The Adamson Soaring Falcons found themselves staring at a 16 point deficit versus the FEU Tamaraws, 71-55, with 7:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. Their unbeaten record of 5-0 was in danger of getting stained, as the Tamaraws chopped up the pressure defense of the Falcons, and locked their offense down to the count. This was the toughest spot they’ve been in all season. The players looked down-trodden. Their body language screamed, “This is over.”

Papi Sarr received the ball in the low block with Prince Orizu draped all over him, and he spun towards the baseline. And one. The lead was now at 14, 71-57, still quite a margin considering the competition they’re up against. But Sarr could not help but flex, showcasing his muscle to the entire Araneta Coliseum.

Others may call this foolish. Reasonably so. YOU GUYS ARE DOWN BY 14 POINTS AND YOU’RE FLEXING?! The flex by Sarr felt like an arrogant teenager who was too full of himself after doing just one small task asked of him by his parents. But in reality, it wasn’t. It was an act of defiance against the stigma that has surrounded the Adamson Soaring Falcons for the longest time.

The Falcons have never been considered as legitimate title contenders for most of their stay in the UAAP. Their best shot came at Season 74 when they were the only team to beat the eventual champions Ateneo Blue Eagles. However, they couldn’t even make the Finals after blowing a twice to beat advantage versus the FEU Tamaraws. They’d have trips to the Final Four during the last two seasons, but no one has legitimately treated them as title contenders. Even coming into Season 81, where all eyes were on Ateneo and FEU to meet come the Finals.

Things changed, however, with one game. It’s just one game, but it was the type that had SUCH an impact, it changed the perception people had of them in an instant. September 9, 2018, versus the heavily-favored Ateneo Blue Eagles in a classic opening day tiff.

There weren’t much expectations from the Falcons then. Just put up a good fight, and move forward. Others would go as far as to say, this was a “scheduled loss”. The Falcons remained defiant, and pulled off a monster upset by beating the Ateneo Blue Eagles then, 74-70.

The main takeaway people had from that game, Damn. Maybe these Falcons ARE for real. They had elevated themselves from measly Final Four member to legitimate title contenders. But there were still doubts, and reasonably so. Their next games didn’t exactly scream UAAP champions. 

After a blowout win versus the UE Red Warriors, the Falcons had three straight wire to wire games. First was versus the UST Growling Tigers, where they won by just eight points, considering the large talent and polish disparity between the two teams. The next was up against the UP Fighting Maroons, where Sean Manganti came to save the day for Adamson with a game-winning floater. After that, they beat a gritty NU Bulldogs team that tried to make a comeback towards the end of the game.

By the end of it all, they stood with a 5-0 record. But to say that their record captured how dominant they were as a team would be lying. It felt like a team would catch them sooner or later. It wasn’t a question of whether it would happen or not. It became a question of when. It looked like that time finally came against the Tamaraws last Sunday as they faced that 16 point lead during the fourth quarter.

As Papi Sarr flexed his muscles after the and-one against Prince Orizu, the Adamson gallery looked reinvigorated. The players, while staring at their foreign student athlete and their crowd, looked to be injected with some form of life. As weird as it may sound, the flex by Papi felt like a game-changer. It didn’t affect anything in relation to the technicalities of how Adamson was playing. It was an act of defiance meant to go against the tide of what was days past.

“If you look at that, probably the old Adamson, we’re down 14, 15, we probably end up losing 20, 25,” said Coach Franz Pumaren. But this was no longer the old Adamson. This was an Adamson team that was determined to show that they’re more than just the Final Four team others have been tagging them as. They’re legitimate title contenders through and through.

After the Papi flex, the Soaring Falcons played much better basketball. At the forefront of this: their pressure defense. The players looked more active, and as a result, momentum slowly shifted their way. A 19-4 run, that’s what came after Papi Sarr’s act of defiance. Injecting a little bit of confidence was what the Falcons needed. They’ve always had the talent, from Ken Bono, to Alex Nuyles, to Rodney Brondial, and now, with Jerrick Ahanmisi, Sean Manganti and Papi Sarr. Confidence, a winning culture, was something foreign to this group. But it looks like they’d finally found it this Season 81.

“It showed a sense of character with my team right now,” said Pumaren. “ We can make a comeback, we just have to make sure it’s 40 minutes, 45 minutes of good basketball.”

Ultimately, the Soaring Falcons fell short 88-85, as they received their first loss of the season. Some even went as far as to say that their win versus the Ateneo Blue Eagles was a fluke. By all accounts, Ateneo had cemented their spot as the top title contender in the league, separating themselves from the rest of the pack. But these Soaring Falcons were defiant. From Papi Sarr’s flex, to Coach Franz Pumaren’s overall demeanor regarding his group.

“We want to separate ourselves from the rest of the field,” said Pumaren. He could care less about the streak that was broken. He still holds the team to a high standard. “That’s why it’s called a streak. It’s meant to be stopped, it’s meant to be broken.” What matters to Coach Franz and these Soaring Falcons is how they continue to grow from these mistakes. They got caught versus FEU. But they didn’t just bow down and allow themselves to fall to the ground. They clawed back, kept on fighting, as tough as the circumstances were.

Ah, Adamson lang yan. Kaya namin yan. Those days are over. They’re no longer content at being just Adamson. They ARE Adamson. Legitimate title contenders. Up 16, down 16, it doesn’t matter. They will flex, to proudly showcase who they are as a basketball team. Strong, defiant, and proud.