The emotional investment on the results of the UAAP Finals Game 3 for the sea of blue and green, all 22,000 of them inside the dome, plus millions more outside is comparable to the first job interview, finishing off the amortization on the house, seeing your stock portfolio value halved (it’s only money), first trip to Paris, getting a promotion, seeing a sunrise with a flock of birds taking wing, and a perfectly cooked adobo flake pandesal sandwich.
The highs and lows of following the team in its total of 19 games this season (16 wins to three losses) were a roller coaster ride without seat belts. All emotions were of the heart: heart-breaking, heart-stopping, heart-rending, heartwarming, and in the end, heart-swelling.
Yes, Virginia… college basketball is more than just a game. It’s something else.
The Blue Eagles (just to alert the reader on how biased this piece will be) in season 80 seemed to prefer the longer trip, the scenic route. (This makes the season ticket more cost-effective.) On the brink of a sweep with 13-0 to allow them some rest and go straight to the finals, as the step-ladder works its way up, it narrowly lost game 14 to throw them into the traditional F4 format still at the top, with a twice to beat advantage.
In game 1 of the semis, the Eagles again lost their advantage. And for the second must-win game, it looked like it was going to be a wasted season with three points down in the closing seconds, needing a tie-breaking triple to push the game into overtime and the second finals seat.
Here are four things to remember about the amazing Blue Eagles and Season 80:
1) In all but one game in the first round of eliminations, the team’s winning margin was in the double digits. But what was unusual about these wins was the rotating hero for each game — Vince, Anton, Thirdy, Matt, Isaac, Chiz. The shared ball and unselfish passing to the high-percentage shooter made this happen. It’s as if the team drew straws to pick the top scorer for a particular game. But it’s just the longer rotation of the team, going for at least 10 players, sometimes even 14. Who keeps track of their minutes?
2) At the beginning of the season, the fans were curious about the competitiveness of the team, with at least three stars moving out to other rival teams, and a fourth one who didn’t even suit up and became MVP in the other college league. The initial ambition of the Blues was modest — let’s just hope for the F4, maybe last place? Of course, after every win, this goal kept moving up. After winning Game 1 of the Finals — why not the trophy? Never mind what you guys were thinking after Game 2. (Admit it — your faith wavered.)
3) Could this team survive a close game? This was the question after the second round loss to the number 2 team. Did the Blue Eagles have what it took to survive a one-possession lead? Could the players take the body banging and non-calls and play through these? Doubts lingered up to the last two minutes of the final Game 3. That the odds-makers always put the top seed as the underdog needing a plus 3 or 5 for presumed bets seemed to have accepted this lack of toughness at the end game. Well, that question was finally settled this Sunday.
4) Did the team have a deep bench? That only seemed to be the case as even the second team was capable of stretching the lead, but not always defending it. The collapse of a 21-point lead is proof that mayhem works. The frenzy of the mayhem approach can disrupt ball movement. As an aside, the word “mayhem” literally refers to needless and willful damage; to injure, wound, mutilate and cripple. It comes from the same root word as maim. Enough said on this subject. But body banging, taunting, pinching of body parts and elbow-swinging are all guaranteed to distract a ball handler.
The word “overachieve” may be overused in describing Cinderella runs of teams that none of the supposedly savvy analysts picked as contenders at the start. The talk was just about the reigning regular season MVP and how he dwarfed all the other pretenders. This gospel truth was accepted by everyone, yes, including the folks reading this. (Come on, you know that’s true.) But basketball is still a team sport for five players.
The season is over, and there is a new coach riding the shoulders of the victorious team. And the side that was shouting hysterically and screaming to be heard was all in blue. It was a joyous catharsis of relief. Even in the last two minutes of the last game, the momentum seemed to go the way of Game 2… which for sure, the folks in blue will no longer be talking about.
There’s no problem what to wear for the celebrations. Anyway, all my shirts are blue… and white.
A. R. Samson is chair and CEO of Touch DDB.