…this time around, papa doesn’t even say hello. He gets right into it, sobbing heavily so that I could just barely make out what he was saying…
Excerpted from A TRUE CONFESSION: OF ONE BIG FIGHT AND THE TEARS GROWN MEN CRY
(Prologue: When Ateneo fights today, we are reminded, every Blue Eagle, Babble and 6th Man, that One Big Fight is not just a cheer, but a way of life that defines the highest ideals of the sons and daughters of Ignatius, the soldier saint who gave us our battlecry. To fight and not to heed the wounds, always for God’s greater glory. Ateneo will fight today – not just for championship glory, but above all for the Fighting Spirit and tradition that is, on the court and in the battlefields of life, our highest calling. Win or lose, it’s the Ateneo Way we choose. We pray you keep us, Mary, our patron and Queen of Victory, constantly true.)
TRUE CONFESSIONS: OF ONE BIG FIGHT AND THE TEARS GROWN MEN CRY
Papa is a man of few words, and even fewer tears. Thrice in my life I have seen him cry. When his father, my kong kong, passed; when our german shepherd, Hector von den Heiligen, passed; and the only other time I didn’t even see him as he was on the other end of a long distance call, the kind you’re immediately anxious to receive because you are 10,000 miles away, in school in the US, and your family is home in Manila. The call came at an odd time, early morning East Coast, caller ID papa. Immediately bells of paranoia clang in my head. I was on my 2nd year at Yale and just about 12 months prior, it was a similar call that delivered the crushing news of my Amah’s passing. Everyone I loved was on the other end of the world and New Haven, Connecticut suddenly in that moment was the loneliest place on earth – no thanks to that phone call. This time around, papa doesn’t even say hello. He gets right into it, sobbing heavily so that I could just barely make out what he was saying.
“Andre, we won, we won…”
It was October 2002 and I should have known I would get that call. I had spent the previous night sleepless in New England chewing the nails off my fingers as I followed every gut wrenching play by play of the winner-take-all Game 3: Ateneo finally overcoming its unattainable Everest, crushing mighty La Salle’s fivepeat ambition and formally ending the long and dark ages of Blue Eagle basketball. Blue Eagle, the King was king again. And yes, I too cried.
These days tears are flowing again as dear old Ateneo wages One Big Fight for the championship vs big bad La Salle. Camelot, which is what Ateneo is in my heart, is the shining city built entirely on unwavering ideals and the heroes and villains who stand on either side of good and evil. Just last Wednesday as Ateneo heroically outlasted FEU in our do-or-die game, in our sea of blue in Araneta I was surrounded by men, women and children in tears – some unabashed, many holding it all in their swelling hearts amidst hugs and high fives all around. Lord knows even in watching the replays (I saw them twice in the 2 days since the game), tears well in my eyes as unmanly quivers escape my lips.
Same tears as 29 years ago, perhaps better shielded in my youth and the fact that adolescent me refused to show papa tears when the two of us cheered along with the rest of Rizal Coliseum as our Blue Eagles (minus all star center Danny Francisco in the ICU with a collapsed lung) rallied back from 20 points down with 10 minutes left to steal the crown from the mighty and overwhelming favorites of Jerry Codiñera and his UE Warriors. Same tears as a year later when we went back to back and crushed the worthy ambitions of Dindo Pumaren and his La Salle side for another sweet sweaty celebration in Rizal coliseum. Ok, maybe I didn’t cry flowing tears in those back-to-back years, but I was young and idealistic and something in me stirred, deep, and would never be the same again.
What are these tears these grown men cry? Why do we weep so?
As for me, I cry not for basketball games won or lost, and especially not for a loss. I can’t remember ever crying about defeat. Mind you, I’ve seen my fair share of painful Ateneo moments. In 29 years of cheering the Blue and White, I’ve left stadiums, from Rizal to Ultra to Araneta to (yucky) MOA in complete and utter dejection, even perhaps some mild depression in the days after. Exhibits A thru Z, I present: the Dark Ages, the Joe Lipa and Paul Tanchi years, the lasal press and Paul Tanchi years, the bo ×//&_$$$/ perasol years, the memory of the bo =_^#^^^^ perasol years, the mere mention of bo =%;$$/^^ etc. But for failure or defeat, for that I’ve not wept.
I cry when we win, but not any old kind of win. I cry when we win and it was against all odds, when the struggle was fought so valiantly in inches and centimeters that it took all of the team and all of the 6th Man and all of the Jesuit saints and soldiers of Ignacio and endless Hail Marys and visions of our mother clad in blue and white, keeping us constantly true, faithful to you as we sing right to the last note, fists raised to the very end of Our Song for Mary. I cry when the soldierly ideals of Ateneo and Ignatian spirituality – to fight and not to heed the wounds – lie sprawled on the battleground and up in the stands, spent and squeezed to the last drop of One Big Fight. I cry when, for brief shining moments the full vision of Camelot comes true, its most treasured values and ideals, its heroes, myth and legend, its never say die fight to the end. I cry when we are not just witness, but part of it all – a beautiful, spiritual, religious, communal experience. Oh, what the human spirit can achieve.
I cry when I realize how close we were – inches, centimeters, split seconds – from season-ending defeat and I cry when I see our players and 6th Man do all they can to heroically carry the fight when it would have been excusable to give up. Thirdy climbing some magic ladder to block those 2 point-blank shots; Vince making the dive and that tap that led to our winning margin; Anton sprinting downcourt like his life depended on it, timing his jump so perfectly to disrupt Arong (or Iñigo?) just enough to delay the pass to a wide open Dennison; and the bloody George Isaac Go, the same one who also blocked what would have been a game-winning layup in regulation now sprint all of his 6’7 lank downcourt and sky for the block just in time to force a bauble and a dagger of a point blank shot that would be – thank God, thank God! – a split second too late. Big Fat Isaac Go, as coach Tab called him only a few months ago, and oh how the kid fought against all odds to earn his spot, to earn respect, to earn every point, block, screen and rebound, to earn and be the heart and soul now of both the team and the 6th Man.
But you could say that of almost every Blue Eagle in our roster, true student athletes who fought their way into an improbable slot and even more improbable shot at the championship; they who fought their way into our hearts. I cry when I realize that the Ravenas, Tolentinos, Asistios and Gos whose heroics I just extolled are but incomplete and continuous threads past, present and future of the same fight that the Nietos and the Wongs and Blacks and Veranos and Porters and Mendozas and Babilionias and the entire team have given. Past, present and future One Big Fight has been the thread that binds all our Ateneo teams.
The same One Big Fight that has been the hallmark, the signature virtue, the pinnacle of Camelot that has defined what it means to be Atenean for 170ish years. To fight and not to heed the wounds. Jose Rizal, National Hero and Ateneo Class of 18something fought and to the end did not heed the wounds. Ninoy Aquino, national hero and Ateneo class of 19something fought and to the end did not heed the wounds. In the pantheon of Atenean admonitions, we have Men and Women for Others, Magis, and AMDG; One Big Fight, I believe, belongs up there for all the ages and all Ateneans to aspire to, to live by.
The one and only One Big Fight.
Philippine college sports has come a long way since Ateneo led the way and in the 1920s started the one and only Blue Babble Batallion as the first collegiate cheering squad in the Philippines. Today we hear lots of catchy cheers. Go Uste, Go fight Tamaraws, Heeey NU let’s go Heeey, even Animo La Salle – but like many forms of imitation (Animo is originally Ateneo’s), something of the essence is lost.
There is only one One Big Fight and it doesn’t need the school name attached, because OBF is so quintessentially Atenean and so fully Ignatian. That’s why for years as I grew up, papa would always sign off on messages with OBF, as I too now do, be it papa, mama, sibling, wife, son, partner, employee, etc. Can you imagine anyone signing off with Animo La Salle. OBF isn’t about basketball, it’s not about winning and certainly not as the greens have idealized, it’s not ever about never shall we fail (somethimg I will never teach my kids).
ONE BIG FIGHT is a way of life handed down from generation to generation, straight from St. Ignatius himself, that noble knight and soldier who only ever backed down when he knelt in surrender to offer his sword – symbol of everything he held dear in life – to fight and fight and never give up the fight, but from then on always for God’s greater glory alone.
Sometimes you will see my blue and white tears; many times they flow only in my swelling heart. These are golden moments when I am moved by our singular battle cry, which has become my battle cry in life as in every game I cheer.
One Big Fight has made me a better father, husband, son, brother, boss, partner, friend, man and soul. And in the long battles ahead, One Big Fight will continue to be my sword to slay my own worst enemy, the one that tempts me to give up or say I can’t or lays down excuses why I shouldn’t strive to do more or be more or give more. One Big Fight is Magis and Magis is AMDG and AMDG asks us to be men and women for others. Nothing is impossible because of One Big Fight.
And that is why Wednesday and then again on Saturday I fully expect to be in tears again. For the Win. Ateneo, we have this. Victory is ours. We will win it in every Blue Eagle, Babble and 6th Man united in our unconquerable One Big Fight. We pray you keep us, Mary, our patron and Queen of Victory, constantly true, faithful to you.