Great Awakening: The Return of the San Miguel Beermen Dynasty

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The Beermen dynasty is brewing again.

It is intoxicating the league once more after San Miguel hoisted its fourth straight PBA Philippine Cup title after erasing a 23-point deficit to secure a double-overtime victory against the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok.

There, we see San Miguel, winning another championship, no. 25 to be exact. Four straight All-Filipino championships in the last four years, no ever team has able accomplish it in the PBA except the Beermen, who have raised the Philippine Cup dominance eight times, the most by any team – active or retired.

We look back at the rebirth of San Miguel dynasty that has evolved in three stages.

The 80s domination and grand slam

Old time fans of the PBA would say San Miguel was just one among the teams sneaking in to win a championship at the height of the Crispa and Toyota dominance in the 1970s and 1980s.

True, the franchise won just one title in those respective eras.

In the 1979 Open Conference, the team then carrying the brand Royal Tru-Orange, took advantage of having both Larry Pounds and Otto Moore simultaneously on the floor and the squad was able to beat the Toyota Tamaraws, who had to field in their imports – Bruce “Sky” King and Andy Fields – one at a time after ruling the previous season where they ended up champions in two of three conferences.

But in 1982, the Beermen were able to stamp their class and twice, they were able to enter the finals, losing to Toyota in the first ever best-of-seven championship series in the season opener Reinfroced Filipino, but won the following conference by edging the Crispa Redmanizers.

But there would be dry spells since then and not until late 1986 when the franchise, which filed a leave of absence returned to the PBA and brought along the cornerstone of the old Northern Consolidated squad.

They carried the name Magnolia Cheese and the team were composed of Samboy Lim and Hector Calma, now both PBA Hall of Famers and all-time greatest players ever, Franz Pumaren, Elmer Reyes, Pido Jarencio, Alfie Almario, Tonichi Yturri, and Yves Dignadice. Meanwhile, they also signed up Alvin Teng and Jeffrey Graves from the amateur ranks. Yet, the team finished seventh in that season’s Open Conference under Coach Derrick Pumaren.

Their fortunes would change the following season when they acquired Abet Guidaben from the defunct Manila Beer and he teamed up with old rival, Norman Black, up front. Black would play the role as import and coach at the same time and the Ice Cream Makers would start to get noticed by winning third place in the Open Conference and All-Filipino.

But in the season ending conference, the team reverted to San Muguel and just like the leading beer in the country, the Beermen came out on top . They did it by bringing in a gem of an import in Bobby Parks, who won the first of the seven Best Import awards he captured in the PBA.

With a solid local cast bannered by the veteran Guidaben, who won his second MVP award, and a maturing team that is ready for the big time, the Beermen would beat the Jose Slaugther-led Hills Brothers Coffee Kings.

By 1988, San Miguel was already a stacked team and it bolstered its line-up more following the inclusion of Ricardo Brown, the 1985 PBA MVP.

Amidst the rise of another powerhouse team that captured the attention of local fans, the Purefoods Hotdogs, a glamour squad bannered by top rookies like Jojo Lastimosa, Jerry Codiñera, Glenn Capacio and Alvin Patrimonio, who were all elevated directly as part of the concession from taking over the old Tanduay franchise, the Ayala-owned squad was able to make a Cinderella Run.

Patrimonio had to wait for another conference before being allowed to play by his mother team from the PABL, Swift, which happened to be a corporate rival of Purefoods.

But with playing coach Ramon Fernandez, reigning Best Import David Thirdkill and the other remnants of the old Tanduay franchise still in the line up, the Hotdogs were able to make their way to the championship round only to be denied by the more seasoned Beermen in seven games.

San Miguel lost a heartbreaker against Añejo in the semifinals and was relegated to the battle of third match and eventually finished fourth but in the season ending third conference, the Beermen bounced back strong with the help of new import Michael Phelps.

Before the start of the third conference, the biggest trade rock the PBA and for the second time in their respective careers, Fernandez and Guidaben would trade places.

Fernandez and Guidaben were traded once by their respective teams, Manila Beer and Tanduay, respectively in 1985 and in 1988 prior to the start of the third conference, the same thing happened again.

Purefoods initiated the trade of Fernandez to San Miguel and in return, the Hotdogs received Guidaben.

Fernandez came in at a perfect time, joining a Beermen team that needs a veteran guidance, which he did.

With a new ruling of one old, one new import for every team, Black had to look for a new partner, thus disallowing him to team up with Parks, who played for Shell in a tandem with Derrick Rowland. The Beermen would easily dispatch the Shell Rimula-X Turbochargers.

The biggest moment for San Miguel’s 80s craze happened in 1989.

They picked up from where they left off and brought it in the Open Conference where Phelps returned to reinforce the Beermen in winning over the Turbochargers in their finals rematch.

The up and coming Purefoods Hotdogs were the next ones to test the mettle of the Beermen and just like their first meeting in the finals a year before, San Miguel was tough enough to withstand the talent of the young turks.

With the addition of rookies Ato Agustin and Bobby Jose, the Beermen have young players to provide the spark off the bench. The Beermen will be needing them for the grand slam push to keep the regulars fresh.

They had a rocky start with Keith Smart as their import, but he was replaced by Ennis Whatley later a few games later.
Whatley, now an NBA referee, would be a perfect complement for the talented local crew and with all the ingredients right put there, the Beermen would beat the Añejo Rhum 65ers in five games. The Beermen became the third team in PBA history to complete such feat after Crispa completed the record in 1976 and again in 1983.

Calma and Fernandez were named to the Mythical First Team while Alvin Teng and Elmer Reyes were included in the Mythical Second Team.

Then came the dawn of new era as injuries and age would slow down the Beermen.

They didn’t win a championship again until the 1992 All-Filipino championship where they would beat the Hotdogs anew.
In 1993, Allan Caidic would join the Beermen, reuniting him with his old teammates from Northern Consolidated. It came at a time when injuries were battering the squad.

Twice in 1993, the Beermen made it to the championship round, losing to Purefoods’ Coney Island in six games of the best-of-seven series but would bounce back in the Governors’ Cup, beating the Tony Harris-led Swift squad.

Stakes were higher in the 1994 All-Filipino as the champion will earn the right to represent the country in the Hiroshima Asian Games. The Beermen had a return bout with the Ice Cream Stars and and would school their rivals anew.
One by one, the stars were gone.

Fernandez would retire. Calma and Lim would be battered by injuries for the next few years and would soon retire shortly after and Agustin would be traded to Sunkist. Caidic would be picked up by Barangay Ginebra via trade then would retire a year later to coach the Gin Kings.

Return To Glory (1999-2005)

Picked by San Miguel from Shell in a trade with Noy Castillo, Danny Ildefonso was part of the rebuilding Beermen squad in 1998, a year before the Fil-Am invasion. But he would blossom under the tutelage of the late coach Ron Jacobs. He joined a group composed of Caidic, Nelson Asaytono, Olsen Racela, Freddie Abuda, and Mike Mustre and twice, the team made it to the finals only to lose to Alaska in the 1998 All-Filipino Conference and Commissioner’s Cup. They completed the season with a fourth-place finish in the Governor’s Cup and the former National University standout was named Rookie of the Year.

Before the start of the PBA’s silver season, Jong Uichico, a long-time protégé of Jacobs, would succeed his mentor and Danny Seigle was hired directly. The Beermen also drafted Rob Duat and acquired Boybits Victoria via trade. The moves did not pan into great results as evident in the 8-9 win-loss record in the 1999 All-Filipino Conference.

But all that changed come Commissioner’s Cup when they enlisted Terquin Mott as import. After a 5-3 record in the eliminations, Asaytono was dealt to Pop Cola for Nic Belasco and Cris Bolado. San Miguel got past Alaska in the semifinal round and defeated the Shell Zoom Masters in six games to bag the franchise’s first title in five years. Mott was named Best Import of the Conference and Seigle was hailed as Finals MVP.

The team would grab its second consecutive PBA title by winning the 1999 Governor’s Cup with Best Import awardee Lamont Strothers. After trailing 1-2 in the series, San Miguel outclassed the Alaska Milkmen in the next three games to hoist the crown. Ildefonso and Seigle were named co-Finals MVPs. As the 25th PBA season ended, Seigle was named Rookie of the Year while Ildefonso and Racela were part of the Mythical Second Team. Abuda got the nod for the All-Defensive Team as well.

After finishing fourth in the 2000 PBA All-Filipino Conference, the second San Miguel dynasty kept on marching by claiming the Commissioner’s Cup with import Stephen Howard. They survived Ginebra in the quarterfinals, swept Alaska in the semis, and waylaid Sta. Lucia in five Finals games. The championship was the franchise’s 14th title which enabled the team to overtake the fabled Crispa Redmanizers for most number of championships.

Ildefonso was named Finals MVP. The Beermen made it back-to-back by claiming the Governor’s Cup with Lamont Strothers reinforcing the team. They would defeat Purefoods in five and Seigle would be adjudged the Finals MVP. By the time the league feted the bets individual performers, Ildefonso was named league MVP while Seigle and Racela were named to the Mythical First Team. Uichico also won Coach of the Year honors.

San Miguel would win a third straight title during the 2001 All-Filipino Cup against Ginebra in six games. The Beermen would enter the finals in the next two conferences only to see their winning run to be halted. They would lose to the Yeng Guiao-mentored Red Bull team in the Commissioner’s Cup and lose again to the Damien Owen-reinforced Sta. Lucia Realtors, who won their first ever championship.

The strong showing gave Ildefonso his second straight MVP award. The last San Miguel championship under Uichico came in the 2004-2005 Fiesta Conference by beating Talk N’ Text in five games – and the last championship run of the era, the pride of Urdaneta, Pangasinan would be named Finals MVP.

The Next Wave (2015-present)

June Mar Fajardo was the big man San Miguel was waiting to complement the team’s gunners and once the important piece of the puzzle was inserted, the Beermen are ready to roll. He would join forces with Arwind Santos, then picked up Marcio Lassiter from Powerade to the Beermen in same year Fajardo was drafted.

In 2013, Chris Ross was acquired from Global Port for Denok Miranda. Finally, Alex Cabagnot was traded back to the Beermen during the 2014-2015 Philippine Cup playoffs for Sol Mercado. With the core now completed, the third San Miguel Dynasty was born.

The squad gained an automatic bid to the semifinals in the said Philippine Cup after a 9-2 eliminations record. Their impressive showing continued with a four-game sweep against Alaska in the semis. The mission to a title was completed when they edged Alaska in seven games. This achievement gave the franchise a championship after a five-year drought and also handed Coach Leo Austria his first PBA title as head coach. The current Beermen plucked another title in that season’s Governor’s Cup with import Arizona Reid by sweeping Alaska.

By season’s end, Fajardo collected his second straight MVP title. He was joined by Santos in the Mythical First Team and by Ross in the All-Defensive Team.

During The Kraken’s third MVP season, the 2015-2016, San Miguel added a second-consecutive PBA Philippine Cup by edging Alaska in seven games. Dubbed as the Beeracle, the Beermen became the first professional basketball team to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a title. Ross was named Finals MVP.

Then came in 2016-2017 PBA season and San Miguel fought a grueling semifinals series with the TNT KaTropa. The Beermen needed to win Games 6 and 7 before advancing to the finals and once they did, they found themselves in a head on collision with sister team Ginebra.

The Beermen became three-time defending Philippine Cup champions after beating the Gin Kings in five games.

Charles Rhodes came into the picture to tow the Beermen to the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup with a six-game victory over the Ka Tropa. Ross was named Best Player of the Conference while Cabagnot got the Finals MVP nod.

With the grand slam in sight, all eyes were on the Beermen in the Governors Cup, but they struggled to a 7-4 card in the elimination round and were ushered to the exit door by the Gin Kings, the eventual champion. By the season ended, Fajardo was named MVP once more, becoming the only player to win four straight MVP awards and tying Ramon Fernandez and Alvin Patrimonio for the plum.

The grand slam was a thing of the past and by the start of the 2018 season, the Beermen mustered their energy to launch another bid in history and they did by becoming the only team to win the All-Filipino championship in four straight years.

Dynasty only happened once in a blue moon but for San Miguel, which has three cycles of dynasties, that’s how greatness is defined.