OCTOBER 3, 1998 may go down as one of the toughest days for Aric Del Rosario in his coaching career.
On this day, Del Rosario juggled two all-important games on two different sites with the Pampanga Dragons squaring off in Game Two of the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) Northern Conference finals against the Manila Metrostars at the Bren Guiao Convention Center.
On that same afternoon was a knockout match with University of Santo Tomas, a team that he led to four straight crowns midway in that decade, battling La Salle at the Araneta Coliseum for a spot in the 1998 UAAP finals.
Despite the predicament, Del Rosario made it to both games after the legendary coach rode a helicopter from San Fernando in Pampanga to Cubao, Quezon City. Unfortunately for Del Rosario, he lost both games with the Metrostars tying the North finals series at one apiece on the road against the Dragons, and the Growling Tigers suffering a defeat at the hands of the Green Archers.
The Dragons took the series opener a few days ago at home, but after the loss to the Metrostars in San Fernando, the Pampanga and UST coach hopped on to a helicopter where he was quickly rushed to the Big Dome.
The Tigers forced a knockout game in the Final Four after they beat the Green Archers, 55-51, so a few alumni reportedly arranged for the helicopter ride so that their coach can make it to the UAAP game. There was a running joke within a few members of the team that Del Rosario would somehow arrive in a dramatic way with the helicopter landing on top of the Big Dome roof just like a scene in the movie.
The UST gallery cheered upon Del Rosario’s arrival. According to a game account by Tito Talao of the Manila Bulletin, the UST coach arrived with 6:40 left in the first half. The Growling Tigers were up, 30-25, at the half and were 20 minutes away from becoming the first-ever fourth-seed team to beat a No. 1 in the Final Four era.
Del Rosario’s presence, however, was not enough as the Growling Tigers succumbed to a 56-51 defeat against La Salle that ended UST’s bid for an upset. Eventually, the Green Archers finally won the UAAP crown after being runners up for five consecutive years, four at the expense of Del Rosario’s UST teams.
The decision of Del Rosario, who passed away recently at the age of 80, to make a sacrifice and catch the two games in different sites may also be perhaps another proof of his love not just for his players but also for his teams particularly his alma mater UST.
Del Rosario’s helicopter ride will definitely go down as part of the UAAP lore which we may never see again.