The Mirage Bowl, later known as the Coca Cola Classic was played in Tokyo, Japan from 1977-1993. The game featured two collegiate football teams playing a relocated regular season game. Many notable programs participated in this event, including UCLA, Notre Dame, Stanford, Arizona and USC. It is also worth noting that Washington State and California’s 1987 match up ended in a 17-17 tie. There is nothing like traveling halfway across the world to compete in a game that doesn’t have a winner. Twelve hour flight, check. Extreme jet-lag, check. Logistical nightmares, check. The huge disappointment of the game ending in a stalemate, brutal.
On a side note, legend has it, “the wave” was introduced to Japan in 1984 during the Army vs. Montana game.
Now for the reason we are here. The year was 1992. The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Colorado Buffaloes were neck and neck in the Big Eight conference standings. At that time the conference standings decided the champion as opposed to a championship game between two divisional leaders. Nebraska’s record was 8-2, suffering defeats to #2 Washington and a struggling Iowa State team that finished the season 4-7.
The Huskers had one game left on their regular season schedule, a lackluster 5-5 Kansas State squad led by the legendary coach, Bill Snyder. The game was to be played in Tokyo on December 6, 1992. Although Colorado had lost to Nebraska 52-7 earlier in the season, if Nebraska were to lose the international match to Kansas State, the Buffaloes would take the conference championship. This oddity could occur because Colorado’s conference record would be better than Nebraska’s. Even though this was an opportunity for both teams to enjoy a whole new culture, for Nebraska, this game had season altering implications.
The two teams met in Kansas City on December 1st to share a flight to Tokyo. The flight from Kansas City was thirteen hours long. The entire trip would last seven days with several public relations events along with pregame practices. The schedule was grueling for both teams. To top it off, both the Huskers and Wildcats had to adjust to the fourteen hour time difference. The Coca Cola Classic kicked off at 1 pm Tokyo time.
Huskers.com interviewed Tommie Frazier years later about his recollection of the trip.
“I’ll never forget that 13-hour plane ride from Kansas City to Tokyo – the longest plane ride in my life at the time,” Frazier recalled. “I was sitting between two big offensive linemen – Zach Wiegert and Lance Lundberg. For awhile, I thought it would take forever to get there.”
“It was a long week, a long game and a long trip,” Frazier said. “It was different preparing for a game in a foreign country, especially when the fans didn’t know anything about football. But it was memorable, and I enjoyed it. I’ll miss Nebraska playing K-State, but I won’t miss Tokyo.”
“They applauded more for a fan that jumped over a barricade than they did for any touchdown that was scored,” he recalled. “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.”
The game itself was never very close. The Huskers put 21 unanswered points on the board while steadily controlling the clock throughout the first half. The score at halftime was 21-10 with the Wildcats showing some signs of life. However, their attempts were fleeting as Nebraska put up 10 more unanswered points in the third quarter. Kansas State would score twice in the fourth, but could not keep up with Frazier and the Husker offensive attack. The score at the last whistle was 38-24. Tommie Frazier was awarded the MVP award for his performance.
The victory locked up the Big Eight Conference for #11 Nebraska propelling them on to the Orange Bowl to face the #3 Florida State Seminoles. The Huskers struggled most of the game while trying to put a stop to Charlie Ward and the Seminoles. Nebraska would never close the gap, losing 27-14.
The Coca Cola Classic would return the following year featuring the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan State Spartans. The Badgers would trump Sparty 41-10, earning them the a co-conference Championship in the Big Ten. This was the last official college football game to be played in Japan. On March 21, 2015, Princeton and Kwansei Gakuin University squared off in an exhibition game to honor the 125th anniversary of the Japanese university. Princeton defeated Kwansei Gakuin 36-7.