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Our WorldClass Players

The Great Pilipino Sportsmen. Just who is the greatest of da Pinoy? Nepomeceno, who won the world's championship bowling tournament more than once, would be the one of the best candidates. In what fields do da Pinoys excel? Pool or billiards, if you count them as sport. Half of the world's 20 best shooters are probably Filipinos. If you answered boxing, you are probably right too.

The amazing or odd thing however is the sport through which we received early world recognition: High Jump, a vertical leap where tall people have an advantage. I'd have to take you back when the world record height was just over 6 feet and Fosburry, who did the first Flop, was not even born yet. The names of Andres Franco and Toribio were among the highly competitive. Toribio even became a Member of Congress from his province later after winning a bronze medal in the 1932 Olympic.

Boxing is our arena. This is where you are matched against your own size. It's is also a poor boy's ticket out of the obscurity and into the world. A sport that has no economic boundary. When I arrived in the United States, I visited and made friends with old-timers who were mostly bachelors living in single quarters. I often asked them about their memories of Pancho Villa, who is considered one of the top all time flyweight champions. They reminisced over the great parties that he threw for his kababayan during his heyday. One night I saw that one of the old men won big in the race track and I could almost see the same all night drinking and male ego chat that followed Pancho Villa's days in the ring. I would imagine Ceferino Garcia, a middleweight boxer, doing the same thing, and talking about his "bolo" punch. "Bolo" is the Filipino machete knife and the term was picked up by boxing reporters to describe his punch delivery.

During the early 60's I saw a cover of a pre-season college football issue of the Sports Illustrated. I was shocked when I saw the face that had the Pinoy resemblance. I turned the pages quickly scanning if there were any Philippine or Filipino words inside the article. I read about Roman Gabriel and his Filipino father who was a railroad worker in Wilmington, North Carolina. As predicted he became an All-American and later an All Pro quarterback in the National Football League. He was a big fellow that started the position for big men. The late Jimmy (Snyder) the Greek once said that if the Japanese knew that Filipinos can grow to his size they would never had invaded the Philippines. They also wrote that he might outlive the Los Angeles Coliseum because of his strength (which the writer thought came from his Irish Mother) and durability. As great as he was, I dont think he reached all his potential. He claimed that he was hit hardest in the game by another Filipino NFL player, Mark Rivera. Because of his huge size every touchdown completion to Tommy McDonald was followed by the receiver running to him and jumping to his arms. He would carry Tommy and newscaster would joke that this might been his hardest hit. I will never forget one Sunday afternoon as he was about to release the ball, a Chicago Bear defenseman blind sided him and he was carried off the field. He came back later in the second half but the team was never the same. The score was less than a touchdown apart and they were marching to the end zone with the final few seconds. Everyone thought they lost the ball on the down. However, because of a previous penalty, it should have been only the fourth down on that series, (not counting the penalty play). By the time everyone realized the error the game was over. All I can say was, "Lintik, give da ball to da Pinoy, Isa pa."

He appeared in the cover of the Sports Illustrated many more times, a jinx for some. There was one week when he was at his greatest and the following week the cover title was "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire." 1969 was his best year when he was named the NFL MVP. The Rams did not make the Super Bowl but he showed the nation his spectacular talent on the NFL Play-off Bowl in Miami which happened to be the last NFL Bowl of this type.

There is certainly a "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" in all the players, as ABC sports said. This is true even if you are just watching your fellow Filipinos on TV or just reading about them. There was sadness when Flash Elorde was carried out of the ring in Madison Square Garden one Saturday night. Who could forget the day when the little league boy's team from Zamboanga showed the world how the game of baseball should be played? And the scandalous fiasco that followed later?

There were the golden years; Loyzaga, Mumar, Bautista, Tolentino,atb placing third in Basketball in the mid 50's at the world championship in Rio de Janeiro. Ampon, Deyro, Jose, and Dungo's dominated tennis in Asia and the Mighty Mite (Ampon) even won the Pan American Title one year. The tandem of Montes and Tugot in Golf followed by the diminutive Ben Arda challenged the likes of Jack Nicklaus. We had names like Landero and DelRosario in Wieghtlifting, Dionesio in Shooting, and Napilay in Wrestling. Yldefonso who won 2 medals in olympic swimming. The father and son Villanueva. The young Villanueva wining the boxing silver in the Tokyo Olympic few years after his dad won a Bronze. The Velasco brothers, Mansuelito winning medal in this year's Atlanta Game assures the the family and the country another medal. His younger brother having won bronze medal in the same light flywieght class in Barcelona four years earlier. We will of course always remember the long reigns of boxers the like Ben Villaflor.

Due to injuries, Fil-American Liz Masakayan (I like this Pinay original name and a volley of name too) was not able to compete in this year Olympics. Almost as heartbreaking as Tai Babilonia tragedy when her partner was injured in the Skating Pair event of the winter Olympic few years ago where they were favored to win the gold. Liz would have been favorite in the newly introduced Beach Volleyball in Atlanta. She could have duplicated Vickie Manalo Drake (with the name Manalo(win) how can she fail), who won the Diving event of the 1948 Olympic for USA. Vickie probably did it the hard way. To qualify to represent the US she must have to be head and shoulder above the rest. I could just imagine the objective judging done during her days. First diver to win both the platform and spring board events and the Olympic coverage in Atlanta probably will not even mention her. The media will tell you how great US Diver McCormick who just followed her double gold performance four years later. US women soccer team won the Gold medal in the Olympics game in Atlanta by beating China (2-0). Did you know that the Mid Fielder is a Fil- American who was voted the most outstanding US player in 1994? She is Tiffany Roberts. The two time High School All American girl is the team's youngest player. She is a student of University of North Carolina and star player of their Tar Heel soccer team. She was also member of the 1995 US team that won the World tournament prior to the Olympic games.

We certainly share their pride as we follow their stories around the world. Individuals as they might be, together they also carried and thrived on our heritage. Mabuhay! One sure victory celebration (grand or small) will be in the old party tradition on top of the world where the winner is as happy as the heartland of Filipinos. The shared magic reaches da Pinoy breezing over his San Miguel in the smallest corner of the province. To follow and replay the exploit of our Filipino athletes is always my addiction. I still remember myself on watch inside the sonar room onboard a US Submarine, a couple of hundred feet below the Atlantic Ocean. Between Naval war exercises, (guyera-guyerahan) I had to snoop on the Electronic Counter Measure (ECM Radio band) just to find out how Roman Gabriel did on that Sunday afternoon. Imagine tuning the band frequency of a sophisticated war machine just so I could listen to the commercial station broadcast. The results at times were as lonely as being alone in the ocean, but it is only a game. War has no winner but sports have many. Velasco settling for the silver medal this year Olympic game is another victory.

Nestor Palugod Enriquez

Let me see how far back can you remember these Basketball Olympic Players:

Members of the 1948 RP-London team: Manuel
Araneta, Ramoncito Campos Jr., Eduardo Decena, Felicisimo Fajardo, Gabby
Fajardo, Ding Fulgencio, Francisco Vestil, Valentin Eduque and Luis

Members of the 1952 RP-Helsinki Olympic team: Florentino
Bautista, Antonio Genato, Rafael Hechanova, Eduardo Lim, Carlos Loyzaga,
Antonio Martinez, Ponciano Saldana, Meliton Santos and Mariano

The 1956 RP-Melbourne Olympic team: Carlos Badion, Rafael
Barreto, Loreto Carbonnel, Ramon Manulat, Martin Urra and Edgardo Roque.

The 1960 RP-Rome Olympic team: Emilio Achacoso, Kurt Bachmann,
Narciso Bernardo, Geronimo Cruz, Alfonso Marquez, Constancio Ortiz Jr.,
Ed Pacheco and Cristobal Ramas;

The 1968 RP-Mexico Olympic team: Orlando Bauzon, Danilo
Florencio, Robert Jaworski, Jaime Mariano, Adriano Papa Jr., Alberto
Reynoso, Joaquin Rojas and Elias Tolentino;

The RP-Munich Olympic team: Ricardo Cleofas, Rosalio Martirez,
Manuel Paner, Marte Samson, Freddie Webb and William Adornado. Nestor Palugod Enriquez