"I think now is the time," Oakes told them, "for anyone who does not want to participate to withdraw. This would not be an act of cowardice. You will be up against much bigger people, and you stand a risk of injury. But we have only four days to get ready and I need to know who's with me."
There was a silence that seemed to Oakes to last two minutes. Then from the back row, the smallest man on the squad, a quarterback named Nomura, shouted, "Banzai!" The entire team took up the shout, and the banzais shivered the rafters. Nobody walked out.
The game went on as scheduled. People came in buses from all over western Japan. The stadium was filled to capacity. The teams bowed to each other. The American national anthem was played. The Japanese national anthem was played. It even snowed—the final American touch.
Oakes's team played as though the glory of the New Japan rested on its shoulders. With three minutes to go, the American team led, but only by two points, 14-12. Oakes's star halfback, a boy named Nakazawa, had played the whole game. He got hit hard by a pair of big American linemen and the quarterback sent him out of the game, punchy. He staggered to the bench, in a daze. Oakes was preoccupied with the game, but after a moment he turned to Nakazawa. He started to say, "Nakazawa, doo desu ka?" which means, "How are you?" All he got out of his mouth was, "Nakazawa...." The boy thought he was getting the nod. He grabbed up his helmet and ran out onto the field before anyone could stop him, and his replacement came out.
According to plan, the quarterback, Nomura, had been sending the ballcarriers into the middle of the line throughout the game, since the Japanese were not big enough to hold the type of block necessary for end runs against such a heavy opponent. Nomura had a sudden inspiration. He faked a back into the center of the line and pitched out to the groggy Nakazawa. It caught the Americans completely napping. On animal instinct, Nakazawa went around end and scored from the 20-yard line. The game ended a minute later with what seemed a miraculous Japanese victory, 18-14. The crowd sat stunned, and the sportswriters had to rewrite their stories.
The banquet that night was an orgy of Japanese-American friendship, but the occasion Oakes will never forget is a surprise party that was thrown for him when he finished his teaching stint the following summer and was preparing to return to the States. He was lured to a hotel dining room, and found it filled with every boy he had coached during his three and a half seasons. Not one was missing. One had flown up from Okinawa, and two came down from Hokkaido, the northern island.
At the party the little quarterback, Nomura, said to Oakes: "I have been thinking why we have been successful. The other teams used roughly the same plays. They had good coaches and good players. I think we won because we had different relationships than the others. We learned that it is not a crime to question authority if we think it is wrong. We came around to thinking that the best man for each position should play, even if he does not have the seniority. We learned that it is not a thing of weakness to withdraw if we are injured, that it is for the good of the team."
And he shook Oakes's hands, tears in his eyes. "I hope," he said, "that these things carry over into our lives."