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Familiar foes and age-old rivalries

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ILLUSTRATION GIANCARLO CLARETE

Rivalries exist in many fields of human life, whether in love, employment, or business.

But rivalry is most played out in sports.

A classic example is tennis. Pete Sampras once said about his rival Andre Agassi, “Andre Agassi was my rival in the ’90s, and I think as we got older we sort of transcended the game. He was probably the best player I ever played over my career. There’s a list of players that were tough, but Andre, certainly, he was the most unique.”

Collegiate basketball is not exempt from rivalries.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the University Athletic Association are the two most popular collegiate tournaments in the Philippines. Most students who watch both leagues today are not aware that there was a time that UAAP member-schools were once members of the NCAA. In fact,  Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle, National University, Far Eastern University, University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas were  founding members of the NCAA.

The last four schools went on to establish the UAAP.  Ateneo and La Salle battled it out in the NCAA, inside and outside the hard court, until their exit in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, respectively. Their transfer to the UAAP was triggered by melees with San Beda and Colegio de San Juan de Letran.

In trying to find the roots of the rivalries of today, I asked several alumni from different schools to paint a clear picture of the rivalry scene during the ’70s and ’80s.

Anton Estrada, an Atenean, said that there was no single dominant school in the 1970s. However, Ateneo won back-to-back championships in 1975-1976 and 1976-1977. In addition, Estrada considered La Salle, Letran and San Beda Ateneo’s toughest competitors.

Loud cheering section

Alberto A. Villarruz Jr., a Bedan cheerleader from 1978 to 1983, said that the rivalry between San Beda and Ateneo was quite evident during his time; the former was the team to beat.

Ateneo, he added, had everything going for it: It had experience and depth, and a loud cheering section.

During the championship games, he said, San Beda could hardly fill up a third of the Araneta Coliseum.  Atenean cheerleaders and their band drowned out the competition, he added.

Today, the Ateneo and La Salle rivalry is probably the best known in collegiate basketball. According to Bobby Rius, a former Ateneo cager, this rivalry went beyond the court—it extended to which was the more prestigious school.

But from the ’30s til the ’70s, there was rivalry between San Beda and Ateneo in the NCAA because they had the most number of championships.

Former San Beda cager Maru Sotto, who played for the Red Lions from 1970 to 1974, said that San Beda’s rivalry with Ateneo was about athletics; it was limited to who had the most number of wins and championships and the better record.

But the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry has gone beyond the basketball court.  It has extended to which is the better school, and which exhibits more school spirit. To put it simply, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry has become personal through the years.

In recent years, the UAAP’s Ateneo-La Salle rivalry has intensified. In contrast, the NCAA’s only remaining founding member, San Beda, has been left without a rival.

Even today the Red Lions consider the Blue Eagles as their rivals. But since they belong to different tournaments, they only relive their old rivalry during the summer invitational leagues.

Others may argue that Letran or even San Sebastian could be considered San Beda’s rival. But as Alberto A. Villarruz Jr. pointed out, as much as Letran and San Sebastian would like to look at themselves as San Beda’s rivals, it isn’t so, because rivalry is dictated by tradition and historical record.


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