(STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - On Sept. 23, the New York Times published an article on the rivalry between Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle, written by Fulbright scholar Raphael Bartholomew, a graduate of Northwestern who earned a grant to come to the Philippines in November 2005, to write a book about basketball. Almost before he was off the plane, he was bombarded about comments on the most compelling rivalry in Philippine sports.

“People said, ‘You haven’t seen anything untIl you’ve seen La Salle-Ateneo,’” explains the 6’4” Bartholomew, who played basketball for Northwestern. “They said that the games were so intense, and people from all levels of society were so loud, they were just losing it, and the stadium would be packed beyond belief.”

According to Vic Sison of the Ateneo Sports Hall of Fame (ASHOF), the rivalry began even before the 1930’s, when members of high society studied at what were considered the best schools in the country.

“You became a La Salle alumnus, and your children will go to school, and your grandchildren will follow,” explained Sison, who himself is enshrined in the ASHOF as an outstanding football player. “The same with Ateneo.”

The good-natured ribbing that followed defeat of one school at the hands of the other school pricked the pride of the members of the alta sociedad, and it became increasingly unacceptable to lose.

“The competition became very strong because these people were very close together,” he adds. “They belonged to the same social strata. They mingled with one another in business and other affairs. And when it came to sports competition, it was the best against the best.”

In the 1950’s, things picked up a notch, as both schools used their intellect to craft cheers that played up their school’s attributes, while subtlely (or often not so subtlely) degrading the other’s.

“It was building competition, not only on the playing floor, on the playing field, but in the stands,” Sison elaborates. “Every time Ateneo and La Salle would play each other – in whatever sport – where there was an audience represented by both schools, there would be that build-up of intense emotion.”

Despite the absence of the rivalry for over a decade when Ateneo left the NCAA to join the UAAP, today’s game has actually amplified the one-upmanship. Now, every Ateneo-La Salle game is on the evening news, in the morning papers, and bannering Internet headlines round the clock. After a year of waiting, Rafe Bartholomew finally got his first taste ot the blue-green war this July.

“Senators, foreign diplomats, Cabinet ministers, a smattering of Forbes’s 40 richest Filipinos, movie stars and enough professional basketball players to play five-on-five. They are the elite of Philippine society, and they all gather at Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City to watch the men’s basketball rivalry between the universities Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle,” Bartholomew wrote in the New York Times. He also characterized the teams’ contrasting images: the Green Archers with their shaved heads, tattoos and attitude, and the Blue Eagles with their clean-cut, good boy image, which also fueled the animosity between them.

“I think it has exceeded expectations,” Bartholomew gushed. “The noise, the crowd, everybody moving together, and at the end of the games, pumping their fists and singing the school songs. Nothing could have prepared me for it. There’s really no way to explain it without experiencing it. People are so passionate, they’re screaming for every pass, every tip. Not just every score. They’re celebrating possessions. It’s something I’ve never seen before anywhere.”

And with the first four games having been decided by a total of just seven points, the quality and unpredictability of the games has been heightened.

“The games have become more physical, faster and more technical,” Sison says. “The players are bigger, and the quality has improved. And when the quality of the games improve, the passion in the rivalry improves with it.”

“It doesn’t matter if one team seems weak on paper,” Bartholomew reflects. “Even if one team doesn’t have its usual squad. You can throw all the records out the window. If it’s a La Salle-Ateneo game, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

And according to Sison, it’s a passion that will never die out.

“When you leave an Atenean and a La Sallite in a room together, one will always think that he is number one, and the other is number two. They simply refuse to lose to each other. It’s as simple as that.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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