When Manila Beer (formerly Beer Hausen) beefed up its lineup with the acquisition of Fortunato “Atoy ” Co, Jr and Elpidio “Yoyoy” Villamin from the defunct Crispa Redmanizers, the winningest PBA ballclub which disbanded before the start of the 1985 season, this marks the first time that two MVP winners on opposing sides (Crispa and Toyota) will play alongside together. Reigning two-time Most Valuable Player Ramon Fernandez and one-time MVP Atoy Co on the same team! Count in Yoyoy Villamin, one of the strong power-forwards at that time and El Presidente won’t miss the presence of former teammate Ricky Relosa inside the paint, who decided to have a Toyota reunion of sorts at Ginebra. Add the high-leaping forward Gary Vargas as well, one of Gilbey’s Gins’ top scorers.
Manila Beer was a team considered by experts at the start of the year as most likely to challenge Great Taste’s domination. But after two conferences, the short-lived Franchise and Fortune Cookie team-up resulted to the Brewmasters’ falter, flopped and failure to land a berth in the semifinals. So what really went wrong? Was it the coaching? team chemistry? Fernandez’ subpar performance?
Atoy Co was back in action after being operated in the right knee and was used sparingly by coach Loreto Carbonell in their first round losses to NCC, Tanduay and Great Taste.
The Beermen or the Brewmasters actually started the Open Conference on a high note, winning two of their first three games against Shell and Ginebra and losing only by one point to Magnolia in their first game. Their import, 6-8 Doug Harris was good enough to withstand the first batch of imports early on, but when the likes of Rich Adams, David Pope and Joe Binion came in, Harris seems an inadequate choice. Manila Beer lost three in a row, including a 35-point blowout to Great Taste and Harris scored below the 30-point mark in two of those losses. Harris played his last game on March 28 and the Beermen ended their losing string with a hard-fought 92-89 triumph over Magnolia (the night Magnolia’s Carlson Samlani had a colossal mental lapse in the 2nd quarter, goes into the PBA record books as the first to score two points for the opposition), he was replaced by the comebacking, towering 6-11 Lew Brown. Manila Beer were only good for fifth place at five wins and seven losses after the eliminations. They sweep all their quarterfinal assignments but saw their efforts went to naught as they were outplayed by collegiate standouts in the playoff game against Ron Jacobs’ NCC boys.
Man-Mountain Lew Brown. Manila Beer have been bumped off by Northern Consolidated in the playoff for the last semifinal slot.
After a dismal showing in the Open Conference, Manila Beer opted for an imported coach, former U-Tex import Aaron James as a replacement for Bonnie Carbonell, who’s taking his demotion sitting down besides James starting the All-Filipino Conference. Team Manager Andy Jao’s decision to bring in James drew some flak as he was hardly coaching when the Brewmasters dropped their first three games. Finally on July 4, 1985, former RTO and Toyota coach Ed Ocampo was seen in the Manila Beer bench and assumed the coaching chores of the team that was built around Ramon Fernandez and some other former Toyota players.
Ed started with a bang, guiding the team to a 90-81 first win against Shell. Two days later, Manila Beer suffered a heartbreaking 105-106 double-overtime loss to Ginebra San Miguel in Iloilo City. The Brewmasters could have won the game several times but the breaks went against them and Fernandez and Atoy Co missed all-important foul shots. In the second round of eliminations, Manila Beer scored three consecutive victories as they got back at Tanduay (125-112), which beat them by 14 points in the first round, Ginebra in the same kind of a cardiac finish after falling behind by as much as 13 points (86-85), and Magnolia (90-80). Their last two outings would rendered Andy Jao and Ed Ocampo speechless, the July 18 match versus Great Taste had Manila Beer taking a 13-point halftime lead, the Coffee Makers were able to force overtime when Ramon Fernandez failed to sink one of the two free throws that could have won it for the Brewmasters in regulation, Fernandez flubbed both charities and when Great Taste was ahead by only one point in the extension period, costly errors by Fernandez anew led to their defeat in the all-important match.
In what turn out to be a knockout game against Shell in the final day of the elimination round on July 25, It was only Atoy Co who was playing well while the rest of the Brewmasters were lethargic and a sorry sight, Co hit 19 points in the first half but for some inexplicable reason, Coach Ocampo decided to let Co rot on the bench in the second half, Gary Vargas too was on the bench far too long. In a bitter end, Fernandez bungled whatever chance Manila Beer have to save the game by throwing a sloppy pass that enabled Shell to snap the ball away and preserve a 95-90 victory and ultimately spell doom on Manila Beer’s All-Filipino campaign.
So going back to the question on what went wrong, most of the blame were on Fernandez as there were published accusations of game-fixing hurdled against him by certain quarters and the rumored rift with the Manila Beer team management. But their number one mistake according to the late Ronnie Nathanielsz in his article written on Champ Magazine titled The Manila Beer-Mon Fernandez affair was not being able to find a suitable replacement for ballhandler Mike Bilbao, who retired after last season. It says “Fernandez was a resounding success last season not by himself but in tandem with Mike Bilbao whose uncanny ability to make the openings and get the ball to Mon where he was most effective offensively made Beer Hausen a potent team offensively.” This was back-up by perceptions of something like 70 percent of Bilbao’s assists were to Fernandez. While the team gained something on Atoy Co being an outside threat to their offense, they lost a lot in the offensive game of Fernandez in the penetration and assists. Sportswriter King de Jesus in his article What, Really, is wrong with Manila Beer? wrote “All the other teams have guards that are reliable ball carriers and capable of leading their teammates. None of Manila Beer’s backcourt men fits into that kind of a role, Tim Coloso is not a court general, Fritz Gaston has the brains but not the quickness and the instinct, Ramon Cruz is just too small to be a forward but that does not mean he will fit into the backcourt position, Eddieboy Mendoza does not have the command of his teammates and Emer Legaspi does not have the experience in the role.”
Fernandez was benched in their opening day 114-112 win over Tanduay at the start of the Third Conference. According to him, team manager Andy Jao was already convincing Abet Guidaben of Tanduay to move over to their team. The Brewmasters had a surprise start with another returning import Francois Wise, winning four of their first five games before the trade between Ramon Fernandez and Abet Guidaben was consummated, sending the franchise to the Rhum Makers.
The opening day drama of the 1985 Third Conference was Manila Beer management’s decision to bench last year’s MVP Mon Fernandez. Their action made a mockery of the PBA and for basketball fans who wanted to see their favorite stars in action. Strange coincidence three years later when on the exact same date (September 8), El Presidente was bench by Purefoods starting Game two of the All-Filipino finals.
Fernandez’ last game in Manila Beer jersey was against Ginebra on September 22 where he scored only 10 points and the Brewmasters survived a furious fourth quarter rally by the Ginebras from 17 points down at the start of the final period to eke out a 114-113 win. While Fernandez and Atoy Co as teammates wasn’t quite a success, El Presidente moving to Tanduay gives him an opportunity to play together with another former MVP from Crispa, Freddie Hubalde. The two would blend well as teammates and would lead Tanduay Rhum Makers to three championships from 1986-1987.
References: Champ Magazine dated April 12, 1985, July 12, 1985, July 26, 1985, September 20, 1985, October 11, 1985, Atlas Sports Weekly dated April 6-12, 1985, Sports Flash dated October 3-9, 1985.