IT has been so long since Far Eastern University and University of Santo Tomas met in a UAAP Finals that Turo Valenzona, then coach of the Tamaraws, only had vague recollections of that game 36 years ago when his team beat the then Glowing Goldies in a one-game playoff for the championship.
“Marami akong championship sa FEU. Kasi noon, hindi pa binibilang ‘yung 'pag nakatatlo, grand slam," Valenzona, trying hard to piece together details of that last finals, told Spin.ph. "More or less, alam ko ‘yan kasi naging player ko rin si (UST star) Ed Cordero sa youth team dati.”
Even Arturo 'Bai' Cristobal, one of the stars of that FEU champion team, wasn't certain if he had played in that title game.
It's certainly odd that FEU and UST, two founding members of the 78-year-old collegiate league which have won 37 championships between them, have not met in the finals as much as they should. FEU has won a league-high 19 titles, with UST and University of the East not far behind with 18.
Yet the Tamaraws and the Glowing Goldies (now the Growling Tigers) do not really have a history between them going to Game One of the Season 78 Finals on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
To recall the two teams' last finals showdown, you have to go back to October 12, 1979 when the Tamaraws defeated the then-Glowing Goldies, 100-89, behind American cager Anthony Williams and Cristobal in an era where there was still no Final Four and the format only called for the top two teams to meet in one-game finale.
In the absence of records, you have to rely on a newspaper account on Bulletin Today (now Manila Bulletin) by Al Mendoza, who wrote that the championship game was nowhere close as the Tamaraws led 51-27 at the half and never looked back at the Loyola Center, now the Blue Eagle Gym.
The Glowing Goldies played without their top star, Cordero, who was down with the flu, Mendoza wrote.
“From there, the contest became a dull affair and were it not for some funny antics by FEU’s American player Anthony Williams, the match would have ended with only the schools’ bands as spectators,” wrote Mendoza, who later became the sports editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Valenzona said FEU was in a class of its own in the seventies with a team led by Cristobal, who went on to play for Crispa in the PBA, Joel Valle, Chris McGary, Gimo Valerio, and Williams, a former US Marine who topscored for the Tamaraws in the championship game with 35 points.
Other future PBA stars like Yoyoy Villamin, Mon Cruz, Marte Saldana, and Rey Lazaro had stints with the Tamaraws in the seventies, but were no longer part of the 1979 team, old-timers bared.
“Pumunta dito (Williams) parang exchange student. Galing sa Marines, gusto mag-aral. Habang nandito, nakapag-asawa ng Pilipina pero umuwi sa States sa San Francisco, naging California Highway Patrol,” said Valenzona of his former player.
“Nakatulong sa amin kasi malakas tumalon, may tira sa ilalim, defensive player,” the multi-titled coach added.
Valenzona said UST, too, had a good team.
“Marami ring magagaling sa kanila. Malakas din sila nung araw. ‘Yung grupo din namin, halos pareho lang,” said Valenzona of UST which, in the absence of Cordero, was led by Felix Natividad and Edmund Yee.
The 1979 title actually started a hat-trick of titles for the Tamaraws, who would go on to lift the UAAP trophy in 1980, 1981 and 1983 with a team led by Glen Capacio, who at 16 was a rookie straight out of Trinity in the 1980 team and captained the 1983 squad that beat University of the Philippines - coached by Joe Lipa and led by Vincent Albino and Mon Celis - in the finals.
Unknown to many, Capacio, who went on to have a great career in the PBA and later coached the Tamaraws in the UAAP, bared that FEU and UST also played a veritable finals in 1980 when the Tamaraws stood on the verge of a season sweep and only the Goldies stood in their way in the final game.
"Pa-sweep na kami nuong 1980 at last game namin kalaban UST," Capacio told Spin.ph. "Kung tinalo kami ng UST, magpa-finals kami. Kaso tinalo namin sila kaya na-sweep namin ang season."
From there, FEU and UST had their glorious runs in the league, with the Goldies (rechristened Tigers) winning five championships under Aric del Rosario in the nineties and the Tamaraws winning three straight again from 2003 to 2005, including the 2004 crown which they won when La Salle was stripped of a title for fielding ineligible players.
Yet the two fabled squads have never met in the finals again - until Game One on Wednesday afternoon.