We ask our Japanese friend, Michi Jin-no, about these things. Michi works for Tele Planning International, Inc., the Tokyo-based promotional packager that thought up the Mirage Bowl and runs it—ever more ambitiously every year. Michi, now general manager of Tele Planning's New York office, was our interpreter and a principal in our after-hours philosophical forums at various caffeine dens near the Ginza. At the time he was also a communications major at Temple University in Philadelphia, a bright young man who grasped early the ways sports can be enhanced by business. And vice versa. He points out, as testimony, the tangible good the Japanese refinement of Ame-Rug (for "American rugby," formerly Gai-kyu, for "armored football") accomplished with the 1978 Mirage Bowl. Temple played in that one. Afterward, some of Michi's chums in the band purchased U.S. versions of the Mirage.
Michi doesn't know what percentage of the crowd actually paid its way in to see Notre Dame-Miami, but finds it of no consequence. As long as they are there, who gives a domo? He says the Japanese people are "getting into" American football. He says they "like the personal play—the personal running, the personal passing. Also the hitting on the line. It's like sumo wrestling." He says the Japanese were quite taken with Grambling when it came over for the first Mirage Bowl in 1977. "They love the Grambling band. They love when the band marches and plays at the same time." Also, they liked the Grambling offense, featuring Quarterback Doug Williams, he says. "It was very passing," he says.
He says the Japanese fans' excitement is a spontaneous thing. The general rule is that "every time the ball moves, they clap hands." Too, their rooting tendencies follow egalitarian lines. Even if there is a favored player or team, "once game starts, they split up—two pieces to cheer." He says it is true, however, that some of the finer points escape them. "They want to know, 'What is kickoff?' 'How many innings in a quarter?' 'Why you score seven points instead of one?' "
In its wisdom, Tele Planning has provided for this. Michi refers us to the thick, slick, bilingual Mirage Bowl program. It is an engineering marvel filled with eye-popping foldouts and full-color punch-out decals and selling for 1,500 yen ($6)—the grandest program we have ever seen. It includes more than 20 pages of rudimentary football instruction, covering everything from "face masks" to "four-down changes." For political clout, there are signed salutations from President Carter and then Prime Minister Ohira; for consumer inspiration, the words and music of the Mirage anthem: "It's a fantasy, playing in my mind...Mirage...Mirage." Tele Planning, says Michi, thinks of everything.
We tell Michi we think it's terrific that the Japanese have embraced yet another American institution, even though history warns us where that can lead. We say we're sure in this case it will lead to increased efficiency and productivity in the game, and better packaging. During the week, we have heard many thrilling stories of football's struggle to make it in an alien culture. We have been all ears.
For example, from the Miami-Notre Dame game's garrulous umpire and amateur Far East historian, Jim Lineberger of Los Angeles, we learn that Japan's first brush with American football occurred in 1934, in the form of an exhibition game. In 1935 a 38-man U.S. college "all-star" team paid a significant missionary visit. Stocked with Pacific Coast players, the all-stars played 10 games in 30 days, logging 10,000 miles. U.S. Olympians who protested the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games would have admired those players' political benightedness. An invitation from Fascist Italy was withdrawn at the last minute when Mussolini chose to invade Ethiopia instead. They were then turned down by Nazi Germany, which was preparing for the 1936 Olympics (and other things). Imperial Japan was their third choice.
After the war football in Japan grew in popularity, albeit much more modestly than, say, American baseball. Japanese hopes for a reasonable parity in the game were confounded by an unyielding physiological handicap—the overwhelming size differential between the races. U.S. college teams (Utah State, Wake Forest) have, in recent years, run up scores "scrimmaging" against Japanese all-star teams. In 1977, invaders from Brigham Young played two Japanese teams, winning by scores of 61-13 and 71-0.
The referee of the Miami-Notre Dame game, Bob Beveridge, a former Air Force sergeant married to a Japanese and living in Yokota, also refereed those games. He recalls an epidemic of holding violations on the part of the Japanese. His policy was to look the other way. "When you're 75 pounds lighter than the guy across the line from you, holding may be a right," says Beveridge.
A subsequent Japanese victory over a lightweight team from Cornell in 1976 restored some impetus to the movement. There have since been other healthy developments. According to the American Football Association of Japan, 139 universities, 92 high schools and 52 clubs now play the game more or less regularly. An all-Japanese college championship is held every year in Osaka, and two U.S. all-star teams come in January for the Japan Bowl.
Media attention has grown. Grade school quarterbacks now study the techniques of U.S. college teams on late-night television ("video strips") plus a veritable torrent of how-to books—meaning, in the lexicon of publicists, four or five—which have rolled off the Japanese presses, along with two football periodicals, American Football and Touchdown. Japanese football columnists have successfully adapted the trenchant editorial style of their American counterparts; e.g., the Asahi Evening News, weighing the chances of the Irish against Miami, viewed Notre Dame's "most tarnished record in ages...[as] a disaster of major proportions." (Notre Dame was 6-4 at the time.) A Miami victory, said the News, would write "a final and dismal chapter to the most woebegone [Notre Dame] football season in ages." The Daily Oklahoman would have been proud.