Between the earth and sky - an Eagle's Nest special by A.R.Samson
Before the last game that would have extended the series one more time (but didn't) there were 3 emotionally draining contests with winning margins ranging from 1 to 2 points. The series would have gone a different way for those could-have-gone-to-either-side win and two losses. The fatigue and adrenaline highs of those three games, with the second one going into the only overtime extension in Season 79 and causing a bloody nose that needed to be taped up for Isaac to go back into the breach to then score the go-ahead basket, took their toll on the Blue Eagles in the fourth game.
These last four games were played within the span of just ten days. That included book reports, exam week and team practices. Of course these are not mentioned as excuses for missing out on the trophy. Okay, let's put it on record here: the other team was formidable – happy? In the match between David and Goliath, sometimes the latter's bulk and height along with spear-throwing and taunting abilities can change the expected happy ending.
Perhaps for me, the most telling image of the whole season for the Blue Eagles was in the last seconds of Game 2 of the Finals. It was the sight of the still injured Captain Ball Gboy Babilonia trotting gingerly to the court to stand on the rebounding line for a foul shot by the other side in a game that was already out of reach. The substitution for the fouled out Isaac Go was the last play for the graduating Team Captain, still doing his part for the team to show heart and spirit. This picture was the most powerful reminder of the team's character. It symbolized more than anything else the passion for the team that the players, all 15 of them, had shown throughout the season: playing hurt, playing behind, playing for all the marbles.
Of course, you will hear that this team outperformed expectations, reaching not only the F4 but also the Finals. Let's not forget too that the Blue Eagles were the only team that prevented a sweep for the heavily favored contingent that does not need to be named. And it happened in the dominant team's thirteenth game, the second to the last outing in the elimination round.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say, I did not watch the replays of the last game (I wanted to be able to sleep without having suicidal thoughts) so that I need to rely only on my faulty memory. Anyway, this is the last piece and it's the best place to talk about the whole season. In psychology, this spin is called "framing", putting a bad situation in a good light. Self-delusion is the key to happiness.
Anyway, here are 6 things we can look back to in the just concluded Season 79.
1) Please be honest. You just wanted the Blue Eagles to make the F4. You wanted the losses not to be too embarrassingly one-sided. The only one that really dented our collective will to live was the first round blowout (16 points) from the new champs – oh, that really sticks in the throat and causes mild palpitations.
2) Clearly, the Blue Eagles were a different team in the second round. They acquired new confidence and skill levels. It was like learning conversational Korean (to watch telenovelas without sub-titles) in one month. Such was the stellar performance of the team that they ended the elimination round with a streak of six wins. Of course the playoffs were more intense and required the use of Korean idioms for the job. Okay, don't ask about this Korean thing. It's just a metaphor. Veteran moves like bumping without being called are learned in a secret place.
3) The phenomenon of rotating scoring and stats leader was able to hone the teamwork to perfection. But end games in the post-elimination games needed clutch plays and a go-to leader. The team just ran out of runway in making this decision, especially in the second to the last game which was still winnable in the last thirty seconds. Okay, no what-might-have-beens.
4) In the last game, the sixth man/woman support was awesome. The stands were full of blues. The cheering was lusty and if you weren't looking at the score, you would not know which supporters were celebrating and pouring out their encouragement. Oh sure, the other side woke up in the last minute, just before the confetti machine went to work. It was thrilling too for the Blues to stay on if only to show their pride and love for the Blue Eagles who gave it their all. They wanted to sing the song. Okay, I was choked up and coughing in the last hymn for the season. But who noticed?
5) The coaching staff, led by Coach Tab, must be embraced for the work that they did in turning a rookie team into a formidable contender. Their rotation and training made the mayhem defense as impermeable as sponge cake. The Blue Eagles learned how to handle stress.
6) The bottom line is that it was a wonderful series. Even when we got greedy with our rising expectations, we knew in our hearts that we would be ecstatic (okay, maybe that's too strong a word); we would not be too disappointed with a silver finish. It was a great crusade. It fills us with pride.
Of course, I don't have to explain the title. It was the song I would have used whether we had won or lost. It is the state we're in whether we are in a game or just living our blue lives. The alma mater song was originally used only for graduations. For games, we would use "Hail Ateneo Hail"; "Roll out the victory" (only when we won or were leading by 20 points with three minutes left); or the official school song with a spelling just for the grade school kids, "The Blue Eagle Song". The alma mater song graduated (pun intended) to becoming the end song to give the team a nice tribute maybe only after we moved from the NCAA to the UAAP. Historians will correct me on this, I'm sure. But the alma mater song of Fr. James Reuter which has some resemblance to the Canadian national anthem – I tried fitting our lyrics to their melody and that worked a bit. The now cheered phrase "win or lose, it's the school we choose" is of an even more recent vintage. It came at the same time as the cheered interruption to the song with "Go Ateneo". The closed fist salute in rhythm with the song has been adopted by all schools so I'm not even sure if we copied them.
As the diaspora of the Jews used to say – next year in Jerusalem.
We will surely be singing our alma mater song again in the future. Recently at the Gesu in our golden jubilee year homecoming from college (age alert) we did sing it (on the same day as Game 1 of the finals), the cadence of the song was more majestic and less pugnacious. It more accurately captured the pride of standing on a hill between the earth and sky.
Are we blue? Always. It's the only color we know. OBF!
Photos courtesy of The Guidon Sports and Leo Lopez, Fabilioh.com