NCAA classic rivalry: San Beda Red Lions vs Letran Knights

EVERY millennial would probably think that this rivalry only popped out in the “modern era” , when San Beda began recruiting foreign players to strengthen their run in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Contrary to popular belief, the rivalry between the Red Lions and the Knights goes way back.

Away from the luster of playing at the Big Dome for the NCAA main event, San Beda and Letran used to slug it out at the oven-hot Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.

When one talks about rivalries in local basketball parlance,  teams like Ateneo and La Salle, Crispa and Toyota, and Ysmael and YCO would always come to mind.

In the old NCAA, however, the real rivalry started with San Beda and Letran – even though Ateneo and La Salle were also playing in the oldest collegiate tournament in the country. The blue and green nation should even thank the Red Lions and the Knights for being the precursor of their rivalry which they brought later to the UAAP.

Before jumping ship to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), Ateneo and La Salle were part of the NCAA. History says that San Beda’s original rivals were the boys from Katipunan, while the Knight’s rivals were the Green Archers.

It wasn’t at civil at all.

“Violence is the more appropriate term,” said a Letran alumnus who requested anonymity.

The same alumnus added that San Beda, Ateneo and La Salle hated Letran so much because their crowd got so rowdy. There was even a rumor that it was because of Letran that La Salle opted out of the NCAA.

“There were no mobile phones that time, no social media so there’s no outlet for bashing, trash talks and all. You only get to talk about it to your peers when you hang out in between breaks and after classes. Then when you get to the games itself some guys are just eager to hit the other school out because that is where the trash talking gets intense,” added the alumnus.       

In 1980, Letran was involved in a huge brawl against La Salle and the league suspended the Intramuros-based school for the next season. They were reinstated in 1981, and that didn’t sit well with the Green Archers as they decided to bolt out of the league to join the UAAP.

A rivalry that goes way back

The rivalry between the Red Lions and the Knights dates back to the 1950s, when Lauro “The Fox” Mumar and Carlos Loyzaga battled it out for supremacy.

Mumar was the leader of the pack while Loyzaga was just growing into “The Big Difference” at that time.

Loyzaga won back-to-back championships in 1951-1952 and ultimately became ‘King Lion’.

Before Loyzaga’s reign, Mumar and his “Murder Inc.” squad at Letran were the Kings of the NCAA in 1950. Together, Loyzaga and Mumar teamed up for the Philippine men’s basketball team and lead the squad to a bronze medal  finish in the 1954 Rio de Janeiro World Championship.

The Red Lions and the Knights then gradually made their presence felt after the time of Loyzaga and Mumar.

San Beda, though, had its dry spell in the 1960s, while Letran won two championships in the decade.

In 1960, Freddie Webb, who later became an Olympian, helped Letran win the championship. Six years later, Larry Albano, who soon coached Samboy Lim, Justino Pinat and Romy Ang among others in the three-peat Knights squad of the 1980s, and Nemie Villegas, who mentored the 1979 Letran champion team, teamed up for the Intramuros-based cagers’ 1966 triumph.

In 1970, former national team standout Dave Regullano (who was famous for wearing black sneakers during a game), brothers Ricky and Molet Pineda, and Rudy Hines (who later became a PBA referee and an assistant coach at Red Bull), steered the Knights to the championship against the La Salle Green Archers.

San Beda then made its presence felt in the 1977 and 1978 season, winning back-to-back championships as players like Chito Loyzaga, JB Yango, and Frankie Lim spearheaded the squad.

Letran bounced back the following year as Tim Coloso (who later played for the Toyota Tamaraws in the PBA),  league MVP Ramon San Juan, Itoy Esguerre (who later suited up for Crispa), former Great Taste point guard Nonie Robles and team captain Ed Baldomero steered the Knights to the championship.

The Knights’ dominance was eventually succeeded in the 80s by the group of Avelino “Samboy” Lim and Romy Ang as the Intramuros boys won three in a row from 1982-84. Lim’s herpoics paved the way for his entry to the Northern Consolidated Cement, which backed the national team. H immediately became part of the team, which played as a guest squad in the PBA in 1984.

In 1986-1987 season, Letran, behind Dong Libed, Cayetano Salazar (who would later play for Ginebra), amateur standout Justino Pinat, Art Ayson and Jing Ruiz (two of who earned a spot in the PBA), won back-to-back titles.

In the 1990s, there were stretches where Letran was able to  gain success.

The Gilbert Castillo-led Knights bagged the 1992 title before watching San Sebastian winning a five-peat shortly after. But when Louie Alas took over the as head coach in 1998, the Knights, behind Kerby Raymundo and Christian Calaguio (who became PBA mainstays), ended the Stags’ reign.

But Alas, who had to take over as head coach of the Manila Metrostars in the MBA, had to give up his coaching duties. Binky Favis, an alumnus of University of Santo Tomas, took over the coaching chores and made it back-to-back titles for the Knights.

Alas came back to Letran and he guided the team to two more championships in 2003 and 2005.

“Hindi naman malakas San Beda nung time namin pero palagi akong namumura ng mga taga-San Beda noon,” said Jonathan Aldave, former Letran Knight. “Sa time namin, yung bigla sila nagpalit ng Coach sa kalagitnaan ng liga, ang pumalit nung time na yun, si Koy Banal, under him three straight games sila nanalo before sila humarap sa amin. Ganado sila mag-warm up noon, parang gusto nila sirain yung laro namin para matalo nila kami. Intense game yun, nagka-pisikalan pa kami ni (Ogie) Menor noon, dikit yung laban, pero habang iniinis nila kami, pati ng crowd nila na nakikisali pa, lalo naman kaming gumagaling. Ang ending talo sila.”

San Beda had dry spells and since winning the 1978 championship, the school didn’t win a title until Koy Banal and his troops to came end the Red Lions’ frustration in 2006. Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan then took over the program and made San Beda a powerhouse team and established a league dynasty.

Since taking over the program 12 years ago, San Beda has become yearly champions – except in 2009, when Ato Agustin and the San Sebastian Stags sneaked in and ended the Lions’ reign; and in 2015, when Aldin Ayo and the Knights shocked the league.

Amateur sports historian Atty. Percival Flores, an alumnus of both Letran and San Beda, thinks that the rivalry between these two teams are just one of the many colorful features that defines the NCAA.

“Of course apart from the San Seda dynasty and the fact that the NCAA is the oldest athletic league in the country, the rivalry between San Beda and Letran is something that is already part of the league’s history. Definitely a crowd drawer because alumni of these teams see something special each time one beats the other,” said Flores.

He also mentioned that the presence of social media makes the rivalry both exciting and offensive; exciting because you instantly know what to look forward for the game due to the previews posten online, and offensive because there were fans who would cross the line.

“Some of the alumni go overboard when it comes to trash talks that they don’t reflect the values of being in a Catholic institution anymore. Some attacks are even taken to the personal level which is not supposed to happen. It also is offensive for someone like me who is a product of both schools and to tell you frankly, I am not the only one,” added Flores.

Diehard fans of San Beda and Letran were usually too much; a couple of times, a spectator got thrown out of the arena. One recent event even involved a San Beda fan and a Letran player  getting into a heated argument. This resulted to the fan being asked to sit somewhere else and the player to be substituted due to a technical foul.

Bedans also cried foul upon knowledge that their posters and shirts were burned down during the bonfire celebration of the Letranites during the 2015 championship, to which the Muralla-based institution quickly defended that the former also did the same during their Mendiola party.

In spite of all the untoward happenings that were beyond everyone’s control, these two teams added more colors to the NCAA games due to the fact that they brought a lot of their fans to the games. Their rivalry is synonymous to the rich history of the league.

Tale of the Tape

San Beda and Letran are the top two teams in the league in terms of championships. The Red Lions currently have 21 while the Knights are not far behind with 17.


1927 1938
1934 1950
1935 1960
1936 1966
1940 1970
1951 1979
1952 1982
1955 1983
1959 1984
1977 1986
1978 1987
2006 1992
2007 1998
2008 1999
2010 2003
2011 2005
2012 2015


The rivals had also faced each other six times in the Finals, with both teams winning three apiece:


2007 1938
2012 1950
2013 2015