"I have loved football as an almost mythic game since I was in the fourth grade. To me, the game wasn't even grounded in reality. The uniform turned you into a warrior. Being on a team, the mythology of physical combat, the struggle against the elements, the narrative of the game..." ~ Steve Sabol (NFL Films)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Team Japan vs Notre Dame

In 2009, former Notre Dame head coach and College Football Hall of Famer Lou Holtz led a team of Fighting Irish Legends against the Japanese national team in the 2009 Notre Dame Japan Bowl at the Tokyo Dome, an event organized by Global Football.

The game was part of a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Japan American Football Association (JAFA) and featured a roster of players from multiple eras, of ages spanning from 22 to 52.  Yes, wide receiver Kris Haynes – once a favorite target of Joe Montana for the Irish – was the old man of the group!

After a tryout in South Bend, the squad met up at the Notre Dame football facilities for a mini camp before heading to Tokyo where several days of practices combined with experiencing the Japanese culture and then the game itself against the Japanese national team.  national championship winning quarterback Tony Rice started under center for coach Holtz who had lost none of his competitive spirit and demanded as much from his players as he did during his time coaching the Fighting Irish.

Jay Vickers ran for 139 yards, scored a touchdown and set up another to lead Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame alumni team to a 19-3 win over Japan in the Notre Dame Japan Bowl.

Vickers, who played in seven games for Notre Dame in 1997 and 1998, sealed the win on a 3-yard run late in the third quarter after Michael Goolsby’s interception.

Vickers’ 77-yard run in the second quarter shifted the momentum in Notre Dame’s favor. He was tackled at the 1, but quarterback Tony Rice punched it in to give Notre Dame a 10-3 lead.

“Coach Holtz said before the game that one play would likely be the difference and if that was it, so be it,” said the 31-year-old Vickers, who was chosen MVP. “I wanted to do this for Notre Dame and for my kids and I’m glad they got to see this.”

Japan went ahead late in the first quarter on a 31-yard field goal that Notre Dame quickly answered on Scott Cengia’s 37-yarder early in the second.

“I expected us to win but I knew it would be a tough game,” Holtz said. “We’re bigger but they were quicker and I give a lot of credit to Japan.”

Japan used the game to prepare for the American football world championship in 2011. It lost the 2007 final 23-20 in double overtime against the United States.

Notre Dame Alums top Japanese Team in Football Exhibition Game

TOKYO — Japanese and American football fans flocked into the Tokyo Dome on Saturday, filling many of the stadium’s 55,000 seats to witness the Notre Dame Japan Bowl.

Former University of Notre Dame players laced up their cleats one more time to play for former Fighting Irish coach Lou Holtz as the team of Irish alumni, who were billed as the Notre Dame Football Legends, took on the Japan National Football Team.

The Notre Dame alums won 19-3.

Taylor Bennett, a former U.S. Navy officer, said he could never have imagined seeing the Fighting Irish playing here.

Todd Bemenderfer traveled from South Bend, Ind., to watch his son, Thomas, fulfill a lifelong dream of playing for Holtz, he said.

And Kristy Battani, daughter of one of the team’s coaches, said she was having a great time in Japan, even though she thought the gridiron looked a bit crooked in the baseball stadium where Americans were outnumbered by Japanese fans.

"There is no opportunity like this," said Keita Yano, 19, a sophomore at Saitama prefecture’s Josai University and a member of the school’s football team. "This will be helpful when I play." More than 30 of his teammates came to see the game, Yano added.

"There aren’t any opportunities to watch overseas players play live, so I’m excited," said teammate Tatsuya Kono, 20, a junior. He said he was looking forward to watching punter Geoff Price, who taught at the clinic for Japanese college and amateur league players on Thursday.

"American players are so powerful," said Kazuo Ozaki, 44, a fan of American football for more than 20 years.

In the end, that power led the Notre Dame alums to victory.

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