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For seniors Phil Furse, Chris Pillsbury and Rob Santos, it was like nothing they'd ever seen.
"We got off the plane and people were clapping," the amazed Furse says.
Never in their four years of Harvard football did Furse (a defensive lineman) and Pillsbury and Santos (both defensive backs) receive such a warm welcome in enemy territory. In fact, never in their four years did the trio receive any big welcome, let alone any like this one.
They were in Japan, members of an Ivy League all-star team invited by the Seiko Epson Corporation and the International Management Group to compete against a group of Japanese university all-stars.
College football goes international, and as usual the Ivy League is in front.
Fifty thousand people packed the Tokyo Dome (Japan's only domed stadium, affectionately called "The Big Egg") to watch the January 9 spectacle. The media flocked to the event like lawyers to an ambulance and the organizers held a large banquet to mark the occasion.
"It was pretty wild," Furse says. "They turned off the lights and started playing music."
"The people were very receptive and interesting," Pillsbury added.
However, the Ivy League all-stars did not repay their hosts for the wonderful hospitality they enjoyed, crushing the smaller Japanese team 68-3.
Although the score may indicate otherwise, the Ivy seniors didn't concentrate much on the game during their eight-day Pacific junket. The players brought along a cameras and camcorders, but the equipment got more use at tourist sites than at the game.
Coach Steve Tosches of Princeton conducted the practices from 9 to 11 in the morning to free up the rest of the day for showering, lunch and an organized team tour through the Tokyo area. The team would return from the tours around 6:00 p.m., leaving the rest of the night open for the adventuresome.
One can imagine the results. Furse's roommate, for instance, got sick "before and after practice one day because he went out hard the night before and slept through the tour," according to Furse. (By the way, Furse's roommate was a Yalie. Hmm.)
Those who were more reserved than Furse's roommate enjoyed the tours of what Pillsbury calls "an awesome city." The players visited historic Buddhist temples, legendary Japanese gardens and the Imperial Palace.
"We couldn't go in, though," Furse laments.
The same could be said for the Ivy Leaguers, who denied the Japanese access to the end zone during the game. Doing what seemed unthinkable during his team's woeful winless season, Brown quarterback Bill Pienias (two TD passes) took the opening drive deep into Japanese territory.
Then again, it wasn't so different from his season. He tossed an interception which was returned to the Ivy League 10 yard line. The Ivy defense held tough, forcing a 34-yard field-goal attempt which the Japanese missed.
"We didn't run it up or anything, we just kept grinding and grinding the ball," Furse says. "We didn't even throw it that much, so we just kept on busting holes wide open."
Against the Japanese linemen, most of whom only weighed around 200 pounds, the Ivy Leguers went hog wild, rolling up 549 yards on the ground to complement a bashful 106 yards in the air.
As the game dragged on and the points piled up, the Ivy Leaguers became more enchanted with the Tokyo Dome scoreboard and its "jumbotron" than with their opponent. "Everyone would look up at the instant replay and check out the play and see how they did," Furse says.
The players had a lot to watch. By the time the day ended, the dazzling scoreboard read 68-3.
On the other side of the ball, the Ivy men limited the Japanese offense to a total of 209 yards, due in part to the efforts of the three Harvard representatives. Furse registered the Ivy League's only sack, Santos snagged his final collegiate interception and Pillsbury contributed his usual stellar performance. "It was neat and all, one last time we're together," Furse says. "I said, 'Pills, how about an "Adjuster!" call one last time?""
For these three football stalwarts, playing together one last time evoked memories of their last game: Harvard's 14-0 triumph over Yale. Pillsbury probably spoke for the three of them when he proudly remarked:
"You can't compare it [the Ivy Bowl] to the Yale game....It's like comparing apples and oranges."
The defeat was a bit of a shock for the Tokyo faithful, who expected an improvement upon last year's 24-7 loss. The Japanese media believed the third time would be the charm. "They thought they would make it really close," Pillsbury says.
But, like the ongoing the Super Bowl debate--will the AFC team make it close, let alone win the game--such hopes are best put away for another year.
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