August 4, 2000
Thirty of 31 teams are in action this week in big cities small towns and in Asia.
Interesting scenarios abound as the NFL plays a full schedule of 15 preseason games on Friday and Saturday.
The action is highlighted by the 35th international American Bowl that returns after a one-year absence to Tokyo, Japan. It will be the 10th American Bowl in Tokyo, the most of any international city.
With the slogan "NFL Tokyo 2000" as the backdrop, the Atlanta Falcons meet the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night on ESPN at 10:00 PM ET. The game will be played in Tokyo on Sunday at 11:00 AM (Japan is 13 hours ahead of the eastern U.S.).
Whatever the time, the game is highly anticipated by the participants.
It will be the first international game for the Falcons, but not for their head coach. For Dan Reeves, who played and coached for the Cowboys, it will be his second Tokyo American Bowl (1990 with Denver), and his fifth NFL international game overall - London in 1987 and Berlin in '92 with Denver and '94 in Berlin with the New York Giants.
"Going to Japan is a great opportunity for our team," says Reeves. "There aren't many chances that our players and staff will get to travel to a place like Japan. It's gratifying to see a different part of the world get excited about our sport."
The Cowboys are the NFL's most experienced travelers. After playing in the first American Bowl _ at Wembley Stadium in London in 1986 - Dallas has played in Tokyo, London again, Mexico City twice, Toronto and Monterrey, Mexico. Seven games in all.
One of the team's traveling party is more than familiar with Japan. Tomoko Mita, a member of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, is a Tokyo native. Before coming to the States in 1994, she attended Kawamura High School and graduated with an education degree from Tamagawa Junior College for Women.
Football was introduced to Japan in 1934. Today, more than 30,000 Japanese play the sport on the high school, university and corporate levels. In 1999, the NFL introduced a flag football program to 370 Japanese elementary schools, reaching more than 44,000 students.
Attendance for the 34 American Bowls has totaled nearly two million fans (1,988,100) with an average of 58,474 fans per game.
Meanwhile, back in the States
· In Green Bay Friday night, two new NFL coaches will meet as the New York Jets visit the Green Bay Packers. And the former coach of one of the teams thinks it is a good idea for his big-city club to visit the smallest town in the league. Al Groh, the Jets' new coach, faces Mike Sherman, making his NFL head-coaching debut. Groh's boss, Bill Parcells, the Jets' coach from 1997-99 and now their director of football operations, likes bringing his teams to Green Bay.
"There's a reason I like to play the Packers in the preseason," says Parcells. "It's a good place to go to teach your team what it's like at one of the most difficult places in the league."
· In Tampa, it's "Didn't We Just Meet?" And "Didn't We Just Play One Wild Game?" As they did this past January 15 in an NFC Divisional Playoff game, the Washington Red-skins travel to Tampa to meet the Buccaneers Friday. Behind 13-0 in the third quarter in January, the Bucs' defense set up two scores off a John Lynch interception and a Wareen Sapp fumble recovery. With 1:08 left in the game, Washington lined up at the Bucs' 33-yard line for a kick that could provide the winning points - only to botch the attempt on a poor snap. The Bucs went to the NFC Championship Game. The Redskins went home.
· In Pittsburgh on Saturday, Dave Wannstedt makes his Miami Dolphins head-coaching debut in his hometown when he faces the Steelers. Born in Pittsburgh, Wannstedt went to the University of Pittsburgh (blocking for freshman Tony Dorsett in his senior year), and got his first coaching experience as a defensive line coach for the Panthers from 1975-78. In his final two years there, his defensive coordinator was Jimmy Johnson, who he would coach under at Oklahoma State, the University of Miami, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Dolphins.