Back when the PBA held a battle-for-third-place series, Añejo, the league’s most popular team, and Presto Ice Cream of the old Great Taste franchise made the series more dramatic and exciting as if they were playing for their own championship match.
So intense was the battle it heated up during Game 4 of their best-of-5 series for third place and on this day, December 11, 1988, the rivalry devolved into a full-blown free-for-all.
Midway through the 4th quarter when the 65ers were comfortably ahead, Philip Cezar, the grizzled veteran playing for Presto, drove hard to the basket and received a clothesline tackle from Tommy Davis.
Cezar fell hard and went after Davis in front of Presto’s bench.
What happened next would be regarded as one of the worst free-for-all incidents in PBA history.
Cezar and Joe Ward, Davis’ import partner, exchanged words.
Obviously irked with what he heard from “The Scholar”, Ward then confronted Cezar and a brawl erupted.
Punches and kicks were thrown. Chairs and even water coolers were thrown, as security inside the old ULTRA failed to control the situation.
Even Atoy Co, who was sidelined by an injury and had his arm on a sling, got involved and players from Añejo charged to the other end to help their teammates.
Denis Abbatuan, then playing for Presto, who got involved in the fracas, recalled the incident.
“Sumugod kasi ’yung dalawang import,” Abbatuan said. “Pati si Atoy Co na naka civilian nadamay ’yan. Kaya nagkaroon ng free-for-all noon. Sa bench namin ’yun sumugod sila”
“Syempre, dahil team ’yan tutulungan mo. Hindi mo naman puwedeng pabayaan ’yung kasama mo. Pero after the game, ’yung rumble na ’yun, wala na ’yun. Tapos na ’yun.”
According to Abbatuan, another fracas happened against the same team.
“Dalawang beses ’yun, against Añejo rin. Si Abe King sinuntok niya si Dante Gonzalgo. Sumugod si Dante sa bench namin, eh nakaupo lang kaming dalawa ni Abe King. Parang pinasalubungan ni Abe King ng suntok. Ayun nagkagulo. Naghagis ng coins ’yung mga fans, ’yung mga piso nu’ng araw na malalaki. Tinamaan nga ako dumugo ulo ko,” he said.
Allan Caidic, then a young player seeing action for Presto, witnessed how it happened but he wasn’t involved in the fracas.
“Naglaro ako noon pero hindi ako nakialam sa away,” said Caidic. “Nakikiawat lang kami nina Pido (Jarencio). Talagang kapag magkalaban ’yung Anejo and Presto, talagang may pisikalan. Talagang umaabot sa tirahan and suntukan. Siguro dahil some of our players are from Crispa and sa kabila naman si coach Sonny (Jaworski).”
Veteran sportscaster Sev Sarmenta, who worked on the TV coverage along with Quinito Henson, ranked this as among the worst brawls he has ever covered.
“It was scary. Any time there’s a brawl between very tall and strong basketball players, it’s always tense for all involved. More so, when it spills over to the seats,” wrote Sarmenta in a text message to ABS-CBN News Online.
“Philip Cezar had every right to get mad because it was a nasty (foul) by Tommy Davis. It ranks as probably the worst I’ve ever covered because of how it exploded. You will notice that it’s Quinito Henson doing more of the commenting. I was trying to sort out who did what to who so I was waiting for the replay.”
The incident, according to Sarmenta, brought back memories of the 1977 match between bitter rivals Crispa and Toyota, a similar free-for-all.
“I was a fan in the audience when Toyota and Crispa fought in the Araneta walkway after opening day in 1977. Buti na lang hindi nag-spill over sa audience. Ikinulong silang lahat kasi Martial Law noon,” he recalled.