SI Vault
 
The Rising Sun of Football in Japan
Arthur Myers
November 30, 1964
An American teacher (to his own surprise) brought the honorable T formation to some collegians in Tokyo
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 30, 1964

The Rising Sun Of Football In Japan

An American teacher (to his own surprise) brought the honorable T formation to some collegians in Tokyo

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

"My theory," Oakes said, "is that in Japan you find the reductio ad absurdum of American life. All the things we do and never admit, they do and have it organized. An example would be this drinking bit. We would say, 'Charlie didn't know what he was saying at the party.' In Japan it is planned that way.

"The colleges recruit athletes openly and systematically. They have tryouts before a person takes his entrance examination. The team captain then gives a list of the examination numbers in which he is interested to the director of athletics. Once admitted, the boy belongs to the football team, or whatever team recruited him. Then they start trading between the teams.

"One boy, who was tall and thin, had been drafted by the volleyball team, but once they got him they felt he wouldn't be quick enough. So they offered me an even trade. I took him, and he became an All- Japan tackle and captain of the team in his senior year.

"Once, while scouting a high school touch football team, I saw one of the fattest Japanese boys I'd ever seen. He stood about 5 feet 6 and weighed more than 200 pounds. He was built like a sumo wrestler. In touch football they made a fool of him, so I passed him up as a recruit. But when I called the first practice next season who shows up but this fat boy. The sumo team came over and brought two perfect physical specimens, each about 175 pounds. They offered them for our new fat member. They talked it over with our captain and the trade was set. But the boy came to me with tears rolling down his cheeks. He said that all his life people had been trying to make a sumo wrestler out of him, but he didn't want to be a sumo wrestler—he wanted to play football. He was so wound up about all this that I canceled the deal. That year we went into a five-four defense. I made this boy middle guard and played him only on defense. In two years I never saw this boy on the ground. He'd stand up in a sumo stance—I never saw his feet move—and he'd just bounce people off, reach out and grab the ballcarrier. I never saw a grass stain on his uniform."

Eligibility rules in Japanese universities are strange by American standards. In Oakes's time freshmen could play—and so could alumni. Kyoto University found it difficult to field a team, so by special dispensation this team could use alumni. Also, Japanese universities are composed of various colleges, such as the College of Economics, the College of Literature and so on. When a student finishes four years at one college he can keep right on in another if he chooses, and continue to play football. Oakes recalls one distinguished-looking gentleman in his 40s who was still playing for Hosei University. He was wealthy and just kept on taking courses, and playing football. He was the elder statesman of the first Eastern All-Star team Oakes coached.

Oakes was slightly disconcerted when at the first practice this man, a halfback, rode up to the field in a chauffeur-driven car. In the locker room the chauffeur helped him undress and suit up. When he took a shower the chauffeur would be there with a towel. The chauffeur did everything but run out and pick him up when he got knocked down.

During the long winter after his Rice Bowl fiasco, Oakes studiously applied himself to the books his Stateside friend had sent him on football. He was particularly taken with one by Frank Leahy on the Notre Dame T. Up to this time St. Paul's had been using an A formation and a single wing. But the T, Oakes felt, was ideal for his Japanese, with their light weight—they averaged about 145 pounds. The formations they had been using required strength. A block had to be held while the ballcarrier ran through a hole. But the T was predicated on quick reflexes, so the runner could get to the hole faster.

"Japanese are not fast," Oakes remarked, "they're quick. They have short legs and get off to incredibly quick starts, but in the long run their speed isn't maintained. The T suited our personnel. So I introduced the T formation as outlined in Leahy's book."

The team won a spring game, but the regular season that fall of 1950 was a mediocre one. They won two, lost two and tied one.

"By this time," said Oakes, "the bloom was certainly off the rose." He was not asked to coach the Eastern All-Stars. And yet, the American-style training was paying off. After that season none of his teams lost another game. The following fall St. Paul's won all its games and the national championship. Oakes was reinstated as coach of the Eastern All-Stars and won the Rice Bowl championship, and he did the same thing the following year.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5