grew up a Redskins fan thanks to her dad, Elie, a Silver Spring native and Maryland graduate who fell in love with the team during the glory years of the 1980s. Eliana admired Norman even before he joined the Redskins and Elie said she was “running up and down the stairs, screaming at the top of her lungs” after Washington signed the all-pro after the 2015 season.
“I’m just a fan of good players as long as they’re good off the field,” Eliana said. “Norman was one of those kind of players and he also got under [Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s] skin, so I was a fan of that.”
Elie, who was studying abroad in Israel and taped Tony Kornheiser’s “Bandwagon” columns to his dorm room wall during the Redskins’ last Super Bowl season in 1991, got word from a friend this week that Norman was coming to Israel as part of a trip arranged by the nonprofit America’s Voices in Israel. He arranged for Eliana and his wife, Judith, to spend time with Norman’s group during their visit to Shiloh.
“I remembered her,” Norman said Thursday. “I gave her my gloves and she made an impression on me. She came all the way from Israel, and that was big. I didn’t know I was coming to Israel the following year, but it’s pretty cool.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Norman is joined on the trip by Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley, Titans linebacker Avery Williamson, Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Chiefs offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz and former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz. The group was scheduled to visit several Christian holy sites and participate in Shabbat prayers on Friday at the Western Wall.
“It was a no-brainer,” Norman said of making the one-week trip, which he hinted about during an interview with Redskins.com at the NFL Honors award show earlier this month. “We just made it happen. I feel like Israel is going to be a part of my life. It came sooner than I imagined, but it was something I couldn’t turn down, so I jumped on it and this is where we are.”
During Norman’s chat with Eliana on Wednesday, he vowed the Redskins’ communication would be better next season (“last year we was trash,” he said) and that Washington “brought a good guy in” by trading for Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Eliana said Friday she was hopeful Kirk Cousins would stay, but likes Smith as a replacement a lot better than some of the other alternatives, including drafting a rookie quarterback.
“I’m pretty happy with it because the Redskins have had a lot of trouble stopping mobile quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Alex Smith,” she said.
Eliana has never been to a game at FedEx Field, but she and her family did see Robert Griffin III and the Redskins lose to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium during a visit to the Bay Area for Thanksgiving in 2014. She watches every game with her dad while wearing his old Redskins helmet, even the Sunday and Monday night games that start at 3 a.m. local time.
Elie, who was at the Capital Centre for the Easter Epic and Oriole Park at Camden Yards for Cal Ripken’s record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game, also passed down his love of the Capitals to Eliana. On Thursday, she woke up at 3 a.m. to watch Washington’s 5-2 win over Minnesota. (Capitals games on Thursday and Friday are the only ones her parents let her disrupt her sleep schedule to watch during the regular season, because she doesn’t have school on Friday and Saturday.)
“In the playoffs, if the games go to overtime, sometimes she’ll miss her morning bus and I’ll just drive her to school,” Elie Pieprz said with a laugh. “It’s a way of keeping us connected with the States and keeping us connected with what I grew up with. D.C. sports was a big part of that.”
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