July 25, 2009 (ND Japan Bowl)

Father Paul Doyle celebrated the pregame mass in the Ritz-Carlton ballroom with family members in attendance. Players Bob Morton and Derek Curry handled the readings.

Three separate buses headed to the Tokyo Dome at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. for the pregame tailgate festivities outside the dome.

A throwback moment at practice earlier this week came when Mansori Nomura of Tokyo appeared with a 1979 Notre Dame football media guide from when the Irish played Miami in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo that year – along with a newspaper clipping that included a photo of Nomura and Irish head coach Dan Devine.

The game today is shown live on television here in Japan – and the next challenge will be to bring back game tapes that will then be shipped on Monday to CBS College Sports. Former Irish All-American Aaron Taylor will be the color analyst on the American rebroadcast slated for Aug. 10 (9:00 p.m. EDT on CBS College Sports).

The game will have a truly Notre Dame feel thanks to the presence of Notre Dame Stadium PA announcer Mike Collins, who will share time in the PA booth with his Japanese counterpart. Most valuable for Collins proved to be the roster provided Friday including phonetic spellings for the Japan team. Tim Heisler is serving as PA spotter for the game.

The field at the Tokyo Dome runs from home late to center field, with Notre Dame on the third-base dugout sideline.

July 24, 2009 (ND Japan Bowl)

A couple of leftovers from Thursday night’s dinner at Gonpachi – two birthday cakes appeared on behalf of players Kris Haines, who celebrated his 52nd on Thursday, and Anthony Brannan, who celebrates his 31st on Monday.

Meanwhile, Tim Brown and the five former Irish captains headed elsewhere for an appearance on a local sports talk show, followed by a late dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant.

Today’s planned 7:30 a.m. helicopter trip to Camp Zama for a group of players and coaches was scratched by high winds and rain. It marked the fourth straight day of overcast skies and at least some rain. Umbrellas (many of them clear so you can hold it and still see where you’re going on a crowded street) end up being a critical part of the culture here, sometimes to deal with rain while others use them against the sun and heat.

The Tokyo fish market continued to be a popular stop for members of the Notre Dame party – with most leaving the hotel about 5:00 a.m. and returning by about 7:00 a.m.

The players had the morning off, prior to an 11:00 a.m. walk to a nearby restaurant for an early lunch. Then, it was off by bus to the Tokyo Dome at 1:30 p.m. The rain squashed plans for an outdoor team picture in front of the dome, so instead the Irish replicated that inside.

The Irish didn’t work out at all. In fact, the field had not yet been prepared for the football game. The Yomiuri Giants baseball squad had a workout slated for Saturday night, so the pitching mound was still intact, with four orange cones around it. Befitting the Giants’ color scheme, both the pitching mound and home plate at the dome are orange.

The Tokyo Dome is actually part of a huge amusement complex, so there were plenty of people in the area.

The air conditioning was off in the dome during the Notre Dame visit — and the heat and humidity were intense. The air conditioning should be on for the game Saturday, but reports suggest it will still be warm inside.

The Irish heard from Lou Holtz, then spent most of their stay taking photos – with many family members, spouses and significant others in attendance.

After returning to the hotel Holtz spent the rest of the afternoon signing football and others items for the Notre Dame team members.

The New Sanno Hotel (a U.S. military hotel that requires passports for admittance) was the site of dinner, sponsored by the Notre Dame Club of Japan, with around 350 in attendance.

The voice of Notre Dame Stadium, Mike Collins, served as master of ceremonies.

Bobby Valentine, current manager of the Chiba Lotte team in the Japanese pro baseball league, spoke briefly and identified himself as the only person to be a manager in the American and National Leagues and the Japan League and to go to World Series in both countries. He also noted he had been fired from all three stops.

Valentine talked about his football recruiting trip to Notre Dame (he eventually went to USC) as a 5-10, 185-pound running back from Stamford, Conn. He stayed with Joe Theismann on his visit and recalled Ara Parseghian telling him, “You don’t have to sell a Cadillac. We are a Cadillac.”

At one point in the winter snow, Valentine recalled a corridor of Irish lineman in front of him, and Ara suggested (with the offense on the left and defense on the right) that if you come here you’ll be looking at the backsides of these guys. If you don’t you’ll be looking into the faces of these other guys. Valentine claimed his choice of USC started a 10-year family feud.

Holtz, Tony Rice and Brandon Hoyte presented Japanese event organizer Shinzo Yamada with a #1 Notre Dame jersey.

Notre Dame’s dean of the College of Science, Greg Crawford (his great-uncle played for Knute Rockne), made some brief remarks highlighting the latest academic advancements on campus.

Notre Dame club president Bill Moran introduced Ireland’s ambassador to Japan, Brendan Scannell, who presented Holtz with an Irish flag that had flown over the Irish embassy in Tokyo.

Holtz noted the 13th birthday of his grandson Chad with yet another cake and round of singing.

Then former Irish captains Rice, Hoyte, Derek Curry and Melvin Dansby made brief comments.

Finally, Holtz closed out the program and ended his remarks with his traditional tearing up and recreation of a USA Today section.

Collins closed the evening with a tribute to Rich O’Leary, Notre Dame’s longtime athletic staffer who died July 17.

Then it was back to the Ritz-Carlson where Holtz conducted his usual relaxation session with his players.

Tomorrow’s game was featured in today’s edition of Japan Times and the Daily Yomiuri, along with several Japanese-language papers.

July 23, 2009 (ND Japan Bowl)

Tim Brown and his wife finally arrived in Tokyo Wednesday and joined the Notre Dame group for dinner at T.Y. Harbor, a delightful spot on the water that featured an outdoor buffet. It was Brown’s 43rd birthday and that earned him a large cake with candles and a Happy Birthday rendition from the Irish group in attendance.

The Irish on Wednesday took several team pictures in front of the Asakusa temple. Popular player purchases from the famed Nakamise Dori shopping area were various versions of samurai swords.

Today’s Japan Times featured a striking front-page photo of Wednesday’s eclipse, though noting the overcast weather mitigated the hoped-for visual effects.

Banter among the players on the defensive bus Wednesday after practice involved a history of NFL-caliber opposing players they’d faced during their Notre Dame careers.

Coach Lou Holtz and Chris Zorich did live interviews this morning with Sirius Radio.

About 50 media representatives are expected for the formal press conference later today to be held in the team meeting room at Nihon University.The oldest member of the Irish Legends squad, Kris Haines, celebrates his 52nd birthday today. Haines’ greatest claim to fame is catching the game-tying TD pass from Joe Montana to complete the comeback against Houston in the Cotton Bowl following the ’78 season. Joe Unis then kicked the PAT after time ran out for the 35-34 Irish win in the frigid conditions of Dallas.

Sit-down interviews with Holtz, Brown and Tony Rice will happen today with the Daily Yomiuri Shimbun, the world’s largest circulation daily newspaper (currently 10 million readers, with numbers that have reached 16 million in the past). Japanese are considered the greatest consumers of newspapers anywhere n the world, with daily sales that have reached 70 million copies.

The weather today began sunnier and warmer but by the time practice began, skies became overcast despite the high humidity to go with a light breeze.

Holtz directed a special-team review to begin the session, and then ended the workout two hours later with his patented 99-yard drive.

Brown made his first appearance on the field as a coach after arriving late Wednesday afternoon.

The Nihon head coach presented Holtz with a Phoenix team shirt in the middle of the practice – and Holtz bowed in thanks.

After practice, Holtz congratulated Kris Haines on his 52nd birthday with the question, “How many years you been on Medicaid?”

The Irish team will wear blue jerseys with the Japan Bowl logo on the chest, plus interlocking NDs on the sleeves from the Holtz era. The Japan team will wear red.

The Notre Dame players will keep their game jerseys – but they’ll leave helmets, pants and shoulder pads behind to contribute to the Japanese American football mission.

Lunch the last three days has been provided on campus for the Notre Dame party by Dietetics for Athlete.

The formal press conference took place in the offensive team meeting room at Nihon and featured banners, a minute-long intro video, plus a half-hour of opening statements (all translated). Holtz, Brown and Tony Rice represented Notre Dame, while coach Kiyoyuki Mori, defensive captain Naoki Kosho and standout receiver Noriaki Kinoshita represented Japan. Nameplates in front of the Notre Dame trio were translated into Japanese. Printed bios of the six participants were distributed, also printed in Japanese.

About 40 media attended the press conference. Translating was Mika Kabeya, a Stryker Japan interpreter for the medical equipment company whose world headquarters are in Kalamazoo, Mich. Interestingly enough, Stryker president Steve McMillan’s son Jeff will be a freshman at Notre Dame this fall and will run cross country for the Irish.

Rice wore his #9 blue jersey to the press conference. All six at the head table received applause after formal introductions.

Holtz first praised the Japanese hospitality he and his team had enjoyed.

“Some of our players are older, some are younger. Some are real old,” he said, looking to his left at Rice.

“We’ve had some injuries, some setbacks. We’ll play hard, we’ll play well, whether it’s good enough to win I don’t know. It’s asking a lot of our team to come over here and play a very good Japanese team.”

Said Brown, “I’m just happy to be here after the passport issues I had. I’ve been here on two other occasions, once for the Japan Bowl after my senior year in college and once with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1990. Everyone asked me why I’m not playing – I’m 43 years old and I’ve got grey hairs.”

Said Rice, “It’s great to put on the gold helmet and represent Notre Dame again.”

Said Kosho, “Our 60 players are the happiest football players on the earth because they have the chance to play Notre Dame. Notre Dame players are so big, but we have 60 players who can fight.”

Kinoshito has experience in NFL Europe as well as with the Atlanta Falcon practice squad last year. He said, “I know what American football is about. I hope I can show that experience.”

During the question-and-answer portion, Holtz said, “You don’t want to be complicated and you can’t play confused. If Japan scores 40, we’ve got to find a way to score 41. We’ve got about seven runs, 14 formations. It’s a matter of whatever we have to do to win.”

Holtz’s concerns? “Their skill people are as good as anyone’s. Their wide receiver could play for anyone in the country. Their discipline, their effort, their intensity — I stand in awe of it. I have great admiration for the discipline of the Japan team. That’s the way the game should be played.

“I worry most about our skill positions – wide receiver, quarterback, running back. Our guys have not played in a competitive game for a while. The mind may be willing but the body ain’t. But these guys have won a lot of big games in their time. It’s like riding a bike. When they kick it off, you hope they’ll remember how to play.”

Holtz compared Japan to a good Conference USA or Mid-American Conference team – mentioning East Carolina and Southern Miss as comparables. “Their skill people compare to a BCS team.”

Mori was asked what it takes for Japan to take the next step in terms of overall competition. “We’ve got to be able to compete internationally with any country. That’s the standard. It’s important to have a good output against Notre Dame.”

Mori noted that by 2011, all elementary schools will play flag football in Japan.

Mori said he didn’t know what to watch in terms of video since the Notre Dame team has not played together before. He ended up watching several Holtz-coached Notre Dame games, including the 1988 Notre Dame-Miami contest.

The photo session after the press conference involved more than a dozen photographers, with the two head coaches shaking hands, the players shaking each other’s hands, then all six attendees standing together.

Holtz gave his business card to each of the two Japanese players and bowed to each one. There was applause all around after the conference.

The Notre Dame coaches then spent several hours conducting a clinic for Japanese players and coaches. With all their shoes left outside the gym, about 150 players sat cross-legged in the Nihon gym to listen to Holtz’s opening remarks.

He emphasized the necessity to get into a basic football position and said, “Unlike a lot of other sports, you can make yourself into a great football player.”

Dinner tonight was at Gonpachi, a Japanese-style restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. Players were alerted that shoes would not be allowed inside the restaurant. The Japan prime minister once took President George Bush to dinner here – and Uma Thurman shot action scenes from the movie “Kill Bill” in this restaurant.

July 22, 2009 (ND Japan Bowl)

Coach Lou Holtz spent Tuesday night at a leadership training seminar set up for the Japan Bowl sponsors by GE-Asia. Holtz had breakfast last February on his PR tour to Tokyo for the Japan Bowl with Fujimori-san, the president of GE-Asia (and a former football player for Tokyo University) and that’s where the idea for the seminar was hatched. Holtz spoke for a half hour and took part in a panel discussion. A third speaker was the former president of Tokyo University (also a former football player). About 150 event sponsors attended and listed to the seminar with ear buds via direct translation.

Holtz also expressed an interest in seeing the famed Tokyo fish market, with discussions ongoing for a potential 4:00 a.m. Thursday departure for that event.

Another leftover from Tuesday night – the dinner at Roti was set up by restaurant owner George Synan of K&K Shogun Management. The president of K&K, Kagami-san, spent some time at the reception with former Irish star Chris Zorich.

Wednesday dawned foggy and wet once again, with a steady rain falling as the Irish left for practice. But by the time the buses reached Nihon the rain had halted and practice began under moist, muggy and humid conditions, but at least with no rain.

A couple of nifty touches at the Ritz-Carlton? Heated toilet seats and mechanical window blinds that keep the rooms completely dark.

A handful of people in the Notre Dame party had planned to travel to Yokohama (a 30-minute train ride south of Tokyo) for a Tuesday night baseball game against the Tokyo Giants but the wet weather cancelled that idea.

Family members and other members of the traveling party (non-players and coaches) left the hotel at 2:45 p.m. to meet the squad at the Asakusa temple and shrine area. The Notre Dame group spent two hours in the shrine area (with plenty of time for souvenir shopping), then headed for dinner.

Tim Brown is expected to arrive today after fighting through some passport issues.

The Nihon football staff graciously offered its football meetings rooms for internet access to some of the Notre Dame staff – good for a couple of Notre Dame logo shirts in trade. No shoes were allowed in the team room or the coaching offices.

The Irish today were in shorts and helmets only, with no pads.

Holtz, Brown and Tony Rice are expected to attend the formal pre-game press conference on Thursday and also do a clinic.

Former Irish captains Mike Goolsby, Melvin Dansby, Derek Curry, Bobbie Howard and Brandon Hoyte head to Maru Thursday for a business reception – and Holtz, Patrick Steeneberge and Chris Zorich are part of another corporate event on Thursday evening.

At the pre-practice team meeting Wednesday, Holtz talked about WIN – what’s important now. He talked about the necessity to out-hit the Japan team and be more physical, be the best fundamental team on the field – and he emphasized togetherness and the idea that only the Irish control all these elements. He also mentioned his football commandments – no turnovers, make Japan earn whatever it gets, no missed assignments, no foolish penalties, play well on the goal line, third downs are critical — and win the kicking game.

For the second straight day, Takayuki Sunaga watched practice. He took one snap for the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe versus the Berlin Thunder in 2000 as the lone non-American to play quarterback in the league. He’s now offensive coordinator of the Team Japan Under-19 squad that finished third at the recent IFAF Junior World Championships after defeating Mexico on July 4 in Canton, Ohio.

Dean Greg Crawford of the College of Science made the trip to Tokyo along with Dave Morrissey and Gary Girzadas from the Notre Dame corporate development staff to explore potential Japanese business connections this week.

There was a total eclipse of the sun in Japan late this morning, though the overcast conditions made it difficult to notice. At the time it took place, the sun (completely covered by the moon for about seven minute) was directly overhead.

Today is the wedding anniversary of Lou and Beth Holtz.

Post-practice interview requests from the Nippon Television Network involved Tim O’Neill, Jeremy Akers and Brandon Hoyte.

Ball-boys for the game will be Chad Holtz (grandson of Lou Holtz) and Drew Pana (grandson of Chuck Lennon, Note Dame alumni association chief).

14px; font-weight: bold;” align=”center”>July 21, 2009 (ND Japan Bowl)

Some quick hitters from the Land of the Rising Sun in preparation for the Notre Dame Japan Bowl on Saturday…

— By 7:30 a.m. Lou Holtz could be found in front of the Ritz-Carlton, waiting for the team buses and making his practice notes. The team left at 8:00 on an overcast and foggy day and headed to Nihon University for practice. After the 45-minue bus ride, the Irish immediately headed into a brief team meeting. Said Holtz, “We’ve got eight practices to get all the little things right.”
— Next, one of the event sponsors made a translated speech on a sport supplement named WGH Pro – wheat gluten hydrolysate. It goes for 18,000 yen for 120 packets and is designed to mitigate muscle inflammation.
— The artificial turf field contained red end zones with the Phoenix nickname on it. More than 20 Nihon players staffed the practice in their red shorts and white shirts. There are lights and film towers – to go with 20 championship banners. The Phoenix has not lost a game in either of the last two seasons. The school is located west of central Tokyo in Setagaya-Ku. A light mist gave way to more of a light driving rain – and media reps at practice utilized umbrellas to cover their cameras. Practice was no different than at home – there were autograph seekers with shirts and helmets looking for signatures.
— Running back coach Reggie Brooks suited up today, making his first appearance in jersey #7.
— The Nihon head coach was a visitor at practice, as was a former Japanese American football star that, for the Scottish Claymores, made the first NFL Europe appearance at quarterback by any non-American.
— Nippon Television Network play-by-play man Daisuke Sugaya, who will call the game live in Japan, interviewed several Irish players with an interpreter. Notre Dame Club of Japan president Bill Moran also proved a great help with his ability to speak Japanese.
— After practice, a Japanese film crew taped several interviews and the Japan Times, the largest newspaper in English in Tokyo, interviewed Holtz and some players.The team ate a catered post-practice lunch of chicken, shrimp, meat loaf and spaghetti in the defensive film room.
— Holtz looked no different than he did more than a decade ago in South Bend – showing animation throughout the drills and sticking his manila folder containing practice notes in his back pocket.
— The team headed home, took a walking tour of the Rappongi Hills area and then walked to dinner at nearby Rotti, with rotisserie chicken the specialty.

July 19-20, 2009 (ND Japan Bowl)

The Notre Dame travel party pulled out in its two buses about 6:30 Sunday morning from the Waterford Estates in South Bend, about 15 minutes later than scheduled after a couple of missed walkup calls. But the Irish group made it to O’Hare in plenty of time for its ANA flight to Tokyo that ended up leaving about 11:15 a.m. Central time.

A few Irish players were spotted with ice bags in O’Hare and a few others were stretching to stay loose. The ANA flight lasted exactly 12 hours, landing a few minutes after 1:00 p.m. Tokyo time.

Lunch on the plane proved a bit confusing, with passengers offered a Japanese entrée or a “Western” entrée. But the Japanese entree turned out to be fried chicken and the Western version was salmon with dill sauce. Desert was a four-ounce serving of vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream – and the red and white wine came from France.

Mark Monahan had a tough weekend, since he had to cut short his Saturday afternoon practice to work an emergency room shift that lasted until 3:00 a.m. Sunday, just prior to the team leaving for Chicago.

Traffic from Narita airport to the Tokyo Midtown area didn’t prove to be as challenging as normal because Monday was a holiday in Japan.

The Notre Dame party essentially chased the sun all day long as it traveled west, seeing approximately 26 straight hours of sunshine during the trip to Tokyo.

Coach Lou Holtz’s first question upon arriving at Narita involved finding the winner of the British Open.

After check-in at the Ritz-Carlton Midtown, the team dinner proved to be a standup reception with a variety of food stations. Bill Moran, president of the Notre Dame Club of Tokyo, made some remarks to the squad, as did Jim Moynihan, a former Tokyo FBI agent who now works private security. He gave the Irish players the lay of the land for the week. Shinzo Yamada of the Japanese American Football Association also welcomed the Irish party. As Moynihan noted, 2009 this is the 75th anniversary of the first time American baseball players came to Japan – with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jim Foxx and Moe Berg doing that in 1934 (a book is coming out on that subject).

Meanwhile the prime minister of Japan is expected to dissolve the parliament on Tuesday.

Sumo wrestling championships are going on in Tokyo – with television coverage from 3:30-6:00 p.m. each day and competition concluding Sunday.

The Japanese pro baseball league will play its two all-star games Friday and Saturday nights.

The Irish will be up early to leave for practice at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Holtz told the team there would be no curfew “unless mandated by conduct.” He also told the players, “If we’re gonna do something, we’re gonna do it right. We’re going to represent Notre Dame the right way.”