It is the biggest rivalry in the Philippines — Ateneo and La Salle have long been the most highly-anticipated clashes on our shores.
Rivalries are an integral part of the sports world. They exist in almost every professional league in the world. The NBA has the Lakers and the Celtics; the MLB has the Red Sox and the Yankees; the Premier League has Manchester United and Liverpool — the list could go on and on. Multiple rivalries exist in Philippine sports as well, but perhaps none could match the fame of one matchup in particular: the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry.
Whether or not you have been a student of one of these schools does not matter. Almost everybody knows about the popularity of the clashes between Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and De La Salle University (DLSU). In fact, this sporting feud has gotten so big over the decades that in 2007, even The New York Times was talking about it.
Matchups between ADMU and DLSU are easily the most highly-anticipated games on the Philippine sports calendar. Seats sell out fast, no matter how good or bad either team is. And while the relationship dynamic started with men’s college basketball, it has gone far past that. Now, any game that sees athletes from these two big universities going head to head — whether it’s in volleyball, football, baseball, or any other sport — is considered a rivalry game.
But how exactly did this rivalry start?
Born in the NCAA
While one cannot pinpoint the beginning of the Ateneo-La Salle feud with exact precision, many draw its roots to 1939 during the National College Athlete Association (NCAA) basketball tournament. At the time, ADMU and DLSU were not yet considered “rivals”. In fact, they each had their own respective rivals: many considered Ateneo’s chief opponent to be the San Beda Red Lions and the DLSU’s was Letran.
But 1939 saw the first-ever championship showdown between the Blue Eagles and the Green Archers. And in what was a nail-biter of a game, the DLSU men came out the other side of it as champions of the NCAA for the first time, edging out the boys in blue (whom many expected to take the crown) by just four points. Perhaps it was this upset that sparked a flame between the two.
At this point, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry was still far from reaching its peak. But this first championship game sparked something that would ultimately grow into the relationship we all know today.
Following La Salle’s first success over the Blue Eagles, the two schools started holding annual friendly matches against one another — nonbearing games that would ultimately contribute to the growth of school pride through sport among the students from both prestigious universities. It may have been these games that made students from both schools look forward to these particular matchups over any other.
This would carry on, and grow all the more when both teams started competing in the UAAP.
Growing in the UAAP
Ateneo joined the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) in 1978, while La Salle joined in 1986. Just two years after DLSU joined the competition, they were already facing the Blue Eagles in the finals. While the Green Archers took the crown in their first clash, fighting for the NCAA title, Ateneo took their first UAAP showdown, celebrating as champions in front of a full house at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
Clearly, whatever seeds had been planted when these two started competing against one another more frequently after their first NCAA championship game had sprouted. Since then, it was not only the championship series games that would sell out — even their regular season games would start to draw record crowds and TV ratings, the school spirit on both ends of the green-and-blue spectrum only getting stronger and stronger.
And what might have started as an on-court feud started to grow into something else: a clash between two of the most prestigious private schools in the country fighting for superiority. Competing in a basketball tournament was an easier (and more entertaining) way of settling the dispute.
While this heated rivalry is typically a healthy form of competition and a way to boost school spirit, at times, it has gone further than this — not in a good way. For instance, players have complained about fans using foul language toward players in the past. In fact, former head coach of Ateneo Bo Perasol was suspended when he went after a DLSU fan who had been “haranguing” him after a loss to the Green side.
On top of this, there are also many stories told over generations about the fights that Ateneans and Lasallians used to get into fights, sometimes with fists, with one another while watching the games. Indeed, it could sometimes turn very sour very quickly.
Thankfully, these darker stories are no longer as prevalent nowadays, though they are still a huge part of the history of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry between Ateneo. It shows just how deep the passion for one’s team can go among the members of these schools.
Going beyond basketball
The Ateneo-La Salle rivalry is now a very common thing in the Philippines. Hardly anyone needs to explain what it is. This is because, having started in the 1930s, younger generations have grown up knowing this rivalry. Parents tell their kids, grandparents tell their grandchildren, and the rivalry continues to live on. And now, it has spanned beyond basketball.
Nowadays, whenever fans watch any sport in the UAAP, as long as there is a game between athletes from Ateneo and La Salle, it becomes a “rivalry game”. It makes the wins sweeter, but the losses more bitter.
One example that comes to mind is when DLSU and ADMU faced one another in the baseball finals of UAAP Season 81. As a La Salle student at the time, watching the Green Batters take the win with a two-run homer in the ninth inning was terribly sweet to witness, and though it would have felt just as good to cheer had we been against any other team, the victory tasted even better knowing that we had beaten our rivals who traveled all the way from Katipunan to Rizal Memorial to witness a crushing defeat.
Surely, students from Ateneo have felt the same way about defeating La Salle in any sport.
The rivalry lives on, in the current and former students, in the stories told by the media, and in the action that goes on in every game. And while this whole thing may seem overhyped to sports fans who don’t have anything to do with either school, no one can deny the influence of this rivalry, as it has the ability to sell out seats and gain millions of views, nor can they underestimate how iconic it has become over the years.
Banner images from UAAP Media.