*It wasn’t exactly a three-peat in the pure definition of a three-peat–as in winning the championship three straight times.
But history books (okay, Wikipedia) list FEU Tamaraws as part of that elite group of three-peaters. Also in that list are the 90s Bulls, the LA Lakers, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and pre-808s & Heartbreak Kanye West.
The winning ways of the Tamaraws started in 2003 when they swept defending champs Ateneo in the finals. Tamaraw star player Arwind Santos lost the MVP race that year to James Yap, but he snagged the Finals MVP award.
A year later, the Tamaraws again found themselves in the UAAP Finals, but fell to De La Salle’s triple threat scoring machine of Mark Cardona, Joseph Yeo, and JV Casio.
The Tamaraws made its third straight finals appearance in 2005, led by back-to-back season MVP Santos, Mark Isip, Jeff Chan, and Jonas Villanueva. In Game 1 of the finals rematch versus La Salle, Santos wreaked havoc on the court like a typhoon, which incidentally is the name of his debut single as a recording artist.
With the Archers up 3 in the final two minutes, Bagyong Arwind blew away the tough La Salle defense and scored five straight points, including the game-winning putback. His numbers after the game were ridiculous: 29 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks.
But after the buzzer, Santos–taking on a different form of “bagyo“–exchanged unpleasantries with Yeo. The two were separated by La Salle assistant team manager Manny Salgado, who gave Santos a sneaky little “love tap” to the back of the head for good measure.
In the Arwind Santos Controversy Rankings, Salgado’s cheap shot (which was sentenced a lifetime ban) only placed second behind Renaldo Balkman’s “aggressive neck massage.” It did nothing to derail FEU’s mission of winning the title.
La Salle had a chance to extend the finals series to a deciding Game 3, but the game-winning try by Junjun Cabatu in Game 2 dropped short and fell right into the hands of Santos. Fulfilling his role as King Tamaraw, Santos raised the basketball high above his head with one hand as his teammates worshipped him.
After the 2005 season, FEU was given another reason to celebrate after all of La Salle’s wins were forfeited due to eligibility issues. The 2004 championship was awarded to the Tamaraws, giving them an asterisk-adorned three-peat.
What was not forfeited were the season MVP trophies awarded to Santos for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. He also kept his Finals MVP trophies for 2003 and 2005. Arwind Santos was simply dominant in his college days–like LeBron-dominant–and has easily become one of the best players in Philippine basketball. No asterisk there.
Arwind Santos, Mark Isip, Jonas Villanueva, Jeffrei Chan, RJ Rizada, Raymund Nietes, RB Mangahas, Paul Flores, JR Dela Cruz, Benedict Fernandez, Jerome Villanueva, John Saldua, Marlon Adolfo, Francis Barcellano