It was never just about basketball.
In 2006, Doug Kramer buried a basket with 1 second left in the fourth quarter, delivering the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ first win in a best of three series finals against the UST Growling Tigers. Just imagine how that must have felt for the entire Ateneo community in Araneta Coliseum — some were crying, hugging each other, some were even praying. It was the first finals game I ever watched live in the UAAP, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
The Eagles eventually lost that year much to the heartbreak of the community. The year after was particularly worse, with archrival De La Salle eliminating the Eagles following the stepladder format. I trooped to Gesu after both games (2006 Finals Game 3 & Stepladder Knockout Game 2), and you can just imagine the gloom that enwrapped the place as MVP spoke to the community and the players – “We’ll win next year,” he said on both occasions.
Finally after two years of heartbreak, we won.
Octobers these last few years have been very eventful for me and my friends. “It’s the most exciting time of the year,” my bestfriend would describe it. Regardless if it’s against DLSU, FEU, UE, or UST, supporting Ateneo in the UAAP Men’s Basketball Championships has been a happy routine for us.
In 2008, we watched as Chris Tiu and Rabeh Al-Hussaini led the Blue Eagles into the first of the many championships to come.
It was the championship Coach Norman Black was so working hard for, and the championship we were very hungry for after being so close, yet so far the past two years. After countless LRT rides from Katipunan to Cubao, countless hours spent lining up and sleeping in the cov courts just to get tickets and countless classes cut, we were finally champions.
This Bonfire was held in the Bellarmine Field, and being muddy after an afternoon of rain, our shoes were all ruined. I remember how a friend, Rache, even had blisters on her feet after falling somewhere in the field. It was messy, and smelly, but it was the Bonfire we all waited for, and so it was worth it.
“Mas masarap talaga yung feeling ng nananalo,” MVP said in the Thanksgiving Mass. “After this, Coach Norman and I will regroup to see where the team will be going. We’ll win [again] next year.” And we believed.
2009 saw the Blue Eagles go back-to-back against an arguably tougher opponent – the UE Red Warriors. They beat us during the second game of the finals, only to lose in the third.
In the thanksgiving mass after that championship series, MVP and the boys joked about a third championship, and fast forward to the year after, we made history with a three-peat.We met Kirk Long, saw Erik Salamat and Nonoy Baclao grow that year — I remember friends Hallsy and Braggy even making posters specifically for Kirk Long. Too cute for words.
That year’s bonfire was a little more memorable as it was the perfect excuse for a mini-reunion with me and a couple of batchmates. We were kids fresh from college, still abuzz with idealism.
But it didn’t stop there. We won a fourth.
2012 was a befitting farewell from Coach Norman (and yes, MVP) for the Ateneo. That heartbreaking 2006 loss to UST was avenged, and the championships these past five years have all given us happy endings. I really feared a UST comeback — and it would have been really painful to have lost again to them this year. My bestfriend, Cands, actually stopped watching Ateneo – UST games after 2006, and together with the whole community, she exorcised the ghosts of 2006 this year.
These championships and bonfires were constants in our changing lives — through boyfriends and break-ups, through graduation, first jobs & promotions, through new friendships and falling outs. It was about voluntarily submitting ourselves to the vicious cycle of heartbreaks, and heart attacks, hoping to emerge as victors. We come each year to the bonfire as different people, but always end up saying, “I miss college” or “I miss Ateneo” as we walk around the campus.
It was never just about basketball. It was about friends coming together since 2008, it was about community, about school spirit.