NATIONAL University coach Eric Altamirano humbly offered the UAAP championship of the team to former players and fans who had to suffer in ignominy during the years when the Bulldogs were considered the laughing stock of the league.
The soft-spoken coach said he was elated the school finally broke its 60-year title drought following the Bulldogs’ 75-58 win over Far Eastern University Tamaraws on Wednesday in their winner-take-all encounter before a record crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Understandably, a few former players, including two-time PBA MVP Danny Ildefonso, and thousands of supporters and alumni showed up to witness the Bulldogs finally exorcise the ghost of the past
“Para sa kanila ito,” said Altamirano. “For all the players na nagdaan sa NU na na-riridicule sila, pinagtatawanan sila dati, ‘yung frustration nila of not winning, lahat ng paghihirap nila, naiisip namin ‘yun ngayon.”
At the same time, Altamirano admitted being among those people who were on the other side laughing at NU during his stint with the University of the Philippines in the 80s.
“Kapag NU kalaban namin noon, break namin ‘yun. Tapos time ng mga bench players ‘yun. You always count it as one win already,” said Altamirano, who took charge in the stretch run of the Maroons’ title-clinching win over University of the East during the 1986 UAAP Finals with backcourt partner Ronnie Magsanoc saddled with foul trouble.
Even when he was hired as NU coach in 2010, Altamirano knew no one really wanted to take on the job.
But now, Altamirano is just proud for being instrumental in giving and restoring pride to the entire NU community.
“Dati, kapag naglalakad ka, kapag NU ka, nahihiya ka, ayaw mo isuot ‘yung t-shirt mo. Ngayon, nakikita ko ngayon na they are proud of their school. I’m just happy to be part of this,” he said.
The NU coach, who also owns a coaching championship in the PBA, was very proud to see the big turnout of NU fans during Game Three to support the Bulldogs’ title bid.
“NU is a small school. Pinakita namin na kahit maliit ang school, fully supported kami. Para rin kaming giants,” said Altamirano.
He hopes the championship is just the start of something big for the school which last savored a UAAP title in 1954.
“It’s a breakthrough. I hope this is just the start for NU. The culture and winning tradition is there. Hopefully, it will follow,” said Altamirano.