Welcome to The Rewind, where the Humblebola team looks back at the past and talks about details only a few may have noticed.
They say it is THE GREATEST RIVALRY OF ALL SPORTS.
Blue Eagles against Green Archers.
The rulers of Katipunan vs. the ballers of Taft.
One Big Fight against the Animo.
Ateneo versus La Salle.
A rivalry that has withstood the test of time will turn 80 next season. Through ruckus and peace, the green and blue rivalry has stayed relevant.
Let’s Rewind as Neal Tieng takes as back to the roots of Ateneo-La Salle.
MYTHS OF THE BEGINNINGS
Some old tales were told about the it. According to author RJ Ledesma in his book “Blue Babble, Gang Green”, the rivalry began when the “BORED of directors” of both institutions, Jesuits and the Fransiscans, decided to add color to their lives by promoting competition among the two schools as their cure for boredom.
The other old sources related that the rivalry began even before La Salle and Ateneo when the Fransiscans and the Jesuits decided to carry their stateside disagreements to the Philippines.
As different these tales of origins were, they agreed on one particular timeline, the 1939 NCAA championship.
It was told in the 16th season of the NCAA, an overpowering and six-peat seeking Ateneo, then called, “Blue and Whites squad” got sideswiped by an up and coming La Salle team to the tune of 27-23. Aside from the low scoring nature of the 30s, their way to express sportsmanship was throwing fried chickens inside the Ateneo Padre Faura campus to mock their rival’s late adoption of the eagle as their mascot in 1938.
That got the rivalry going.
La Salle and Ateneo took turns on being mediocre through the decades and through one world war and never again met in the finals until 1958 when Ateneo had their payback, a sweet victory for the blue boys led by then skipper Ed Ocampo.
La Salle would have their rivalry finale in the NCAA when the 1974 team powered by the green net-scorching machine in Lim Eng Beng banged home 37 points and defeated Ateneo 90-80. The eagle strangler he was proclaimed to be, as the legendary #14 Green Archer just could not miss that night.
With every basket, the crowd chanted his name louder “LIM ENG BENG!!!”. And even this legend had one statement he lived with all his collegiate life, “lose to anyone, not to Ateneo”.
OFF THE GRILL
There was a space of only 2 years between the withdrawal of Ateneo and La Salle in the old NCAA. Ateneo bolted out in 1977 after a fracas with San Beda while La Salle took their exit after the historic rumble in Rizal Memorial against Letran in 1979.
Both schools hoped that time away will cool off the rivalry.
They were so wrong.
Away from the league, La Salle and Ateneo would play in other leagues and invitationals. After 3 years, the Ateneo Blue Eagles finally acknowledged to play La Salle in the St. Athanasius Gym in DLSU in 1984 during the DLSU’s university week. Ateneo was then led by Chot Reyes and Mike Facundo while the Green Archers were bannered by now-coach Gabby Velasco and then skipper Al Azurin.
It did not take many playing minutes for true rivalry colors took over peace. With the Eagles ahead in the waning seconds of a rough and rugged game and with the Ateneo’s lead beyond reach, Azurin delivered a karate chop to the neck of Chot Reyes in mid-court triggering a bench-clearing melee.
So much for peace during the cool off period.
The old rivalry proved that it did not need a big stage nor a grand championship. When the two bitter rivals played in the Metro Manila Basketball League (MMBL), a very young La Salle five lost in the first round 79-62 and then took their rivals to two overtimes and won 98-96 in a game that had all the drama and publicity. Despite being in a non-UAAP tournament, major dailies covered the game was occupied major national sports headlines.
With the apparent rivalry fever still at danger level, Ateneo was one of the schools who voted against La Salle’s entry into the UAAP, once more fanning the flames of disgust from the green corner.
But there was a misunderstanding. Father Raymond Holscher SJ, then Ateneo athletic director and UAAP board representative relayed in an interview that the fear of violence was not the main reason but the La Salle’s apparent disinterest in joining.
“There will always be a threat of violence but we believe that it can be controlled. The reason why La Salle was not approved was because they did not submit complete documents” Father Holscher shared in an interview in 1985 with The La Sallian.
Apparently, La Salle would not be able to get unanimous vote of the entire UAAP board since UST and Ateneo expressed their dissention to La Salle’s entry.
When La Salle could not enter because they needed the votes of ALL board members, the UAAP board did what they do best, CHANGE THE RULES. Needing only a majority vote to change any rule, the board changed the new UAAP member requirement from needing ALL votes to majority.
In that very instant, the red carpet was rolled out for La Salle-Ateneo rivalry entry into the UAAP.
RIVALRY 2.0 – EARLY UAAP YEARS
La Salle wiped the cellar of the UAAP in their first two years only beating winless National U and hapless Adamson Falcons. It took awhile for La Salle to assemble a winning team while Ateneo’s stock was skyrocketing to the championship having built the team one position at a time around stars Danny Fransisco, Emerito Chuatico, Joseph Nieto, Jun Reyes, Joseph Canlas, Olsen Racela and Alex Araneta.
The Blue Eagles finally clinched their first UAAP title against favorites University of the East in 1987 in their usual Hail Mary fashion coming back from 20 points down while the La Salle massive build up was in process with the recruitment of RP Youth players Jun Limpot, Jonas Mariano and Johnedel Cardel in an effort to build a stronger back-up for star guard Dindo Pumaren.
In 1988, 14 years after Lim Eng Beng bagged the title for the Archers, the two teams finally clashed once more for the championship. After a decade, the biggest rivalry in college basketball is back to their battle at the summit.
The old Rizal Memorial Coliseum was filled to the very last inch and to secure a ticket back then was as valuable as winning the lotto.
Blue and Green fans would remember Game 2, but it was the classic game 1 of that title series that snuffed out the souls of the La Sallians. At the end of the second round, both La Salle and Ateneo were tied at 11-2 after the Green Archers shot down the Eagles 78-76 at the end of round 2.
Ateneo was trailing 72-71 going into the final 13 seconds, after Dindo Pumaren sank a couple of free throws, needed one big hero for a late game bail out. Ironic, it was the smallest guy on the court stepped up. Do-it-all guard Jun Reyes drove hard to the basket and sank the marginal goal at point-blank range to give Ateneo the lead for good at 73-72 with less than 3 seconds to go and while the all-game fist-pumping La Salle star Dindo Pumaren fumbled on what could have been the series-altering play, that crucial miscue sealed the doom for DLSU.
The Blue Eagles clinched the title 76-70 in Game 2 behind a rocking Rizal Memorial Coliseum with Jun Reyes dominating 19 points while Dindo Pumaren rode into the sunset of his UAAP career in with a towel on his head.
During the game, Ateneo center Alex Araneta will point to the rim every time he stepped to the foul line. It was almost calling a two before he took them.
Rizal Memorial would be blasting from both sides swapping heckles that bordered on personal. From “blue eggless” to “bobo La Salle” and some names that cannot be published, the sidelights of these ran in stride with basketball.
That championship fever would not end there.
The hate reached a peak when the Blue and Green literally rumbled in an off-season tournament with Ateneo guard Billy Del Rosario giving La Salle guard Rafa Dinglasan a “better luck next year” whisper on his way to the bench. The sweet something escalated into a full-blown rumble in ULTRA that included the crowd with literally with Del Rosario getting his face rearranged. It took 30 minutes before mayhem was controlled and a clash that would have put the recent Gilas – Australia rumble into shame.
THE JUMP THAT ROCKED KATIPUNAN
In those days, players who decided to jump ship from green to blue and vice versa were met with verbal abuse when they step on court. Ask former La Salle Greenhills Greenies Llewelyn Mumar and Eric Reyes who went to Ateneo for college and former Juniors’ MVP and Blue Eaglet stand out Jayvee Gayoso who decided to play for La Salle for a year before going back to Katipunan.
As Ateneo spent considerable time being irrelevant in the UAAP in the 90s every Blue Eagle fan would call the “dark ages”. But there was always hope at the nest, the Blue Eaglets who were dominating the scene in the 90s.
There was a special group of Blue Eaglets that those who bleed blue were waiting for, the miracle batch of BJ Manalo, Wesley Gonzales, Larry Fonacier and Enrico Villanueva. Manalo was a shifty combo guard that could shoot from long distance, great passing skills for those late drop passes and explosive enough to drive hard to the cup.
“BJ Manalo was an enigma,” wrote Bill Velasco in his column in the Philippine Star. “He would profess his love for Ateneo, then played for La Salle.”
After dropping a heartbreaker to the UST Tiger Cubs in the UAAP juniors’ finals, things went south between Ateneo and Manalo and the former star Eaglet declared his transfer to play for their rivals across town, the De La Salle Green Archers.
That transfer sent tectonic signals all over Ateneo that transcended batches. This was a rude awakening of a program in decade-long deep slumber. Taking care of homegrown and keeping Villanueva and the rest of the gang was the first step while coaching staff build-up as well as recruitment outside of the Ateneo was another. San Beda Red Cub LA Tenorio was recruited to be the court general of Blue Eagles’ future while Fil-am Rich Alvarez bolstered the frontcourt.
BJ Manalo could easily be one of the most heckled players in UAAP history. Ateneans never forgave Manalo even as he was traversing his latter years in La Salle. Every time he touches the ball against Ateneo in all his seasons as a Green Archer, the crowd in blue boos in unison. Labels like “traydor” went amuck on the court and online.
Manalo answered the hecklers with his game. In 2001 when La Salle was going for their 4th straight title, Manalo was instrumental. Sinking the late game free throw and sealing the title for the Green Archers, the former Blue Eaglet star had come into full circle.
He had proven his point and mended fences with best buddy Enrico Villanueva as he consoled the star center from Katipunan. Manalo in his final year of eligibility was about to play for Ateneo but decided otherwise on the last minute.
Regardless of the BJ Manalo-serye the rebuilding process had begun and Ateneo was back to relevance at the very least. Ateneo would rival La Salle in the 2001 and 2002 championships.
THE BACK-TO-BACK TITLE CLASH
La Salle coach Franz Pumaren had to exorcise ghosts of DLSU’s past. One by one, Coach Franz ended La Salle eight-year title drought by blowing past FEU and treated the UST trauma the next year.
In 2001, Ateneo barged into the finals with coach Joe Lipa at the helm. The greens took care of business and clinched the series in game 3 behind the inspired play of Carlo Sharma and Renren Ritualo, who was playing his last game as a Green Archer. For the first time since 1974, La Salle got revenge over their 1988 nemesis.
Well on their way to their 5th straight title, DLSU cruised to the finals while Ateneo had to go through mission impossible again, beating the sharp shooting James Yap and his fighting Red Warriors from UE.
The horrendous foul line shooting of then UE guard Paul Artadi and the rest of the erratic UE Warriors gave Ateneo one shot of hope with 7.8 seconds left. A screen on the right flank gave Chia just enough separation to unleash the game clinching 2.
Splash and the sea of blue exploded in unparalleled euphoria.
And what did the Ateneo gallery chant? “WE WANT LA SALLE! WE WANT LA SALLE!”
The chants sent chills to those who watched on TV knowing that a peaking Ateneo is coming to stop La Salle’s quest for a 5th straight title.
And stop the La Salle locomotive on its’ tracks Ateneo did when the series went the whole distance and down to the very last second. With 9.8 ticks to go with the Eagles ahead 72-70, La Salle guard Macmac Cardona raced down court hoping for a game winning hook.
With no passing lanes available, Cardona elevated with his trademark push shot at the 15-foot line.
Anticipating this all 9 seconds long, Larry Fonacier erased Cardona’s shot twice as time expired. As Fonacier celebrated, Wesley Gonzales taunting Cardona became the image of that championship series that simply fueled the hate in the rivalry.
“Nung time na yun di mo talaga mapigilan. Emotions talaga,” said Wesley Gonzales during an ABS CBN special on the La Salle – Ateneo rivalry. “In those days, we really did not like each other and if your opponent goes down, we don’t pick them up.”
THE MODERN DAY RIVALRY
If you tell these stories, your lolo would not have believed it.
La Salle lighting the façade of their building blue to congratulate Ateneo on last year’s championship or the iconic photo of Green Archer Thomas Torres helping out the cramping Juami Tiongson. These were totally unheard of 20 years ago but a reality today.
The rivalry has taken a new form. A gentler one.
Jeron Teng may have led the Green Archers in shafting the blues in 2016 while Matt Nieto and Thirdy Ravena got their revenge a year later, only the oldies who watched the games can relate on how the rivalry was at its’ feistiest.
When these teams clash again this Season 81, there is no such thing as a 50-50 ball and all the odds go out of the window. Expect bodies to be all over the court in a battle for ball possession. There would be physical encounters.
But certainly, the thrill of the uncertain will remain. Former Ateneo guard Richie Ticzon and Rainier Sison had led many underdog Ateneo team to victories while former La Salle point guard Simon Atkins led a bunch of undersized Green Archers to an improbable victory against the eventual champion Ateneo team as a small sample of those games won by the weaker team.
Throw all the statistics out of the window they say.
It is Ateneo vs. La Salle.