July 23, 2009
Notre Dame, Ind -
Tim Brown and his wife finally arrived in Tokyo Wednesday and joined the Notre Dame group for dinner at T.Y. Harbor, a delightful spot on the water that featured an outdoor buffet. It was Brown's 43rd birthday and that earned him a large cake with candles and a Happy Birthday rendition from the Irish group in attendance.
The Irish on Wednesday took several team pictures in front of the Asakusa temple. Popular player purchases from the famed Nakamise Dori shopping area were various versions of samurai swords.
Today's Japan Times featured a striking front-page photo of Wednesday's eclipse, though noting the overcast weather mitigated the hoped-for visual effects.
Banter among the players on the defensive bus Wednesday after practice involved a history of NFL-caliber opposing players they'd faced during their Notre Dame careers.
Coach Lou Holtz and Chris Zorich did live interviews this morning with Sirius Radio.
About 50 media representatives are expected for the formal press conference later today to be held in the team meeting room at Nihon University.
The oldest member of the Irish Legends squad, Kris Haines, celebrates his 52nd birthday today. Haines' greatest claim to fame is catching the game-tying TD pass from Joe Montana to complete the comeback against Houston in the Cotton Bowl following the '78 season. Joe Unis then kicked the PAT after time ran out for the 35-34 Irish win in the frigid conditions of Dallas.
Sit-down interviews with Holtz, Brown and Tony Rice will happen today with the Daily Yomiuri Shimbun, the world's largest circulation daily newspaper (currently 10 million readers, with numbers that have reached 16 million in the past). Japanese are considered the greatest consumers of newspapers anywhere n the world, with daily sales that have reached 70 million copies.
The weather today began sunnier and warmer but by the time practice began, skies became overcast despite the high humidity to go with a light breeze.
Holtz directed a special-team review to begin the session, and then ended the workout two hours later with his patented 99-yard drive.
Brown made his first appearance on the field as a coach after arriving late Wednesday afternoon.
The Nihon head coach presented Holtz with a Phoenix team shirt in the middle of the practice - and Holtz bowed in thanks.
After practice, Holtz congratulated Kris Haines on his 52nd birthday with the question, "How many years you been on Medicaid?"
The Irish team will wear blue jerseys with the Japan Bowl logo on the chest, plus interlocking NDs on the sleeves from the Holtz era. The Japan team will wear red.
The Notre Dame players will keep their game jerseys - but they'll leave helmets, pants and shoulder pads behind to contribute to the Japanese American football mission.
Lunch the last three days has been provided on campus for the Notre Dame party by Dietetics for Athlete.
The formal press conference took place in the offensive team meeting room at Nihon and featured banners, a minute-long intro video, plus a half-hour of opening statements (all translated). Holtz, Brown and Tony Rice represented Notre Dame, while coach Kiyoyuki Mori, defensive captain Naoki Kosho and standout receiver Noriaki Kinoshita represented Japan. Nameplates in front of the Notre Dame trio were translated into Japanese. Printed bios of the six participants were distributed, also printed in Japanese.
About 40 media attended the press conference. Translating was Mika Kabeya, a Stryker Japan interpreter for the medical equipment company whose world headquarters are in Kalamazoo, Mich. Interestingly enough, Stryker president Steve McMillan's son Jeff will be a freshman at Notre Dame this fall and will run cross country for the Irish.
Rice wore his #9 blue jersey to the press conference. All six at the head table received applause after formal introductions.
Holtz first praised the Japanese hospitality he and his team had enjoyed.
"Some of our players are older, some are younger. Some are real old," he said, looking to his left at Rice.
"We've had some injuries, some setbacks. We'll play hard, we'll play well, whether it's good enough to win I don't know. It's asking a lot of our team to come over here and play a very good Japanese team."
Said Brown, "I'm just happy to be here after the passport issues I had. I've been here on two other occasions, once for the Japan Bowl after my senior year in college and once with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1990. Everyone asked me why I'm not playing - I'm 43 years old and I've got grey hairs."
Said Rice, "It's great to put on the gold helmet and represent Notre Dame again."
Said Kosho, "Our 60 players are the happiest football players on the earth because they have the chance to play Notre Dame. Notre Dame players are so big, but we have 60 players who can fight."
Kinoshito has experience in NFL Europe as well as with the Atlanta Falcon practice squad last year. He said, "I know what American football is about. I hope I can show that experience."
During the question-and-answer portion, Holtz said, "You don't want to be complicated and you can't play confused. If Japan scores 40, we've got to find a way to score 41.
We've got about seven runs, 14 formations. It's a matter of whatever we have to do to win."
Holtz's concerns? "Their skill people are as good as anyone's. Their wide receiver could play for anyone in the country. Their discipline, their effort, their intensity -- I stand in awe of it. I have great admiration for the discipline of the Japan team. That's the way the game should be played.
"I worry most about our skill positions - wide receiver, quarterback, running back. Our guys have not played in a competitive game for a while. The mind may be willing but the body ain't. But these guys have won a lot of big games in their time. It's like riding a bike. When they kick it off, you hope they'll remember how to play."
Holtz compared Japan to a good Conference USA or Mid-American Conference team - mentioning East Carolina and Southern Miss as comparables. "Their skill people compare to a BCS team."
Mori was asked what it takes for Japan to take the next step in terms of overall competition. "We've got to be able to compete internationally with any country. That's the standard. It's important to have a good output against Notre Dame."
Mori noted that by 2011, all elementary schools will play flag football in Japan.
Mori said he didn't know what to watch in terms of video since the Notre Dame team has not played together before. He ended up watching several Holtz-coached Notre Dame games, including the 1988 Notre Dame-Miami contest.
The photo session after the press conference involved more than a dozen photographers, with the two head coaches shaking hands, the players shaking each other's hands, then all six attendees standing together.
Holtz gave his business card to each of the two Japanese players and bowed to each one. There was applause all around after the conference.
The Notre Dame coaches then spent several hours conducting a clinic for Japanese players and coaches. With all their shoes left outside the gym, about 150 players sat cross-legged in the Nihon gym to listen to Holtz's opening remarks.
He emphasized the necessity to get into a basic football position and said, "Unlike a lot of other sports, you can make yourself into a great football player."
Dinner tonight was at Gonpachi, a Japanese-style restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. Players were alerted that shoes would not be allowed inside the restaurant. The Japan prime minister once took President George Bush to dinner here - and Uma Thurman shot action scenes from the movie "Kill Bill" in this restaurant.