Wed, Jul 30, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Buccaneers to bring Yamada to Japan

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE Tampa Bay will bring linebacker Shinzo Yamada, the Japanese player the NFL assigned to Tampa Bay for an upcoming game in Tokyo

AP , LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA

Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George signs autographs after a morning training camp practice in Nashville Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Some of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are grumbling, at least privately, about the 20,921km of roundtrip travel they'll be making to Japan this week for an exhibition game against the New York Jets.

But not linebacker Shinzo Yamada, the Japanese player the NFL assigned to Tampa Bay for the game.

"I'm just happy to go back to my homeland with the Super Bowl champions," he said

Yamada, who lived in the US for four years as a youngster, joined the Bucs at the start of training camp and expects to play on special teams and defense against the Jets in Saturday's game at the Tokyo Dome.

Receiver Yoshinobu Imoto, the Japanese player assigned to the Jets, is also traveling to his native country for the American Bowl matchup. Both he and Yamada were teammates this year with NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals.

The trip to Japan is part of an effort by the NFL to broaden the appeal of American football to foreign audiences. NFL teams have traveled to such places as Osaka, London, England, Barcelona, Spain, Berlin, Germany, Mexico City, Mexico and Dublin, Ireland in recent years.

Some Buccaneers, like quarterback Brad Johnson, say the trip does make preseason training camp longer.

"But it's just the way it is," Johnson said. "It's the cards you're dealt with, and you play with them. Don't complain, don't explain. That's the way it is."

"It's something we need to do. Anything that can promote unity on the team and chemistry," coach Jon Gruden. "A long flight together, a lot of time together in a foreign country is something that can only help our team."

While American football is played in high schools and colleges throughout Japan, Yamada began learning the game when he was 10 years old and living in Memphis, Tennessee, where his father represented a Japanese electronics company for four years.

There is little chance he'll earn a spot on a defense that was first in the NFL a year ago, when the Bucs won the Super Bowl, but he has impressed the team with how he's handled himself in camp.

"He's doesn't back down from any kind of competition. I admire that about him," Gruden said. "Obviously, he doesn't have the experience like a lot of these players, but he's improving daily."

Yamada jokes that he'll be a part-time tour guide for the week, in addition to try to shine for fans in his native land.

"I don't know what a good time for them is," Yamada said, who said he's gotten plenty of questions from his teammates about what to expect in Tokyo. "I've taken their requests and I've asked my Japanese friends to be ready."

While Yamada makes no predictions for the game's outcome, he says he's already had trouble tackling the three big playbooks he was given the first day of training camp.

"The terminology is so different. I can read English but they're so thick I couldn't believe it," he said. "But in a couple more days, I'll be fully ready."

While organizers have not released official ticket sale figures for to the exhibition game, they say they expect at least 35,000 people.

The NFL traditionally plays one exhibition game each year in Japan, in what's called the American Bowl.

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