No, this isn’t some sort of organized ‘monsters versus giant robots for the fate of the world’ tournament, it’s something much more inspiring.

For 25 years the Ashland High School Grizzlies of Oregon have faced off against the Japan All-Stars in a bi-annual football game affectionately titled the Pacific Rim Bowl. In this year’s contest, the the Grizzlies edged the Japan All-Stars in a nail-biter 32-30 on July 26th at Oji Stadium in Kobe, Japan. Ashland now leads the series 7-6 and have won the previous two contests, including a 26-0 blowout in 2011.

The bowl game has served as a beacon of cultural connection and diversity between Japan and the United States through the unlikeliest of sports. The origins of the game were conceived by Chuck Mills, a former head coach at Southern Oregon State University who is regarded as the father of modern Japanese football and the namesake for their version of the Heisman Trophy.

The handsome venerable Chuck Mills in his playing days
The handsome and venerable Chuck Mills in his playing days.

In 1971, Mills brought his then team, Utah State University to Japan to for a game against one of their universities, which led to the beginning of several future friendly competitions between the two nations. Fast forward to 1985, Kwansei Gakuin University became the very first Japanese collegiate team to compete on American soil, an event that was subsequently featured in Sports Illustrated.

At the time of these matches, the chairman of the American Football Association‘s Western Conference, Akira Furikawa longed for Japanese high school players to play against their American counterparts in order to further build upon this new found athletic relationship. After meeting with Ashland High School coach Jim Nagel who secured permission from the Oregon School Activities Association, the Ashland Grizzlies went to Osaka for the inaugural Pacific Rim Bowl in 1988.

No pain, no gain.

This isn’t just a football game, it’s an entire spectacle. The visiting team regularly arrives a week in advance to practice and prepare, as well as participate in dinners and good-will events. It allows the members from both sides to become brand ambassadors for diversity, understanding, and exposure to cultures other than their own – an invaluable experience for the players, host families, and community alike.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Japan All-Stars (players selected from regional high schools) have held their own against the Grizzlies, at one point posting a five-game winning streak. There is little parity in the game scores, though, for each contest is decided by either seven points or less or is a complete blowout, including five total shutouts. Here are the results of all 13 games:

1988 Nagai Stadium – Osaka Ashland 13 Japan 0
1990 Philips Field Ashland 21 Japan 7
1993 Nishinomia Stadium – Osaka Ashland 21 Japan 14
1995 Philips Field Japan 17 Ashland 14
1997 Nishinomia Stadium – Osaka Ashland 20 Japan 18
1999 Philips Field Ashland 21 Japan 20
2001 Nagai Stadium – Osaka Japan 48 Ashland 0
2003 Philips Field Japan 26 Ashland 0
2005 Oji Stadium – Kobe Japan 28 Ashland 6
2007 Philips Field Japan 27 Ashland 21
2009 Flash Field – Osaka Japan 20 Ashland 0
2011 Philips Field Ashland 26 Japan 0
2013 Oji Stadium – Kobe Ashland 32 Japan 30

To learn more about the Pacific Rim Bowl and a brief history of football in Japan, the Ashland Football Club has its own website that highlights the whole thing.

This is yet another amazing example of how two nations, people, and cultures are brought together through the universal language of sport. So stop what you’re doing, let it all sink in, then call up your buddies and go throw the ole pigskin around.

[The Japan Times, Varsity 541]