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Notre Dame prepares to invade Japan

February 21, 2009 | 12:47 am

Lou Holtz and Kiyoyuki Mori, head coach of the Japan national football team, possibly discussing helmet stickers. Is anybody else having an '80s flashback?

Lou Holtz is going to coach Notre Dame with Tim Brown and Chris Zorich by his side. Tony Rice will be under center and Joe Montana will be there, too.

No, it's not a Hail Mary plan to replace Charlie Weis. Holtz will lead a group of Fighting Irish alumni against Japan's national football team.

All that's missing is an inspirational soundtrack performed by Alphaville ... the Fighting Irish players trying to feel Forever Young and the team trying to be Big in Japan.

For those who don't follow the international game, the Japanese seem to have a solid resume. They won the first two American Football World Cups (1999 and 2003) and were runner-up in 2007.

A United States team, featuring amateur players who had graduated within the last year, first participated in 2007. They opened the tournament with a 77-0 drubbing of South Korea but only managed a 23-20 double-overtime victory against Japan in the title game.

The Notre Dame-Japan Bowl will be held on July 25 at the Tokyo Dome. Holtz reportedly had over 100 volunteers to play and will hold tryouts in April. Montana will not suit up, but he will be there to help promote the game.

The trip is reminiscent of Notre Dame's barnstorming legacy. Starting under Knute Rockne in the 1920s, the team would travel to their games by rail and hold practice when they stopped at train yards. Fans began to show up at the stops for pep rallies and parades. The effect was like a whistlestop tour for a presidential candidate, and explains why the Fighting Irish hold such an important place in American football history.

It's also a little reminiscent of American celebrities who make embarrassing commercials overseas. Considering the Irish haven't been able to beat arch-rival USC in 2,680 days, it's hard to say how this one will turn out.

In all fairness, Gary Paczensy in Notre Dame's sports information department likes to point out that USC once went 4,786 days without a victory over Notre Dame -- back when Lou Holtz was at the helm.

The Notre Dame-Japan game comes at an interesting time in global sports marketing. The NFL has struggled to get a foothold in China and Europe, but the NBA is charging hard at China and India. If the Notre Dame experiment works, maybe UCLA should consider doing something like this in China, where the school is a brand unto itself.

-- Adam Rose

Photo: Lou Holtz and Kiyoyuki Mori, head coach of Japan's national football team, possibly discussing helmet stickers. Credit: Junji Kurokawa / Associated Press

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