Let's flashback to the last time Nebraska played a game overseas in Japan
On Monday, Nebraska announced they would open the 2021 season in Dublin, Ireland against Illinois. It will be the first time the Huskers have played a game overseas since 1992 when they faced off against Kansas State in Tokyo.
HuskerOnline thought it would be fun on the bye week to look back on this memorable trip to Japan.
With a Big Eight championship on the line, Nebraska played their final game of the 1992 season against KSU in Tokyo in what was dubbed the “Coca Cola Bowl.”
From 1973 to 1993 the city of Tokyo played host to one college football game per year on the final week of the regular season.
In 1992 Kansas State and head coach Bill Snyder’s team agreed to give up a home game for a guaranteed $200,000 per team to play the Huskers in front of 50,000 people in the Tokyo Dome on Dec. 5. Just like 1992, Illinois is giving up their home game as well for this opportunity.
How it went down
What was even more ironic about this game is there was no local television broadcast, and it actually kicked off Sunday afternoon in Tokyo, which was 15 hours ahead of Nebraska time. That meant the only over-the-air broadcast was on the radio in the wee hours of the morning.
Nebraska ended up winning the game 38-24 to clinch the Big Eight title, but what will be remembered most about that trip are some of the things that happened off the field.
The two teams flew on the same plane from Kansas City to Vancouver, B.C. to Tokyo. It was a 13-hour flight, and several boosters and entourages from each school joined the two teams on the plane.
At this time, Snyder wasn’t a relatively well-known coach in college football, but over the years, he would develop a reputation as the most “detail-oriented” coach in the country. Nebraska got to see it first hand on the flight to Tokyo. Snyder arranged for his players to all sit on the side of the plane with more shade, allowing them to get better rest on the 13-hour flight.
Snyder’s attention to detail is what would eventually help Kanas State make the greatest turnaround in college football history. He also hired some unbelievable coaches. On that trip to Japan, some of his assistant coaches were Bob Stoops (co-defensive coordinator), Jim Leavitt (co-defensive coordinator), Mike Stoops (defensive line coach) and Tim Beck (graduate assistant). Future Power 5 defensive coordinators Brent Venables and Mike Ekeler were also on that 1992 KSU team.
For the Huskers, the game against Kansas State was the final 1992 regular-season start for true freshman quarterback Tommie Frazier, who ran for 51 yards and passed for 128 in the victory. Frazier finished with three touchdowns and passed for another. Running back Calvin Jones carried NU to the win, rushing for 186 yards on 30 carries.
Former Nebraska media relations director Don “Fox” Bryant had an interesting blurb in his “Tales from the Nebraska Sideline” book about the trip to Japan.
The late Bryant wrote that each Japanese city “adopted” a team, and their citizens comprised cheering sections. The Coca Cola Bowl even featured a rock band that played while the game was going on.
Because of Nebraska’s superior reputation nationally, the Cornhuskers had a much bigger draw than the Wildcats Bryant wrote.
“The hosts were somewhat more attentive to Coach Tom Osborne than the Wildcats and Coach Bill Snyder,” Bryant wrote. “Bill is one of the top football coaches in the profession, and he has done a tremendous job with the Kansas State program for a long time. But I know he did not enjoy that trip to Tokyo.”
Former Husker play-by-play man Kent Pavelka remembers calling the game from behind home plate, in a press box designed for baseball.
“The nearest sideline was a long, long ways away,” Pavelka said. “The far sideline, forget about it.”
Ticket prices for the game averaged $230, which even in today’s era that’s exceptionally high. Only about 500 Nebraska fans attended, while about 100 from K-State made the trip. The rest of the 50,000 were locals. Osborne still couldn’t believe people in Japan paid that kind of money to watch something they didn’t understand.
“Can you imagine that? … $230 and then not even understand what you’re seeing out there,” Osborne told the Lincoln Journal Star. “It would be a little bizarre.”
The Coca Cola Bowl came to an end following the 1993 season, as conference title games took over the first weekend of December in its place.
A never told John Parrella story from Tokyo
When the game ended against Kansas State, Nebraska's players had the evening to take in the town. Former Husker tight end Mike Vedral shared a story that's never been told before when we interviewed him for this story in 2016. Vedral is the father of current Nebraska quarterback Noah Vedral.
In an elevator heading up to a Tokyo night club at 3 a.m., the professional wrestlers, led by "Hawk" of "The Road Warriors" started to gang up on Nebraska linebacker David White. They called him a racist slur, and White retaliated in the elevator, and the wrestlers began to gang up on him.
White had no chance against the wrestlers until defensive tackle and former Husker defensive line coach John Parrella stepped in.
“I don’t think we were doing anything crazy,” Vedral said. “These All-Star Wrestlers got all drunk up and decided to pick a fight with David White. The funniest part was it was (John) Parrella that came to the rescue, and he just knocked the (explicative) out of the Hawk. I thought his face was going to come off his head because Parrella hit him so hard.”
The "Hawk" was no small man either, coming in at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, but that didn't stop the 6-foot-5, 290 pound Parrella from stepping in.
“(Hawk) said something racist,” Vedral said. “He called David White the ‘n-word’ and David tried to fight back and all of a sudden (the wrestlers) all jumped on David White and Parrella just kind of paraded through them and grabbed David White with his left hand and he unloaded on the Hawk with his right hand and we all took off. We all got the hell out of there because we didn’t want the cops to come.”
Vedral joked thankfully that was the end of the story, and no Japanese authorities got involved after the fact. The next day Vedral said the team was required to go on an all-day tour of Tokyo before leaving, needless to say, there wasn't a lot of excitement to do that after a game and a late night in Tokyo.
“That next morning, classic Bob Devaney story for you,” Vedral said. “I was sitting next to Coach, and he said ‘I don’t know about you Mike, but why don’t we just go find a bar and I’ll get us a taxi to the airport because I don’t want to go on this tour.’"
They said it
“The flight was insanely long, and then we had to ride a 3-hour bus ride to our hotel. Everybody was really happy (sarcasm). I remember we had practice one day, and there was a chemical spill in a chemical factory right next to our practice field, and smoke came over the field, and like five or six guys started puking their guts out, and we had to stop the practice.
“The other part was the fans didn’t have a clue. They were just assigned to a side, and they had pom-poms, and red and purple were the pom-poms, and the only thing that they cheered for were the extra points and the kickoffs.”
---Mike Vedral, Nebraska tight end
“The hosts were somewhat more attentive to Coach Tom Osborne than the Wildcats and Coach Bill Snyder. Bill is one of the top football coaches in the profession, and he has done a tremendous job with the Kansas State program for a long time. But I know he did not enjoy that trip to Tokyo.”
---Don "Fox" Bryant, Nebraska Media Relations Director
"They applauded more for a fan that jumped over a barricade than they did for any touchdown that was scored. They had music going the whole game, and I remember them broadcasting fake crowd noise, so it sounded like they were excited when they really weren't."
---Tommie Fraizer, Nebraska quarterback