This Day in PBA History: Crispa nips Toyota to earn right to face U/Tex in finals

Rey Joble

Posted at Nov 20 2021 04:26 PM

For the second straight conference, the Crispa-Toyota finale PBA fans had been accustomed to seeing did not materialize, as the bitter rivals were left to duke it out in the playoffs for a championship berth to earn the right to face the U/Tex Wranglers.

On this day 44 years ago, November 20, 1977, the Redmanizers, trailing for most of the game, saved their best for last to edge the Tamaraws, 90-87, and book a finals seat to face the up and coming Wranglers bannered by Byron “Snake” Jones, Charlie Neal and Lim Eng Beng.

Just a conference prior, Mariwasa gatecrashed its way and averted another Crispa-Toyota showdown as the Honda Panthers earned a finals ticket to the All-Filipino finals against the Redmanizers.

Mariwasa, being a perennial whipping squad in the league, was allowed by the PBA to bring in an import in an All-Filipino tournament as Billy Robinson reinforced the squad and helped the team reach the championship round.

In the second conference, though, it was the Wranglers’ turn to sneak their way to the championship round and they were the first squad to make it to the finals and await the winner of the Crispa-Toyota playoff.

It was the first time that Crispa and Toyota were disputing a berth without a championship at stake, but that didn’t take away the luster of the heated rivalry between these two squads.

Crispa only had Cyrus Mann as its import back then and he went up against John Irving and Bruce Sky King, who had to play alternately to reinforce the Tamaraws.

The Redmanizers trailed, 44-30, in the second period, but with their firepower in full display, they were able to claw their way back and outplay the Tamaraws in the endgame.

Seven players scored 8 points or more for Crispa led by Mann with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 7 blocks. His dominating presence inside helped the Redmanizers in outrebounding the Tamaraws, 46-33.

Atoy Co, taking over the role as Crispa’s top gun in the absence of Bogs Adornado, who suffered a knee injury in the second conference of the previous season, added 12 markers while Bernie Fabiosa, Philip Cezar and Abet Guidaben had 11 points apiece. Rudy Soriano, then the team captain of Crispa, added 9 points while Joy Dionisio chipped in 8.

Crispa did not taste the lead until Soriano’s drive put the Redmanizers ahead, 87-85, and then Co, who missed all his 6 attempts in the first half, caught fire in the second half, including a jumper that gave the Redmanizers an 89-85 lead with 3:10 left in the game.

“Alam mo, nu’ng kagalingan ko, nu’ng kasabay ko si Cyrus Mann, mga 4 na players ang nagpapalitan sa Toyota para bantayan ako. Those were the best years of my career,” said Co. 

“Si Cyrus, hindi naman siya scorer, but he’s more on rebounding and defense. Nako-control naming ’yung kalaban in one shot because of him and even ’yung mga kapwa niya imports naiilang sa kanya sa haba niya.”

In the championship round, Mann had to do it again all by his lonesome. Ricky Hicks, a close friend of his, was his partner as they alternately manned the spot for the Redmanizers, but for some reason only the gangling reinforcement was there to backstop the team in the playoff and in the championship round.

Basketball historian Atty. Percival Flores shared that Hicks, a lemon import, was a bench player.

“Bangko ’yun, then later on, pinauwi na rin leaving Mann to do it alone in the playoffs (versus Toyota) and in the finals against Jones and Neal,” added Flores.

During the best-of-5 finals series against U/Tex, Mann had to control both Jones and Neal. 

Crispa lost the series opener, 113-105, then rallied to beat U/Tex, 103-101, on Mann’s buzzer-beating tip in. In Game 3, Crispa edged U/Tex, 79-76, but the Wranglers bounced back with a 92-89 win in Game 4 to force a deciding winner-take-all showdown.

In the knockout game, Crispa held on to a 90-88 win as Mann scored two of three free throws to edge the Wranglers and give the Redmanizers their 6th straight PBA title.

Rey Joble is a sports journalist who has been covering the PBA since 1998, and followed the league as a fan way before that. 


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