07 April 2017

My First NCAA Game for DLSU


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November 1978, and something that just months before I never would have thought possible was actually about to happen. The new season of NCAA football was about to commence, and against my wildest expectations, I was part of the defending champion DLSU Green Archers team. It just didn’t seem possible when I used to watch the Green Archers in the previous seasons that I myself would soon be suiting up in the famous green and white playing strip. The very thought of the chance to play at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, which I could only fantasize about before, simply blew my mind away!

That was why, on the eve of our opening match against the San Beda Red Lions, I tossed and turned all night long. I was fraught with excitement, which in retrospect was rather strange because I believed that if I would play at all, it would be only as a substitute late in the match. After all, my inclusion in the team seemed almost as an afterthought on the part of Dima, the team’s coach.

I was actually home in Lipa that time. My uncle from San Diego in California was visiting with his wife and my cousin Rodney, whom I was seeing for the first time. My family laid out a feast for them at lunchtime, but despite all the good food, I could barely eat. Any other day and I would have stayed longer because these San Diego-based relations rarely went home to the Philippines.

I was on the road waiting for a bus before twelve. The game was not due to start until three in the afternoon, so I really had plenty of time to get to the stadium. The south expressway, or SLEX as it is called in the present day, had been open since the second semester of my freshman year. Travel time to Manila had been cut by one hour.

As I expected, I arrived at Rizal Memorial with plenty to spare. The first match was still ongoing, but Dima soon told the team to start getting dressed. I remember the utter joy of putting on my green shirt and white shorts, the design of which was patterned after the official kit of the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League.

Although I slept fitfully the previous night because of anticipation, about the impending game itself I hardly felt any pressure because I did not think that I would be starting. But before long, Dima called the team over and dropped a bomb. I was in the starting line-up and would play on the right wing. Rey Ferraren, the former La Salle Greenhills right winger who dazzled me playing barefoot in Lipa when I was a high school freshman, was returning to play his final year in the NCAA with DLSU and would lead the attack as center-forward.

I had seen him at the DLSU field only once before because established players who were members of commercial Division I clubs were not required by Dima to train. Ferraren was not only an established Division I player but a capped Philippine international. I could barely wrap my mind around the notion that I would be playing right next to him. I was just star-struck!

But he turned out to be this really swell down-to-earth feller who was just one of the boys. The problem always would be that, because none of us really knew how he and the other commercial club players moved, we were always going to have cohesion issues. Being Rey, it didn’t take him long to put us ahead. We won that opening match 5-2, but the fact that San Beda put two goals past us was already portentous of how the season would turn out. The Red Lions were perennial contenders in NCAA basketball tournaments. At the time, however, they were among the NCAA’s also-rans in football.

I scored a goal, by the way. Somebody else’s shot rebounded kindly back to me, so I let fly with my left foot. It was more a hit-and-hope, and my left foot then wasn’t anywhere near what it would become in subsequent years. To my surprise, the ball rolled under the body of the diving goalkeeper and into the goal. I had scored a goal in my debut match, but if I am being honest, it was far from being a dream debut. I was just far too nervous to have played anywhere close to what I was capable of.

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