Feb. 25: Filipinos and football
When I was much younger, February 25 produced two moments I’ll always remember hearing about when they first took place. They happened a year apart.
The first was in 1986, when Ferdinand Marcos fled the Philippines, ceding control of the island nation to Corazon Aquino, who held the plurality of votes in the country’s presidential election.
Marcos, whose loyalists assassinated Aquino’s late husband, Ninoy, in August 1983, attempted every trick in the book to rig the election in his favor, the same way Nicolas Maduro did in Venezuela last year, the same way Robert Mugabe did in Zimbabwe in 2008, the same way dictator after dictator has done through time.
Fortunately for Filipinos, Marcos was not as stubborn and stupid as Maduro has been in Venezuela, and he and kleptomaniac wife Imelda got the hell out of Manila. Sadly, they received asylum in the United States, which had been the biggest supporter of Marcos’ brutal regime, simply because Marcos abhorred communism. It was fine from 1966, when Marcos took over, through early 1972, but became very problematic when Marcos declared martial law later that year and made himself president for life.
Aquino’s victory brought full democracy back to the Philippines, and the country has largely been peaceful for the last 33 years. Corazon Aquino’s son, Nonoy, is now president.
February 1986 was a volatile month. The volatility started January 28 when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff at Cape Canaveral, killing six astronauts and school teacher Christa McAuliffe. Two other countries besides the Philippines were rocked by violence in that month: Haiti, where Baby Doc Duvalier was overthrown and fled after 15 years of rule (and after over 30 years of Duvalier family rule); and Sweden, where Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated outside a Stockholm theater.
March 1986 was better. LSU made an unexpected run to the men’s basketball Final Four, and the Bayou Bengal baseball team rose to #1 in the polls on their way to their first College World Series.
Exactly one year after Corazon Aquino brought hope to a nation, a college football team had all hope taken away.
The first thing my brother and I did when we got home from school February 25, 1987 was turn to ESPN. After watching the morning news that Wednesday, we knew something big would happen.
Indeed, the football program at Southern Methodist University (SMU) was handed the NCAA’s Death Penalty, meaning the Mustangs would not be able to play at all in 1987. The NCAA opened the door for SMU to play only road games in 1988, but two weeks later, the school announced it would not return to the field until 1989.
SMU became the third major college to have a big-time sport shut down by the NCAA.
Kentucky had its men’s basketball program shuttered in 1952-53 by a gambling scandal which involved two of the best to ever play for Adolph Rupp, Alex Groza and Ralph Beard.
In August 1973, the NCAA whacked the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) for numerous violations, including cash payments and falsifying transcripts. The violations were so severe the NCAA wanted to expel USL from the organization, but instead, the Ragin Cajuns’ men’s basketball program was shut down for two seasons, and the school’s other programs were ineligible for championships in the 1973-74 and 1974-75 school years.
SMU was guilty of numerous egregious violations of NCAA rules under coaches Ron Meyer (1976-81) and Bobby Collins (1982-86). Hundreds of players were paid, the biggest no-no according to the NCAA. Eric Dickerson, the Hall of Fame running back with the Rams and Colts, was given a sports car to sign with SMU after he had been all but locked up by Texas A&M. Another stud running back, Craig James, was offered money, and his girlfriend (later wife) was given a cushy job in Dallas; the move kept James from leaving Texas and playing for Bear Bryant at Alabama. They weren’t paid the most, but they became the most famous players to be caught, since they were standouts in the NFL and played on an SMU team which went 11-0-1 in 1982 and finished second in the polls behind Penn State.
My brother and I were used to scandals involving college athletics. Two years prior to the SMU case, Tulane shut down its men’s basketball program due to point shaving by numerous players. All-American John “Hot Rod” Williams was tried but acquitted, and he went on to a lengthy NBA career.
Tulane president Dr. Eamon Kelly intended to never, ever bring back men’s basketball, a decision which drew scorn from the local media, including The Times-Picayune, the city’s newspaper. The T-P’s esteemed columnists, Bob Roesler and Peter Finney, blasted Kelly for his rash and harsh decision, saying while the cancer needed to be cured, it did not require the patient to be killed.
SMU football returned in September 1989. Less than three months later, so did men’s basketball at Tulane.
Today was the 40th anniversary of the cancellation of the Bacchus parade due to a strike by the New Orleans Police Department. Ron Howard, who was then starring in Happy Days, was scheduled to be Bacchus, but instead he rode on a float in the Superdome at an event for krewe members.
Don’t ask me about February 25, 1995. Let me just say I was in a place I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
It’s almost February 26, so that’s all for now.