FLASHBACK: FEU vs. UST in the 1979 UAAP Finals

FLASHBACK: FEU vs. UST in the 1979 UAAP Finals
BACK IN TIME: The last time that UST and FEU met in the finals, none of the players now were born yet.

Historical contexts make for good sports stories. It adds tension and drama. The “Thrilla in Manila,” for all its 14 unforgettable, crimson-colored rounds, wouldn’t be as thrilling and as anticipated without the first two bouts between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. National University’s title conquest last season wouldn’t be as extraordinary without its Mesozoic 60-year title drought.

Like a lilt in a poem, history makes sports stories sing.

For the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and Far Eastern University (FEU), who will slug it out in the best-of-three championship, their finals history goes way back.

Way, way back.

The last time they tangoed in the Last Dance of the UAAP was in 1979. None of the players were even born yet. Martial Law in the country was still in full effect. Justin Bieber had nothing on Rod Stewart.

It has been almost four decades since the Growling Tigers and the Tamaraws, two of the winningest teams in the league, battled for the coveted crown. On October 18, 1979, FEU defeated UST, 100-89. It was held in front of close to 2,000 fans at the notoriously humid Loyola Gym, the former home of the UAAP. 

That year, FEU was coached by the legendary Turo Valenzona. The squad was led by his RP Youth players Bai Cristobal and Alfredo Amador. Then there was also talented rookie Anthony Williams, an ex-US Marine. Based on an interview posted on Facebook, he was stationed in Subic in 1978 and left the Marine Corps the following year. He was brought to Morayta by several people he knew in Olongapo after several inquires in other UAAP teams.

UST, meanwhile, was handled by returnee tactician Rogelio Serafico, who led the team to its last finals stint a decade before. Then known as the Glowing Goldies, the quintet leaned on the high-scoring Ed Cordero, who was also part of the RP Youth Team, and the sweet-shooting Edmund Yee.

After topping the double elimination round, FEU earned a twice-to-beat incentive in the finals. The best-of-three series and the Final Four weren’t instituted yet. UST, on the other hand, had to stave off University of the East (UE), led by Rudy Distrito, in a knockout match to advance to set a date with the Tamaraws.

The finals began with the Glowing Goldies taking an early 6-4 advantage. That would be their last taste of the lead. The Tams went on a 15-2 scoring binge on their way to a comfortable 53-36 lead at halftime. They showed no mercy in the ensuing quarters. The España-based crew was helpless, especially without the 6-foot-4 Cordero, the league’s scoring leader, who was down with the flu.

UST sliced the lead to eight points twice in the fourth quarter. But that was the closest the team got to as Williams stymied the comeback attempts.

When the smoke cleared, FEU romped to an 11-point victory to capture its 10th title. The do-it-all Williams top-scored for the victors with 35 points, 15 coming in the opening period. He was backstopped by Danilo Manalastas and Cristobal, who chipped in 17 and 15, respectively.

“Talagang masyado kaming malakas. Ang mga bata kumpiyansado,” Valenzona said in a report of the Manila Bulletin.

Without Cordero, Francisco Natividad took over offensive duties for UST, piling a game-high 38 markers. Yee, who struggled at the onset, ended up with 25 points, 17 coming in the second half.

“We knew we had a slim chance but we put up a good fight,” said UST rector Maximo Marina, OP in a report of People’s Journal.

The 1979 conquest jumpstarted a hat-trick for the Green and Gold, who got even more formidable with the entry of Yoyoy Villiamin and Glenn Capacio in the ensuing seasons. In 1980, they were declared automatic champions after a 12-0 sweep of the elimination round. Their last assignment? UST. Then in 1981, they escaped the Allan Caidic-led Red Warriors in the finals. That year, Williams was named season MVP, becoming the first foreigner to do so in the UAAP.

UST’s bridesmaid finish was the school’s best finish since 1969 after also placing second to UE. The Glowing Goldies didn’t win the crown again until 1993.

Valenzona coached FEU until 1991 before being succeeded by Amador. He moved on to the PBA, where he won several championships. He’s also the famed architect of the San Sebastian Stags’ historic five-peat in the NCAA in the 90s.

After his illustrious UAAP stint, Williams went back to the United States. Today, according to his Facebook account, he lives in Lakewood, California and works for an engineering and construction organization. Cristobal, meanwhile, starred for the Crispa Redmanizers in the pros and also became a champion head coach with the Stags. He’s now the deputy commissioner of the UAAP.

After losing to FEU in their final game in 1980, Serafico bid goodbye to UST for the second time. He’s best remembered, albeit infamously, for his stubborn refusal to field the Glowing Goldies’ second half starters during their finals duel with UE in 1967 as he was waiting for counterpart Baby Dalupan to field his five first. The two teams eventually shared the championship. UST comfortably led at halftime, 51-40.

Cordero and Natividad had short stints in the PBA after their collegiate years. Cordero is now the assistant coach of the Mapua Cardinals and also served as top deputy of Frankie Lim at San Beda College.

Will history favor FEU? Or will UST make a new one? Whatever the outcome may be, it would surely make for a good story.

With reports from Anthony Divinagracia

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