With just 16 players and many miles and hours of traveling to overcome, the Kadena Dragons football squad came to mainland Japan last week only to lose 18-6 to the Yokosuka Seahawks, and then 20-12 two days later to the Yokota Warriors.
Dings and bruises suffered in those two contests, and down to just 12 players, Kadena was forced to forfeit its game Sunday at Misawa.
But it wasn’t only gridiron victories the Dragons were seeking. As charter members of the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League when it formed in 2000, the Dragons want back in the league they left to join the now non-existent Okinawa Football League when it was formed in 2004.
By making a showing in the Kanto Plain it appears as if Kadena succeeded in taking its first step toward readmission.
"That’s why I’m doing it. That was my whole intent, to get these games in and get them back in the league," fifth-year USFJ-AFL commissioner Kyle Rhodus said.
"I think we accomplished our goal, and I hope we’ll be back in the league next year," Dragons assistant coach Andy Broome said.
The Dragons originated as the Okinawa Giants in the late 1990s, playing as an exhibition entity in the old USFJ league, which was reorganized into the USFJ-AFL in 2000 with six teams, including Okinawa.
Being renamed the Dragons in 2003 didn’t help overcome dismal fortune for Kadena. Though the league expanded to seven teams (three on Okinawa) in 2003, between 2000 and 2003 35 games were scratched for various reasons.
Kadena joined the OFL in 2004, but the league lasted just two seasons. Though they found themselves without a league after the 2005 season, the Dragons have refused to give up hope of competing in organized football.
"Logistics, timing, transportation and typhoon season. Those were always the big problems," Yokosuka defensive coordinator James Price said. "But we want to play them as much as we can. They belong. If they had all their people, our game would have been a lot closer."
"That’s a great group of guys with a lot of heart," Yokota player-coach Chris Bell said.
Rhodus said it may be too soon to draw conclusions on the Dragons’ chances of a succesful return to the USFJ ranks, but league members certainly hope they can do so.
"We would love to have them in the league, of course," Bell said. "We’re down to three teams. They want to play. They gutted it out. They made the journey. It’s only right."