Whenever a new UAAP season comes along, one of the major questions that faces De La Salle University-Manila is whether or not the UAAP Men’s Football Championship can finally return to Taft Avenue.
Year in and year out, the DLSU Men’s Football Team suffered heartbreak after heartbreak in its quest to bring back the crown it last won in Season 60. The last time La Salle reached the finals, it was on March 8, 2015, in Season 77, when it succumbed to a painful 2-3 defeat at the hands of Far Eastern University.
However, time never stands still and, four years after that fateful day, La Salle is in a position once again to recapture the holy grail. After a successful elimination round that saw the Green & White finish at 3rd place with 25 points, the Green & White faces defending champions University of the Philippines. It is a revenge mission of sorts as State U eliminated La Salle in Season 80’s Final Four en route to the championship.
With that said, in order to forge a glorious moment, one must look to the past to find the inspiration needed to manifest destiny. And who better to instil a sense of glory into the current batch of players than their predecessors who brought the gold home?
La Salle has won four UAAP Men’s Football Titles in its history, namely 1992 (Season 54), 1995 (Season 57), 1997 (Season 59) and 1998 (Season 60). All four championships have their own distinct stories that make each of them individually special.
1995: La Salle’s first proper UAAP Men’s Football Title
For Eduardo Marasigan, a former forward, 1995 was a year of vindication for the team. In 1992, La Salle and University of Santo Tomas were declared as co-champions after a fight broke out between both schools near the end of the match. It was a painful pill to swallow for Marasigan as the team led 2-1 with only a few minutes left on the clock.
As fate would have it though, both Manila schools confronted each other in the Season 57 big dance and this around, the Green & White emerged victorious without question.
“Our second championship was very sweet. We were unbeaten and swept the whole thing. I believe we still hold that record in UAAP. We scored 40 goals and only conceded one goal that season and it was a penalty which sucks. We were so masterful and moved as a unit and the camaraderie was phenomenal. (We) respected everybody and we had so much fun in and outside the pitch,” said the Season 57 MVP.
Ultimately, what set Marasigan and his team apart from their opponents was their band of brothers mentality. Former striker Christian Lozano scored the opening goal for La Salle and he set up the then Computer Application and Design and Arts student for the winning goal.
“We had a lot of experienced and talented players in our squad. But above all, we knew our duties and we always asked guidance from our God Almighty. We kept our routine and everybody was on the same page. We build each other up and communication was well maintained. I score the second goal for us that sealed our championship. I can still see my volley to this day and how I placed it in the net. The celebration was just out of this world,” said the Texas, USA, native.
1997 & 1998: Redemption from the darkest depths
If the 1995 trophy was a full circle moment for Marasigan’s batch, then the team’s next two championships in 1997 and 1998 came from bitter disappointment. Hans-Peter Smit’s wards lost in the finals, 1-2, to archrivals Ateneo de Manila University in 1996 and a young team was determined to set things right.
Former winger Dave Javellana explained, “As rookies, we had to earn our slot. Each training session, we had to prove to Coach (Hans) and to our seniors that we were deserving to be part of the team. We had to be physically and mentally strong, and we had to make sure we were strong in 1v1 situations and understood our 4-4-2 system of play.”
“The journey was back-to-back exciting. Just like this year’s UAAP team, we were all rookies, good, skilled, and talented but with minimal experience with college football. Being the underdogs of UAAP was an advantage because they didn’t know how good we were until we made it to the finals against defending champs ADMU, the same powerhouse team that won the title against back then (against) the veteran DLSU team,” said former midfielder Peter Amores.
“We had to give our 110% in every game and giving up was never an option. We ended the elimination round, top 1. We were twice to beat in the Finals against Ateneo. We won 2-1. The following season (1998), we played again Ateneo for the finals with a twice to beat advantage. We lost in the first game 1-0,” added Javellana.
La Salle was in danger of losing a second championship game in three years to Ateneo by that points. However, all that Javellana, Amores and their team needed were stern words from Smit.
“In the second game, Ateneo scored in the first half and was leading 1-nil during the break. I remember Coach Hans talking to us in the dugout, and telling us the team who will win, is the team who has the heart and the team who wants it more. We came back strong in the second half with 5 goals to end the finals 5-1,” elaborated Javellana.
For Amores, winning those trophies wearing the Green & White jerseys are memories that will last for all eternity.
“It is a glorious feeling, it symbolises triumph, success, and glory, an ultimate experience that makes you a better person and a better player. A memory that binds you and your teammates for a lifetime.”
Champions talk to their heirs apparent
If there is one thing that all three alumni want the current batch to experience, then it is to write their own story in La Salle’s fabled history in the UAAP. With two potentially glorious games left in Season 81, these players who brought glory to La Salle have their own messages to the latest crop.
Marasigan said, “Congratulations to the boys and again that is a big achievement for you all. You have made us proud. Take pride in what you have accomplished and where you’re at. Play with passion! Play as a team! Cherish and learn from this experience make it worthwhile. You are already champions in my book. Success does not define you, it’s your character that defines you. Dream big, win big! Animo!”
“It takes a lot of HEART to be a champion. Play with a lot of heart. Trust your teammates. and listen to your coaches. They’ve been there before and they know exactly how to play things out to achieve the W. PRAY for guidance and victory,” chipped Amores.
Javellana concluded, “All the Best for the semi-finals against UP. We are all here, the La Salle Football Community, to support you. Play together as a team. Make sure it is very clear to all of you what you want. And just like in the dugout with Coach Hans when we were down 1-0 in the halftime of the (1998) final, ‘the team who will win, is the team with heart and the team who wants it more!’”
They say that history inevitably repeats itself down the line in the future. At the end of the day, it is up to the current crop of players to ensure that it is their feat that will be repeated as those behind them have willed them to find the light at the end of a two-decade-long tunnel.