As Dr. Saturday recently pointed out, we have recently reached the midway point in our long, horrible annual repose from football known as the dreaded "off-season." These are the times that try men's souls, and though we here at 11W industries take this opportunity to fill the void with other deserving sports that are often overlooked in lieu of football news, I cannot deny my desire to see people put on molded plastic and hit each other really, really hard.
My football withdrawal is made all the worse by the fact that I currently live in Japan, a country not generally known for its love of the sport (when I bust a football out to show my students, I've had to explain that it isn't a rugby ball more times than I care to count). With that said, however, there are several exceptions to that rule and American football is increasing in popularity here. Case in point; during a recent trip to Kyoto I saw something incredible and entirely unexpected. A miracle, if you will, that warmed my cold, black Ohioan heart:
Meet the Bears. Most sports that kids participate in here are facilitated through their school, and "club" teams are relatively rare among younger ages, but they do exist. The Bears are one of those teams, formed about 25 years ago and consisting entirely of junior high kids from the Kyoto area. There are some foreigners on the team, but by and large this is a Japanese team comprised of several dozen young men who genuinely love this sport just as much as we do.
I talked with their coach during the practice ("talked" being a loose term, he barely spoke English and I barely speak Japanese so I feel like my excited explanation of the Pony formation might have not translated well), but I did find out a few things: The coach had been doing this for over twenty years, and last year attended a coaching clinic given by the Oklahoma staff in Norman. His son had gone along with him and apparently hung out with Adrian Peterson, which makes the two of them about fifty times cooler than I think I'll ever be. I also met a member of the team who said he loved college football and did a student exchange in... Michigan. I nervously asked him who he rooted for and without hesitation he yelled "THE SPARTANS" and my belief that UM is a universally hated brand was further cemented.
As for the team itself, they, along with a second team of elementary school kids, practice on a small dirt field by the Kamo river in Kyoto. This is their only practice area and because of this, what they can do is somewhat limited. I did get to see them run some plays, and maybe a little surprisingly they ran nothing but the Power I and two back sets. A highlight of the entire experience was gleefully watching a fullback truck a linebacker on a Dave play. Yes, Dave. Even in Japan.
Overall football still has underdog status in Japan and the odds are stacked against it. There is a simple lack of the kind of space necessary for football, and baseball, basketball, and soccer are light years ahead in terms of popularity. But as previously said, there are some indications that that might be changing. Events such as the Junior World Championship of American Football and the Super Bowl help increase the profile of the sport here, and hopefully the (surprisingly old) Japan American Football Association can increase its' reach and get more kids interested in the sport.
For our part as Americans, I think it's important that we take every opportunity to promote our sport abroad, because let's face it: aside from being a great chance to interact with other countries in a sport that emphasizes brotherhood and teamwork, it's fun as hell. Here are the Bears in action.