There’s no other rivalry in the PBA that has been up to par with the Crispa-Toyota rivalry.
In the league’s first 10 conferences, either squad has emerged as the champion. Although there would be occasional gatecrashers in the championship series, fans would still savor every finals encounter between these two bitter rivals.
But for the last time, on this day, July 25, 1981, 40 years ago, the Redmanizers and the Tamaraws would meet in one of the most exciting championship series as Toyota edged Crispa, 103-97, to bag the 1981 Open Conference championship in the fifth and deciding game.
Andy Fields and Ramon Fernandez connived down the stretch that capped a 6-0 run, enabling the Tamaraws to win the title.
Looking back, Fields would cherish the title he won with Toyota 40 years ago as the sweetest because a year before they suffered the most painful defeat
He could not forget the 1980 Open Conference title series where they lost to the U/Tex Wranglers after being up by 4 with only 16 seconds left, but was dragged into overtime and lost the title.
“What made the 1981 championship series versus Crispa more challenging for us was the previous year, we were up by four with 16 seconds to go and we lost,” Fields said.
“We wound up losing that game. That’s something that stuck with me. I can’t forget that. It was stressing for myself because it’s very rare in a finals game that I lost my entire career, college or pros. When I got into the finals, normally, I came out victorious.”
Besides losing the championship series against U/Tex bannered by imports Glenn McDonald and Aaron James and an up-and-coming local crew led by William “Bogs” Adornado, Lim Eng Beng and Fritz Gaston.
Fields also suffered a painful defeat at the hands of Otto Moore and Larry Pounds of Royal Tru-Orange in the 1979 Open Conference, 3-1, before winning his first PBA title in the Invitational Tournament when Toyota overpowered Crispa, then carrying Walk Tall Jeans, in 4 games.
Fields used the frustrations of being denied of a championship by U/Tex a year before in leading Toyota in its championship game versus Crispa.
And he delivered when needed the most. His 3-point play off a foul from James Hardy sealed the win for the Tamaraws and Fields emerged as the tournament’s Best Import.
Looking back, Fields summed up why his game became a perfect fit for Toyota’s entertaining brand of game.
“I thought I brought in a new dimension to the game because of my outlet passing to start the fast break was something no one else could do that time,” said Fields, who also won a championship in the 1982 Open Conference while teaming up with another reinforcement, Donnie Ray Koonce.
“It became an advantage for us as a team. We were an entertaining team. Of course, with Sonny (Jaworski), dribbling behind the back, Mon (Fernandez) with his moves and (Francis) Arnaiz with his shooting, and Arnie Tuadles, who was then a raw talent, but has a hell of fancy moves, it was really good to be around and good to watch.
“It was a disadvantage for other teams playing because we were kinda stacked with players with those kind of talents.”
Rey Joble is a sportswriter who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and a fan of the league way before that.