March 11, 2009 / 5:31 AM / 10 years ago

Colonel Sanders still smiling after 24-year Japan dip

A statue of Colonel Sanders, Kentucky Fried Chicken's mascot, is displayed before the media after it was recovered from the bottom of Dotonbori River in Osaka, western Japan, March 11, 2009. REUTERS/Kyodo

TOKYO (Reuters) - After nearly a quarter century at the bottom of a Japanese river, Colonel Sanders has come up smiling.

Ecstatic fans of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team tossed the statue of the Kentucky Fried Chicken mascot into the Dotonbori River in Osaka, western Japan, in 1985 when the perpetual underdogs won their first Central League pennant in 21 years.

Tiger fans, who saw a resemblance between the Colonel and the team’s bearded American slugger, Randy Bass, jumped into what was then one of the country’s most polluted rivers when the losing streak ended — and took the life-size statue with them.

The team went on to win the national championship, the Japan Series, that year but has never done so again, prompting some to suggest that the Colonel’s disappearance put a curse on them.

A diver checking for unexploded bombs from World War Two in the river as part of a clean-up found the Colonel’s top half on Tuesday, minus his hands and glasses but still sporting his trademark string tie and grin.

“When I heard the statue had been found, I felt that history had ended,” Yoshio Yoshida, 75, Hanshin manager at the time, was quoted by the Asahi newspaper as saying. “Recalling 1985, I’d like them to achieve the dream of being Japan No. 1 again.”

The Colonel’s smile might have widened if it could on Wednesday, when his bottom half was recovered and reunited with the top. “It’s only a statue, but I felt as if I was rescuing someone,” a worker told reporters after the lower half was found.

Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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