Five years ago, says Fujita, 46, "I thought 'touchdown' was an aeronautical term." That was before Atsushi, the TV packager son of a sake manufacturer, got talked into attending a football game in the U.S. His wife had wanted to go to Disneyland, but they wound up in the Rose Bowl at Pasadena in 1974. The Fujitas were then introduced to a popular postgame pastime when it took them two and a half hours to find their car in the jammed parking lot. Nevertheless Fujita, a 5'2" erstwhile junior flyweight boxer at Waseda University, thereupon decided to import a unique American product: college football. "The more I saw it," he rhapsodizes of the game, "the more I realized that I had fallen for it head over heels. It has spanking speed, fantastic brute force, dazzling coordination, everything that makes it an endlessly gripping proposition."
He started two years ago by bringing in Temple and Grambling to play in the first Mirage Bowl, named after a car produced by the sponsoring Mitsubishi Motors. Last year the opponents were Temple and Boston College. This year, after 23 scouting trips to this country, Fujita coaxed over his own personal favorite, Notre Dame—which, as the souvenir program boasted, "has high academic standards as well as the great fame for sports." To arrange the match with Miami, he guaranteed each school $200,000 and provided two chartered jumbo jets to ferry over not only the players but also 650 alumni, cheerleaders and bandsmen. "We have to make it lively," deadpans Fujita.
He also booked Tokyo's 80,000-seat Olympic stadium for the first time, and set the game's date himself, after consulting 20 years of weather charts. The last Saturday in November, he concluded, would be dry. That was his only mistake. It drizzled for the previous five days and from kickoff to final gun. No matter—there was a full house of howling fans, and Fujita also engineered saturation television coverage that brought the proceedings to 10 million Japanese from Hokkaido to Okinawa. While he sank an estimated $3 million into the extravaganza, nobody doubts that he made back his investment. His friends, after all, call Atsushi "The Bulldozer."
To Japanese football aficionados, he is the "Sol Hurok of Ame-Rug" (a contraction of American Rugby). Football was played in Japan as far back as 1934 by visiting Nisei. U.S. occupation forces boosted interest after World War II, and today some 100 colleges field teams, which battle to get into the New Year's Jan. 4 Rice Bowl game. Even grade school boys are organizing leagues.
For Fujita, Mirage Bowl III was the greatest day in the $50 million-a-year sports telecast empire he has put together. He has already booked Oregon State and UCLA for 1980 and has a longer-range plan—pro football in Japan, with imported U.S. players. "Japan is on the eve of a terrific Ame-Rug time," he proclaims. Maybe so. But are Japanese women ready for Monday Night Ame-Rug?