HORSE’S MOUTH: The Helmet of Tony Dorsett

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YOSHINAGA-GEORGEBy GEORGE YOSHINAGA

So I’m sitting in front of the TV set watching the telecasting of horse racing from Hollywood Park.

My wife comes into the living room and asks, “How come you’re not writing your column?”

I laugh and tell her, “Today is Monday (Nov. 11). I write on Sundays and Wednesday.”

“That’s true,” she says, “but today is a holiday, so you didn’t write on Sunday because Gwen will be by tomorrow (Tuesday).”

“Oh my gosh, you’re right,” I responded.

So here I am a day late trying to find material to write about.

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As I frequently write, I begin looking through the newspapers for ideas on what to write. Today I saw the front page of the Los Angeles Times Business Section and nearly a quarter-page photo of Tony Dorsett, who filed a claim against California for brain injuries he suffered while playing professional football.

So what does that story have to do with my mentioning it for Rafu readers?

Reading about Dorsett rekindled some memories of the past.

Back in the late ’70s, a Japanese company in Tokyo decided it wanted to promote an American football game. Unfortunately, they learned that they couldn’t promote a “bowl game” between two American universities since all the bowl games had contracts with all of the universities and colleges.

So someone suggested an all-star game where they could negotiate with individual players. Naturally, they learned that they needed someone in the U.S. to recruit all-star players who might participate in the game.

I don’t know why, but I was approached by the Japanese company to see if I might handle the chore. Sounded good to me, so I agreed to take a shot at it.

What a goof!

First of all, when the NCAA heard about it, they told me they wouldn’t sanction an all-star game in a foreign country. So I concluded, “Well, that’s that.”

However, when some coaches heard about the plan, they contacted me and said they would try to get the NCAA to change their policy. After several months, the sports organization agreed to sanction the first college all-star game in a foreign county and thus the “Japan Bowl” was approved.

I didn’t realize it then, but that was the easy part. Getting the players to agree to travel to Japan was tougher, which brings me to Tony Dorsett. He was the top college player that season, playing for Pittsburgh University. He won most of the post-season awards, including the Heisman Trophy.

The Japanese promoters said I had to sign Dorsett. Heck, I couldn’t even make contact with him via letters and telephone calls. So I jumped on a plane and flew to Pittsburgh to see if I could talk him into going to Japan.

Yup, I couldn’t get close to him, so I went to the university and asked the coach if he could arrange a meeting.

“I’ll try” was his response.

Well, since his coach made the request, Dorsett agreed to meet with me in a restaurant near the Pittsburgh campus.

The chat didn’t go as I had hoped.

He said, “No thanks. I don’t want to travel all the way to Japan to play in your game.”

So all I could say was, “Thanks for your time.”

As we got up to leave, a fellow came over to the table and greeted Dorsett. “Hey, Tony, what the heck are you doing here?”

It turned out that the fellow was a student at Pitt and a close friend of Dorsett.

“You won’t believe this, but this guy was trying to recruit me to play in a new all-star game being organized in Tokyo.”

His friend was amazed. “Wow! Travel all the way to Japan to play football! When are you leaving?”

Dorsett laughed and said, “I’m not going to play.”

His friend said, “Turning down a chance to go to Japan? Come on, I’ve always wanted to visit the country. Take me with you.”

Dorsett turned to me and said, “Well, maybe if you include my buddy in your expenses (air fare, accommodations), I might consider it.”

I got on the phone and called the Japanese promoter and he said, “Yeah, we’ll pay for everything if you can get Dorsett to sign up.”

So that’s about Tony Dorsett.

The main reason I’m writing this rather lengthy piece is that after the Japan Bowl was over and we were preparing to return to the States, I met Dorsett in the lobby of the hotel and he handed me a shopping bag. I opened it and saw a University of Pittsburgh football helmet.

“This is for you,” he said, “for getting my friend a trip to Japan. It’s my thanks.”

Well, the Pitt helmet is still sitting on our television set and I thought, “Hey, maybe someone who collects sports souvenirs might make me an offer for it.” It sure isn’t doing anything on our TV set.

Anyone interested can contact me and maybe we can make a deal. Yeah, Dorsett even autographed the helmet.

Enuff said.

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Time to toss in a letter from reader Ted Maesaki. He wrote:

Ohisashi buri desu. That’s how people in Japan greet you when you haven’t seen them for a long time.

“My wife, my son, my cousin and I went to Japan recently and just got back.

“After I came back, I was going through the one month of Rafu Shimpo. I read our column mentioning one of the top restaurants in the world, Sukiyabashi Jiro.

“My son and my cousin wanted to go there while in Japan but were unable to make reservations. They needed to make reservations a month ahead.

“So, they tried going to a sushi place in Roppongi Hills which was owned by a son of the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant. When they went to the place, they were told there is no room available for my son and cousin.

“My cousin told the chef that they were going back to Los Angeles the next day and it was their last day in Tokyo. The owner made special accommodations for them and they were fortunate enough to eat sushi there.

“My son told me that many of the fish they served were never seen in L.A. It was very expensive but very good, he said.

“I had quite an experience in Japan as well. My friend treated us to fugu (called blowfish) and very poisonous kaiseki dinner at one of the restaurants in Teikoku Hotel in Tokyo. When my friend told us that he was treating us to fugu dinner, I almost said, ‘OMG, I hope I don’t drop dead at the table.’ Heh, heh.

“Fugu sashimi was cut very thin and they are almost like transparent color. As far as taste-wise, I’d rather have good toro instead. Anyway, it was once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m still alive and kicking, ha ha.

“People in Japan are so nice, the streets are so clean, and of course the foods are sooo good. But after two weeks, I craved tacos and nachos.

“Every city that we went I asked people for fast-food Mexican place, but there were none. Apparently Japanese don’t care for beans and stuff, so fast-food Mexican places never lasted in the past.

“One thing I was shocked at was there were so many tourists, mostly Chinese, Taiwanese, Koreans, everywhere we went.

“Not only in big cities but even smaller cities like Otaru in Hokkaido, Kagoshima, Nagasaki in Kyushu.

“Hotels, shops, restaurant people are happy because they get the business.

“Anyway, we had a great time and first thing I ate when we came back was good old nachos.

“How was your trip to Vegas? Did your wallet get fatter?

“Or did your tummy get fatter eating buffet at Makino’s?

“But in Japan they call ‘Viking’ or ‘boo-feh’ for buffet places.

“I bumped into a couple from Hawaii in Japan. I asked them, ‘What are you doing here? I thought all of you Hawaii folks go to the Cal in Vegas.’

“I watched both the World Series and Japan Series in Japan.

“The Japanese baseball is so slow and fans make so much noise banging on taiko and etc. Former Dodger Andrew Jones was playing Rakuten, which won the Japan Series, beating the Tokyo Giants. He hit three home runs. Maybe the Dodgers should have kept him.

“Have a nice Thanksgiving, Yoshinaga-san.”

Thanks so much for your letter, Ted. Reading about Japan is always a pleasant thing for me.

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 I know a lot of readers are thinking, “Horse is looking for the easy way out by printing letters to fill space.”

You’re right. Heh, heh.

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The following email from reader Ernest Ikuta brings me back to Los Angeles:

“Hi, George. I have been following comments in your column in The Rafu concerning the deteriorating conditions at Evergreen Cemetery in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles.

“Your column stated only the area where the Japanese American veterans are buried was overgrown and the grass was browning. That is not the case. All of the grass in the entire cemetery is brown and dead from the boundaries from First Street to Caesar Chavez Avenue and from Evergreen Avenue to its eastern end at Lorena Street adjacent to the L.A. County Crematorium.

“The Evergreen Cemetery office is open and they don’t seem to be concerned with the maintenance of the cemetery. Presently, it seems that there are some renovations being done as there are trucks bringing in dirt to fill in all the area formerly covered with grass. Sod will eventually have to be put in, but that is a very huge area to be filled in. There is a petition being circulated to revoke the license of the present owner.=

“Part of the money paid for cemetery plots is supposed to be used for the perpetual maintenance of the cemetery. Since the cemetery is now in such a deteriorating condition, the owner may have pocketed all of the money which was to be used for maintenance of the cemetery.”

Thanks for your letter, Ernest. You touched on some issues that haven’t been mentioned before.

Hopefully, whoever takes control of Evergreen will correct the present situation.

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Yes, I read the Cultural News email because its editor and publisher used to be a fellow employee when we were both at the Kashu Mainichi newspaper.

In his latest edition of Cultural News, he released the information on the presentation of “Nihonmachi: The Place to Be” on Nov. 16 at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.

So, why am I also mentioning the event?

Well, some of you may recall that a lot of events in J-Town are being priced quite high.

“Nihonmachi” may be a classic example. Tickets to the event cost as much as $75.

Wow!

Oh well, I’m sure a lot of folks will dish out 75 bucks.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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