It’s that time of year again when good friends, if you’re from rival universities, turn into foes…at least for a few hours.
And the host of UAAP season 82, Ateneo, did the right thing. It set the match-up of the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons and the Ateneo Blue Eagles as the last game of the men’s basketball first round, which gives room for a great build-up, which in my humble opinion, has reached another high.
The game was set for Sunday, September 29, but as early as Friday, September 27, the UP crowd was already getting at it.
While driving on my way to official business outside the office, a jock of an FM station gave his best wishes to the Fighting Maroons before ending his shift at 9AM. The guy, who to me is obviously a UP alumnus, even hoped that the game would be a preview of the finals.
Come evening, I was with friends from our church group. The UP alumni among us – around 6 of them — began rallying to chants of “UP Fight!” and “Sinu-sino nga tayo sa Linggo?” Afterwards, they asked me to take a picture of them.
I did take their picture. But instead of signaling “One, two, three!” before taking the shot, I signaled in a loud voice, “One…Big…Fight!” to which they were a bit annoyed, nonetheless amused.
On the other hand, the group just had a handful of Ateneans, but we also had our picture taken to signal we were “ready for battle.” Heart of a champion nga, diba?
Based on the outcome of last Sunday’s game, Ateneo may have been the Goliath on the court. But outside Araneta, particularly on social media, it’s UP that’s dominating the conversation. And I understand their hunger.
The Diliman basketball squad last won a title in 1986 on the backs of Ronnie Magsanoc, Eric Altamirano, and their superstar rookie named Benjie Paras, who also was Most Valuable Player that year.
We in Loyola Heights had that hunger, too. I once thought in my grade school days that we would never win the championship for like UP, we were also among the cellar dwellers. Things began to change in 1999 when Rich Alvarez was brought in to team up with Enrico Villanueva and Wesley Gonzales.
Then came 2001. Ateneo was in the finals for the first time since 1988. And it was against La Salle again. Sadly, we lost. For many Blue Eagles fans, it was twice as painful because it was La Salle. I even remember how much I disliked Mike Cortez and Mac Cardona because of their shooting prowess against our team. But don’t get me wrong. Magaling talaga sila.
And so, the hunger intensified the following season. Being the loyal fan that I was, I attended all but one Ateneo-La Salle game (eliminations and finals combined). Together with friends, I cheered and jeered inside Araneta to the point of losing my voice after every game. If it’s any indication or reflection of the bigger situation, that’s how bad we wanted the championship.
Come to think of it, we’re still lucky. A 14-year wait is much shorter than a 33-year one. So, UP friends (and there are lot of you out there), I feel you. I wish you win the championship again. But you all know where my loyalty lies. Nonetheless, the Battle of Katipunan is certainly fun to watch and follow.