You don’t have to be an avid follower of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) to know about the longstanding basketball rivalry between Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University. The competition is so fierce that celebrities, politicians and other prominent figures show up at the games pitting the schools’ teams.
But the schools didn’t start as nemeses on the court. When the Ateneo campus was still in Manila, the Blue Eagles’ biggest foe was the San Beda Red Lions. Meanwhile, the La Salle Green Archers’ main competitor was the Letran Knights.
The Ateneo-La Salle rivalry began at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), when the Green Archers defeated the heavily favored Blue Eagles for the title in 1939. At a victory parade to celebrate the win, members of the La Salle party threw pieces of fried chicken outside the gate of the old Ateneo campus in Manila. The gesture planted the seeds of animosity between the two institutions.
Today, the Wikipedia page “Ateneo-La Salle Rivalry” says that the Blue Eagles lead the Green Archers in total college and high school basketball titles, 53-26. In NCAA men’s basketball, Ateneo has 14 wins over La Salle’s five.
Interestingly, both Blue Eagles and Green Archers share the same number of UAAP
Ateneo also leads La Salle in men’s junior basketball, with 18 UAAP titles and 11 NCAA crowns. UAAP women’s basketball is where La Salle leads Ateneo, 5-2.
Businessman and La Salle alumni Bobby Cabral (La Salle Green Hills ’72, DLSU ’77) has witnessed the rivalry through the years: “My father was a product of Ateneo, La Salle and the University of the Philippines. My neighbors in New Manila were from both schools. We were rivals not just in sports but in academics and chasing girls. The rivalry then, despite the familial relationships, was rabid to the point of extreme violence.”
But today’s rivalry, he observed, is more “civilized.”
“With the entry of coeds into the university, the rivalry’s penchant for physicality softened,” said Cabral. “However, in the workplace, it remains strong, even among our coeds. You can feel it in social events, politics, even in wakes.”
AC Joaquin (DLSU Pep Squad 2002) said: “I remember watching my first Ateneo-La Salle finals in 2001. The energy of the crowd and the ambiance at Araneta Coliseum was unlike anything I had ever experienced. What made it even more special, was that it was the year La Salle won its fourth straight championship.
“I’m not certain you can say the rivalry is better or worse. It’s just different. Nevertheless, a victory on the basketball court simply means one school has bragging rights over the other. It hurts to lose but I always say a game or a sport doesn’t define us as products of a school.”
Ronald Allan Cruz (Ateneo High School ’98, AdMU 2002) watched his first game on Sept. 14, 2002. It was a period Ateneans fondly remember as the “Season of Grace,” as the Blue Eagles defeated the Green Archers to prevent an elimination round sweep and an outright berth to the finals.
“That feat gave the Ateneo community a powerful energy that seized me like a fever,” said Cruz, who was compelled to join the long lines for tickets and brave the large, noisy crowds at Araneta Coliseum just to catch the game live.
Cruz feels that the rivalry has since grown tame. “For better or for worse,” he said, “the players of the two sides seem to be nicer to each other now. Back then, you could almost expect them to come to blows.”
Most anticipated event
Before becoming an English teacher, sports blogger Hoopnut and a play-by-play commentator for the UAAP, Enzo Flojo was a fan of the Blue Eagles. He recalled: “I started watching when I was in elementary in the early-to-mid-’90s. Ateneo-La Salle games were the most anticipated events back then, though La Salle had the lion’s share of the wins because of a more superior basketball and recruitment program.”
He added: “At its core, the rivalry is still strong. Even though most of the players are friends off the court, they are still bitter rivals once the games begin.”
Lorenzo del Carmen (LSGH ’12, DLSU ’15) recounted: “It was painful to watch (La Salle) from 2008 to 2012. While the Green Archers made the finals in 2008 and the Final Four in 2010 and 2012, failing to match the Blue Eagles in 2009 and 2011 was very frustrating.”
When the crown finally returned to La Salle in 2013, del Carmen said he felt like he was in heaven, and gave credit to the coaching of then rookie Juno Sauler.
Under coach Aldin Ayo’s watch in 2016, the Green Archers reclaimed the crown three years after a toughly fought battle with the Blue Eagles in the finals.
“When we beat Ateneo for the championship,” Del Carmen said, “it felt great since I was there in 2008 when we lost to the Blue Eagles. Every season has its ups and downs but what’s important is to stick with the team through thick and thin.”
This Sunday, Nov. 12, the long-time rivals meet for the 82nd time to bookend the elimination rounds of UAAP Season 80. It’s anybody’s game at this point, but if one thing is certain, it’s that fans of the Blue Eagles and Green Archers wouldn’t miss this latest chapter in their storied battle for supremacy.