Prior to the start of the 1986 season, Great Taste had become the new dynasty in the PBA.
Following the disbandment of Crispa, the Coffee Makers had emerged as the new powerhouse squad, winning four of the last five championships.
So when the 1986 season started, the Coffee Makers — then coached by Baby Dalupan — were the clear favorites and standing in their way was an upstart squad in Tanduay.
But the Rhum Makers would like to be a part of history.
For many years, Tanduay watched Crispa and Toyota collect championship trophies; occasionally, U/Tex and San Miguel snuck their way to secure a title at least twice
Only once did the team — then owned by Don Manolo Elizalde — crack the championship round, but lost to the Toyota Tamaraws in the import-laced conference of the 1978 season.
As a new era dawned, Tanduay was hoping to make its own mark and that changed the moment the team acquired Mon Fernandez from Manila Beer in exchange for Abet Guidaben.
“It was purely political,” said Fernandez. “There were rumors. So Tommy Manotoc (then the deputy commissioner of the PBA) decided to move me to Tanduay. It just so happened also that one of the senior executives of Tanduay, si Joe Ledesma, he was with the team. He was the schoolmate of my older brother in the seminary and he was also from Leyte. He knew us very well. They sensed that relationship in our team, Manila Beer, is not well, they pursued me.”
Tanduay won only once in six games and the trade between Fernandez and Guidaben was consummated in the elimination round of the 1985 Third Conference.
When the 1986 season started, Fernandez was pretty much set with the Rhum Makers and the man called “The Franchise” launched what was easily another MVP season.
The PBA started the 1986 season with a Reinforced Conference featuring two imports.
Tanduay paraded with Rob Williams and Andre McCoy as imports. The team went on to finish third at the end of the elimination round with a 6-4 card and advanced to the five-team semis.
In the semis, their elimination round record was carried over and play in another double-round robin.
Great Taste and Tanduay, which wound up tied for the top spot with 12-6 slates, advanced to the best-of-7 championship series.
The Coffee Makers were still loaded with firepower — led by reigning MVP Ricardo Brown, front-court men Manny Victorino and Abe King, and guards Willie Pearson and Jimmy Manansala among others. They brought in Jeff Collins, the import who gave the team its first championship in the season-ending 1984 Third Conference, paired with Michael Holton.
The Rhum Makers took the series opener as McCoy finished with 41 points and capped his endgame heroics with a big steal off Holton down the stretch as Tanduay preserved a 117-114 victory.
In Game 2, Williams, the pigeon-chested, high-scoring import, finished with 52 points for the Rhum Maskers, but the more experienced Coffee Makers were able to preserve a 126-121 win in overtime. Willie Generelao missed a short jumper that could have given the Rhum Makers a two-game advantage, but the Coffee Makers were able to hold on in the extra period and went oft to a hot start to tie the series.
Great Taste, picking up from where it left off in Game 2, had a chance to put away Tanduay. The Coffee Makers raced to an 81-64 lead and were about to deliver the knockout blow, but McCoy sparked the Rhum Makers’ comeback as he led the team’s 21-6 furious exchange and they held on to a 117-110 triumph to take a 2-1 series lead.
Tanduay made it back-to-back after pulling the rug from under Great Taste in Game 4, 112-111, but not after coming back from an 11-point deficit in the second period to turn the game into an exciting wind up.
A dizzying 16-0 run by the Rhum Makers allowed them to dictate the tempo of the game, but the game had to be decided until the closing seconds of the pulsating encounter.
McCoy finished with 41 points, including two crucial free throws off a foul from Pearson for the final tally.
The Coffee Makers had a chance to snatch the win, but Holton’s potential game-winning jumper was off and the Rhum Makers took a two-game series lead.
Tanduay was poised to end it in five games, but Great Taste had other ideas.
The Coffee Makers’ championship poise was very much evident and in Game 5, they were able to build a 103-87 lead before holding off a late rally by the Rhum Makers.
But on this day in PBA history, June 17, 1986, the Rhum Makers made sure the series will not go the distance.
Tanduay came out with an overpowering performance capped by another big game from Williams, who finished the game with 50 points and the Rhum Makers went on to win, 132-109, ending Great Taste’s dynasty.
Looking back, Fernandez felt he was a good fit in joining Tanduay, which won its first championship.
“In place na kasi ’yung team nila, ’yung position ko na lang ’yung kulang,” added Fernandez.
Fernandez would lead Tanduay to yet another championship, this time in the All-Filipino, against his former teammate, Robert Jaworski and the Ginebra Gin Kings, whom they beat in four games of the best-of-five championship series.
Fernandez and Tanduay would make one more run for the crown and that happened in the 1987 Open Conference when the team was bannered by David Thirdkill, finishing off the Great Taste Coffee Makers in five games of the best-of-7 series.