Niners next stop: Japan

BOARDMAN -- Dr. John York, president of the DeBartolo Corporation and director/owner's representative of the San Francisco 49ers, has logged plenty of frequent flyer miles since his wife, Denise DeBartolo York, assumed the reins of the team three-and-a-half years ago.
The NFL executive is about to take the longest trip of his life when the San Francisco 49ers travel to Japan this week to play an American Bowl pre-season game against the Washington Redskins.
Next weekend, the NFL opens for business with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies Saturday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
On TV Saturday night
The 49ers-Redskins game, which will be the NFL debut of Washington coach Steve Spurrier, will be played on Sunday afternoon in Japan, but because of the time difference, fans in the U.S. will watch the game Saturday night (10, ESPN).
York says there will be about 150 on board the team plane that leaves San Francisco Wednesday at 11 a.m. and lands in Osaka 14 hours later.
"There will be about 80 players, 40-45 coaches and staff members and 24 special guests on board," York said.
Accompanying York will be his oldest son, Jed, who will be a senior at Notre Dame this fall.
"He's working an internship this summer with a financial firm in San Francisco," York said. "Fortunately, they've arranged for him to have the time off to go."
The rest of the York family will be watching the game from their Canfield home.
"Denise is staying home because our other son, Tony, is getting ready to go to Tulane [University]," York said. "And volleyball tryouts begin [Aug. 5] for Mara and Jenna."
York's daughters will be juniors at Cardinal Mooney High School this fall, and his son will be a freshman at Tulane.
York said the 49ers were the natural choice when Osaka was picked as the host city for this summer's American Bowl.
"This trip is particularly interesting for us because San Francisco and Osaka have been sister cities for more than 45 years," York said. "We've already met a lot of the dignitaries that we will be visiting."
Sample Japanese culture
While the football game is main item on the 49ers' agenda, York said the team will have time to sample Japanese culture with shopping and visits to temples.
"We're also going to visit a disabled children's hospital and a YMCA," York said,
Because football isn't played in Japan, the exhibition game will be played in a baseball stadium that York estimates will seat close to 50,000 fans.
Once the game ends, the 49ers will get down to business after the long return flight.
"We'll leave immediately after the game ends and arrive back in California late Sunday afternoon. The team will take Monday off, then resume training camp with a light practice on Tuesday."
He won't return to Ohio until after the 49ers' Aug. 10 exhibition game against the Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco's 3Com Park.
Those games are part of a busy August schedule for the 49ers, a surprising wild-card playoff team in 2001.
Because the 49ers will open the NFL season on Sept. 5 with a Thursday night game against the New York Giants in The Meadowlands in New Jersey, the fifth exhibition also will be a weeknight affair (Aug. 28) against Marty Shottenheimer's San Diego Chargers.
York said it's no coincidence the NFL will open up so close to New York City so close to the Sept. 11 anniversary.
"The NFL wanted a game from either New York or Washington to open its season," York said. "During the opening weekend, there will be commemorations of what happened a year ago."
XTom Williams is a sportswriter with The Vindicator. Write him at

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