Friday, September 26, 2008

Bird's-eye view of a Blue Eagle championship

This was how it went down.

When a second foul was slapped on Rabeh Al-Hussaini in the first quarter, a "Get that ball!" died in my throat and tried to take me with it by constricting my windpipe. Not even midway through the first quarter, and our big guy had to be sent to the bench because of early foul trouble. It seemed a bad omen hinting at a Green Archer victory in Game 2, which could have been disastrous for Ateneo's bid for the championship. Sitting in Gen Ad with my overly optimistic friends (Angelo never had any doubt we'd finish it in Game 2), I tried to silence my fears by screaming "Fight!" even more loudly.

Thankfully, Chris Tiu seemed to have heard me all the way in Gen Ad. Forget his disappointing output in the Blue Eagles' last 2 matches; yesterday Chris proved why he deserved that PSBank Maasahan Player award AND why he has deserved to wear the mantle of King Eagle all this season. His poise, intelligence and leadership are intangible, invaluable assets to the team, and whenever his team needs him most, he delivers. And did he deliver. With Rabeh sitting out the rest of the 1st half, Chris took over scoring duties and helped give Ateneo a comfortable 15-point lead going into the 3rd quarter. I knew TIUperman would save the day (sorry, couldn't help it!).

Then things started to get ugly. And I'm not referring to La Salle's devastating 3-point blitz, nailing 6 treys in the 3rd quarter and cutting Ateneo's lead down to 3. With over a minute left in the quarter, Rico Maierhofer got thrown out of the game on a second technical foul, which La Salle vehemently contested. I'd later find out the referee who blew his whistle claimed he had seen Maierhofer give Rabeh the finger. Maierhofer insisted it was his index finger, and he had been pointing it (upwards?) towards teammate JV Casio. Based on the slow-mo replays on TV, I can't tell which finger it was. But the look of disgust on the faces of Maierhofer and Franz Pumaren were crystal clear when the referees called for the former's ejection. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy that. A lot. A whole lot.

It didn't get prettier in the 4th quarter. Ateneo wasn't hitting any field goals, relying on free throws for points as they tried to shake off the pesky Archers, who were actually doing better sans Maierhofer. Then JV Casio committed his 5th personal foul, and La Salle lost their other go-to guy, and the green gallery treated the referees to another resounding chorus of boos and chants of "luto, luto!" From where we were seated, the call looked legit, and a viewing of the game rerun would verify it. In fact, even my dad who's very particular about fouls and fair calls agreed all 5 fouls slapped on JV weren't figments of the refs' imagination.

With JV out of the game, La Salle lost their firepower, and even with our own string of missed shots, Ateneo surged ahead and never looked back, thanks primarily to the most hard-working, all-around guy we had on the court, Nonoy Baclao ("mah man!!" -Angelo). Chris may have piled on the points in the first half, but all throughout the game it was Nonoy who kept pulling down rebounds and making life miserable for the Archers with his tough defense and kickass blocks. Heck, he even jumpstarted our scoring for the game with yet another of his surprise 3-pointers. Baclao was just a bundle of basketball awesome, and he truly deserved to take home Finals MVP honors.

When play time elapsed and a JAIgantic roar (heehee) erupted from the Ateneo crowd, I felt a strange sensation in the pit of my stomach even as I screamed along in exultation and hugged Yang. I knew that we had just seen what was far from being the best Ateneo-La Salle match; neither team had been in top form, there were several controversial calls, and 2 key Archers had been ejected from the game. For sure La Salle was going to use that against us and claim that we hadn't beaten them fair and square.
Admittedly, it was not the ideal way to win a championship. The epic series everyone had been expecting and looking forward to (Ateneo-La Salle! fierce rivalry! intense games! nail-biting endings! spectacular sports entertainment!) did not really materialize. Ateneo never seemed to be in any real danger of losing at any point in the Finals. And before I caught the replay of the 2nd half on TV, I also thought the referees' calls were lopsided, in favor of Ateneo. Those niggling thoughts threw a wet bimpo (not big enough to be a blanket, but still a substantial dampener) over my celebratory mood.

But a review of Game 2's tape will reveal that most of the refs' calls were spot-on (Gen Ad does not exactly give one the clearest look at what's happening on the court). Perhaps the only matter left in serious doubt was the 2nd T on Maierhofer, which sent him dabog-ing to the locker rooms. And that was a judgment call by the ref who blew the whistle; he also
PRABEHbly (heehee) didn't realize in time that Maierhofer had already been slapped a technical foul earlier. If Maierhofer really had been falsely accused of flipping the bird, he had all the right to shake his head in disgust at the end of the game, as seen on camera.

But it certainly did NOT give La Salle the right to refuse to come out from their dugout when it was time to receive their runner-up trophy and medals. And here I thought Pumaren had already sunk to an all-time low with his abandonment of the RP Youth Team a few weeks ago. When commentator Boom Gonzales called on the Archers, there was a long, awkward wait, and when it became apparent La Salle was not showing up, poor Boom had to cover it up with "We will accept this in their behalf." Up in Gen Ad, it was my turn to shake my head in disgust. Bastos!! Not only did the Green Gripers totally diss the UAAP officials waiting to hand them their trophy and medals, they spit in the face of the entire UAAP by turning their backs on their title as 1st runner-up. Moreover, Pumaren managed to set another fine example of sportsmanship with this utterly unclassy act of defiance. Good show, Bigote. You really are a piece of work.

Officiating has always been spotty in the UAAP. In 15 years of watching UAAP games I have come to accept it as part of the breaks of the game. Referees will always make bad calls, whether deliberately or due to honest human error. Those who cannot accept this harsh reality are either idealistic fools in denial or sore losers looking for something to blame. In the heat of battle, rational thought is often overriden by flaring tempers and raging passions. Coaches, players and spectators blindly cry foul (pun not intended) when a referee slaps someone from their team with a personal or technical, and I plead guilty to being among those who direct their frustration and ire (and hurl the occasional death threat) toward the men with whistles. But cooler heads should prevail, especially when the dust has settled post-battle. And if the whole war has been lost, whining about it is not going to change anything. All it does is make the losers look and sound pathetic, even if they actually put up a good fight.

I really don't know what kind of "La Salle Christian values" Pumaren believes he's imparting to his players and the DLSU community, and maybe in his warped mind he's doing the right thing by snubbing the runner-up trophy and medals. Maybe he feels he's being a man of principle. Whatever his reasons, he just succeeded in further tarnishing the reputation of La Salle. And if he thinks their little pouty protest is going to diminish the joy and satisfaction Ateneo is taking in their victory, I've got news for Bigote: Ateneans are too self-absorbed to care about the Archers acting like a bunch of big drama queens. Hah.

The Blue Eagles have landed the championship. And it's time to make the rest of the non-Atenean population nauseous with our protracted celebration (I'm going to miss the bonfire, dammit), endless news articles and TV features,
countless blog posts, and any other medium we can exploit to herald the superiority of Blue Eagle the King. Yes, we will overdo it. Yes, we will not let everyone hear the end of it. Yes, we will build a shrine to Chris Tiu on campus. But love us or hate us, everyone has to acknowledge the solid performance of our boys in blue this season. I've already rhapsodized about them in a previous blog post. I end this one with a simple note of thanks to our team-- Chris, Rabeh, Nonoy, Jai, Eric, Ryan, Yuri, Mike, Jobe, (sige na nga) Bacon, Kirk, Oping, Nico, Tonino, Justin, and Vince-- and our coaching staff led by Norman Black. Well done, sirs. You made us believe, and you rewarded our faith with the best that you could give. We who bleed blue salute you.

For pride of place. For love of school. For brotherhood and family. And for the greater glory of God. This is how we roll. This is who we are. This is the Ateneo way.



At Saturday, September 27, 2008, Blogger antoine said...

Of the many pieces I've read on the Blue Eagles' victory, this is by far the best. Thank you for such a well-written piece, very fair to both sides at that.

At Sunday, September 28, 2008, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Thank you so much for your kind comment! :)

At Sunday, September 28, 2008, Anonymous Happy blog fan :) said...

You write really really well. I've been a fan ever since I got the chance to read your blog. Anyway, I think you are missing someone from the Ateneo roster - Tonino Gonzaga?

At Monday, September 29, 2008, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Hi! Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. :) You're right, I forgot to include Tonino! I managed to insert him in my Multiply journal (my mirror blog) but neglected to correct this post here on Blogger. Thanks for pointing it out!


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