|The Crispa-Toyota rivalry was so intense that the police were actually needed at one point.|
By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA—The Crispa-Toyota rivalry helped shape the PBA to what it is today.
Even since they were still in MICAA, the two teams' face-offs had been intense, more so after they helped found the PBA in 1975.
The Redmanizers and the Tamaraws combined for 22 of the first 27 championships at stake during the PBA's primitive years. Both squads collided for the title 10 times, with Crispa winning six of them.
But the rivalry reached its peak—or rather, boiling point—right on Opening Night 1977.
Right after Crispa subdued Toyota, 122-121, in Day 1 of the PBA's third season on April 17, 1977, players from both clubs engaged in a melee just outside the dugouts of the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.
So what really happened?
Toyota forward Ompong Segura claimed the brawl began just as both teams were heading for the lockers.
"Pinagsabay kaming lumabas. Eh maliit yung exit ng Araneta? So nagkaabot," he said, adding that it could have been prevented if the security that time controlled the flow of the players' exit.
Eyewitnesses that time claimed too that fans from both teams were also at the arena hallway, making matters worse.
The brawl was so nasty that the cops stepped in the day after, arresting the teams' players including Segura.
"The next day, pina-pickup lahat kaming Toyota at Crispa. Alam mo kung saan kami dinala? Doon sa kulungan ng mga military na may kaso," he further said, pertaining to Fort Bonifacio, which was then part of Makati but is now under the jurisdiction of Taguig.
At first, Gil Cortez, who was Segura's teammate with the Tamaraws, thought it was an all's-well-that-ends-well moment the morning after the brawl.
"Kaya lang, after breakfast, dumating na yung MetroCom (Metropolitan Commission, the predecessor of the National Capital Region Police Office) bus. Sinusundo kami sa Bel-Air," Cortez, who was fresh from winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1976, recalled the day they were apprehended.
He added that he and Mon Fernandez were the only players inside their dormitory that time.
Cortez also said that Segura was arrested right after he finished watching a movie in a cinema.
Both Cortez and Segura claimed that both teams were actually just inside one cell.
"Isang mahabang cage kami," Segura described what the prison was like.
He even recalled the taunts made by the other detainees then: "Sabi ng mga sundalo na nakakulong, 'Ang tatapang niyo sa court. Dyan, mag-upakan na kayo!'"
Cortez added that expletives and a sarcastic applause were even hurled at them.
A far cry from the brawl that took place the night before, no literal bad blood happened inside the prison.
However, Cortez recalled that the owners of both teams, Danny Floro for Crispa and Dante Silverio for Toyota, made a wacky food fight out of it.
"Dumating yung pagkain ng Crispa: alimango, sugpo, mga hito. May mga mangga pa. Pero hindi kami binibigyan," Cortez remembered what Floro gave the Redmanizers.
The Tamaraws responded by not sharing what Silverio gave them.
"Yung sa amin, mga serpentine steak, Walter house prime rib, iba-iba," Cortez recalled.
For two straight days, Crispa and Toyota made the newspapers' front pages for the wrong reason due to the brawl and the ensuing arrests.
"Martial Law noon. Nagalit si Presidente [Ferdinand] Marcos. Dapat, we should be role models to the public daw, tapos biglang ganoon," Cortez further said.
That experience, however, made both teams become more mature as players and individuals and become the legends the current crop of PBA players are looking to.
"We learned," Cortez concluded.
Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno_