Tokyo Determined to bring a festive football atmosphere to today's American Bowl, NFL officials moved this year's kickoff to 6 p.m. local time instead of the traditional Sunday morning.
There will be a tailgate party outside the Tokyo Dome and all the trimmings to make the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Jets feel right at home, even though the game is being played some 6,700 miles away from America's East Coast.
For Jets coach Herman Edwards, the first exhibition game of the NFL season will mark his third trip to Japan.
"I was here in 1977 for the college Japan Bowl and then again in 1994 when Kansas City played Minnesota," Edwards said. "I always remember the great hospitality and I know our players are very excited to be here."
Edwards played cornerback for San Diego State in the Japan Bowl and was a defensive backs coach with Kansas City when the Chiefs lost to the Vikings, 17-9, in the 1994 American Bowl.
He was also defensive backs coach and assistant head coach at Tampa Bay for five years before becoming head coach of the Jets in 2001.
Now he brings a Jets team determined to continue its improvement with quarterback Chad Pennington, who replaced Vinny Testaverde a year ago. Edwards figures the Bucs will provide a good first test.
"It'll be a challenge to execute plays against the toughest defense in football," Edwards said. "We don't have any trick plays but Chad might want to call one or two on his own. We'll see."
The trip to Japan is part of an effort by the NFL to broaden the appeal of American football in foreign markets. NFL teams have traveled to such places as Osaka, Japan; London; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin; Mexico City and Dublin, Ireland in recent years.
Today's game at Tokyo Dome will be the 12th American Bowl played in Japan. Last year the Washington Redskins thrashed the San Francisco 49ers, 38-7, at the Osaka Dome in western Japan.
The Jets got off to a 1-4 start last season before Pennington took over in Week 4 when veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde went down to injury. With Pennington at the helm, the AFC East champion Jets won seven of their last 10 and went to the playoffs.
Pennington attributed the team's turnaround to teamwork.
"When you have a great season, you have great players," Pennington said. "We came together as a team at the right time and were able to pull ourselves out of a hole."