Welcome to The Rewind, where the Humblebola team looks back at the past and talks about details only a few may have noticed.
We always talk about Ateneo-La Salle. Ateneo-UP has always had the buzz of the battle between two of the very best from Katipunan. But lurking in the shadows, with sounds of thrown chairs, rocks, and angry alumni, is FEU-DLSU.
Let’s Rewind and go back to when FEU and La Salle built their rivalry.
Some can feel it, but only a few know it. La Salle and FEU don’t really like each other.
It started 29 years ago.
La Salle, practically a newbie in the UAAP and was fresh from a painful 1988 beating from arch-rival Ateneo. La Salle’s escalation from basketball irrelevance to championship contention was frowned by many as a lot of universities who had to wait for decades just to be part of the title conversation.
Then, UAAP had an ancient format.
There were no feel-good Final Four semis and the top two teams automatically earn a finals berth. Final Four was a badge of accomplishment even though all you have to do is upend half of the teams. To be relevant in those ancient seasons, you have to reach the apex and losing more than 3 games is flirting with eliminations.
La Salle barged into the Finals losing their heart and soul, Dindo Pumaren who exhausted his last playing year in 1988. But the opponent was a stacked FEU squad loaded to the brim. Imagine the likes of Vic Pablo, Johnny Abarientos, Andy De Guzman, Edgar Postanes and the late Jack Tanuan making up the strongest starting five in recent UAAP history with all five players making it to the pros. For those who were not able to catch these, Pablo was a premier center, De Guzman was a deadly wing who can shoot and drive, Postanes was a hulk on the post and Tanuan was one of the most dominant centers of that era with a smooth touch around the rim. The line-up was tall and was effective on both ends of the floor.
Along Taft, the team was rock solid on paper. Holdovers Joey Sta. Maria’s textbook pivot moves were backed by the high flying sophomore Johnedel Cardel and Jonas Mariano while Jun Limpot just earned his MVP in the now-shelved Philippine Basketball League (PBL).
But that was not the story. Eventually, La Salle won the 1989 championship in the Rizal Memorial Coliseum via 74-69 giant upset against FEU but not without a fight, literally. FEU’s Andy De Guzman whacked an elbow to Sta. Maria’s face in the waning seconds of an already won game that triggered a heated exchange.
But as the title was clinched, the bad blood began.
A stupid move to run an in-your-face motorcade that was supposed to round all UAAP schools was abruptly halted when the motorcade landed on the scary street of Morayta. FEU students hurled rocks at the motorcade causing major damage to the cars of the La Sallites.
As DLSU fans licked their wounds and checked in their cars to the local body repair shop, then La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren had more expansive plans. The eldest of the Pumaren brothers steered La Salle to another title in 1990 against Jolly Escobar, Bong Ravena (father of Kiefer and Thirdy), Vic Villarias and one heck of a set shooter in Modesto Hojilla.
In 1991, La Salle was set for a 3rd straight crown and was well on their way to clinching it. Ahead in the October 5, 1991 game, a shifty La Salle guard in the name of Tonyboy Espinosa was tagged with his fifth and final foul with 2:36 remaining in the game.
Drowned by the noise in the old Araneta Coliseum, Espinoza spent five more seconds on the floor before the table officials signaled Espinoza to exit. La Salle went on to win that match 80-77 triggering another massive celebration for the clinching the third jewel of the triple crown.
But wait. There was more. Then Tamaraw skipper Vic Pablo refused to sign the papers and placed the match under protest through the instruction of then-coach Arturo Valenzona citing the reason of “whatever it’s worth”. The UAAP board decided three days later and sided with FEU’s demand for a replay.
A replay of a championship match because a player stayed five seconds on the floor is one Ripleys would love to include in his “Believe It or Not” series.
Three members of the board demanded a replay, one voted against it, one abstained while the concerned schools and the host could not vote. The board cited Article 81 of the rulebook that a player who fouled out should leave the court and leaned on FEU’s side.
FEU fans of around 5,000 trooped to the Araneta on October 12 but expectedly found an empty La Salle gallery and without the Green Archers who publicly expressed their disappointment and declared a boycott on the replay.
The UAAP board decision drew worldwide attention including an opinion by FIBA citing that the replay was not necessary. Columnists wrote about it, coaches spoke about it and it was virtually it was FEU and the UAAP board against the world and scribes declared DLSU as the champions on the court.
Even known Atenean sports writing icon Bill Velasco blasted the UAAP board’s demand for a replay.
There were wild talks swirling about La Salle seriously considered getting out of the UAAP while the league viewed La Salle as a school “under probation”, easy words for easy to kick out. Eventually, cooler heads and the sight of a soul-less school outside of the UAAP prevailed for DLSU officials.
Seasons after the 54th UAAP, La Salle and FEU figured in monumental rumbles including one that escalated to the stands in the Blue Eagle Gym during Renren Ritualo and Mike Cortez’s time. There was also one championship game when the La Salle crowd behind the FEU bench verbally abused the Tamaraws and was backed by bullies that were built like WWE stars.
We often talk about Ateneo-La Salle as college basketball’s premier rivalry, but FEU-La Salle is up there in that discussion. There will always be spice to this matchup, one that dates back to even before the present.