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2011 Pro Bowl Coaches Mike Smith, Bill Belichick Will Have Japanese Assistants

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The NFL has played games in eight (by my unofficial count) international countries since 1986 and they continue to broaden their appeal overseas by adding two Japanese coaches to the staffs of the AFC and NFC squads. Akira Yonekura, Ritsumeikan University, will be assisting Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith on the NFC sideline and Hiroyuki Yabe, Waseda University, will lend a hand to Bill Belichick and the AFC team.

As I'm sure most of you who have the DirecTV Japanese football package know, Yonekura and Yabe coached against each other in the Koshien Bowl. The Koshien Bowl is the Japanese equivalent of college football's BCS national championship game though I can neither confirm or deny if it uses the same controversial system its U.S. counterpart does. Yonekura coached Ritsumeikan to a 48-21 victory over Waseda. 48-21? Are you kidding me?

Speaking of the Koshien Bowl, Japanese-born wide receiver Noriaki Kinoshita signed with the Falcons in 2008 after winning three Koshien Bowls for Ritsumeikan. Not since Wally Yonamine was there more promise for a Japanese NFL-er. In the end though, he didn't make it through training camp but this team is still bursting with international appeal. Plus - unless the NFL starts playing the Pro Bowl in Adak, Alaska - keeping the game in Hawaii is as close to Japan as the NFL can get while still staying in the United States.

The Falcons coaching staff should have no trouble incorporating Yonekura into the staff since Thomas Dimitroff is practically a local and let's not forget Atlanta has played two games in Japan - as part of the American Bowl in 2000 and 2005 - and won them both.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.