Pope Francis: Be ‘athletes of Christ’

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In July of 2013, Pope Francis stood before hundreds of thousands of young people on Copacabana Beach. Here’s what he said during the 14th World Youth Day: “A field is a training ground. Jesus asks us to follow him for life, he asks us to be his disciples, to ‘play on his team.’ I think that most of you love sports! Here in Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot! The same is true of our lives as the Lord’s disciples. Saint Paul tells us: ‘Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things; they do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable’ (1 Cor 9:25).

“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup! He offers us the possibility of a fulfilled and fruitful life; he also offers us a future with him, an endless future, eternal life. But he asks us to train, ‘to get in shape,’ so that we can face every situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith. How do we get in shape? By talking with him: by prayer, which is our daily conversation with God, who always listens to us. By the sacraments, which make his life grow within us and conform us to Christ. By loving one another, learning to listen, to understand, to forgive, to be accepting and to help others, everybody, with no one excluded or ostracized. Dear young people, be true “athletes of Christ!”

Beautiful! Just like all the messages that we’ve heard from the Holy Father these past few days.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born 78 years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a nation that has produced Diego Maradona, the pope grew up following the local Club Atletico San Lorenzo squad. Lionel Messi, his countryman, upon meeting the pope last year, said these words: “Without doubt, one of the most special days of my life.”

In May of last year at the Vatican, the pope tackled the game of football. He spoke to the Italian and Argentinian teams.

“He reminded the players that they are role models for many football fans and encouraged them to take that responsibility seriously. He then asked them to foster the ‘beauty, generosity, and camaraderie’ that sport can produce,” said the story in the Catholic Herald website.

“Pope Francis… called on players to ‘live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to improve your talents, but also a responsibility.’ And he returned to the idea that athletes should act as role models, encouraging them to set an example of loyalty, respect, and selflessness. ‘I have confidence,’ he said, ‘in all the good you can do, especially among young people.’

“Pope Francis concluded by praying that the athletes will continue to be able to pursue the “noble vocation” of sport – and he asked them to pray for him, too, ‘that in the playing field that the Lord has placed me, I can play the game honestly and courageously, for the good of all.’”

Manny – Money

I recently met a top official who, after speaking to Manny Pacquiao earlier this week, confided to me the following: “Madayon ang fight!” Manny told him. Both camps have ironed out the details and are just awaiting for the Super Bowl to announce the bout. Two stumbling blocks previously stood in the way. First, the prize money. Manny agreed to a 60-40 split, in favor of Floyd, for the first $100 million; but he wanted a 75-25 split that would go to the winner (after $100 million). Floyd said no; Manny gave in. So it’s a 60-40 split all the way. Another challenge: the rematch clause. Manny wanted a one-fight contract (this way, if he wins, he’ll demand the terms of the rematch). But Floyd said no; Manny, again, relented. An interesting footnote, said my source: When asked how confident he was, Manny exuded his usual smiling bravado. Kaya ra na, said Manny. The reason why everyone has difficulty against Floyd is because they’re right-handers, said MP. When Floyd raises his shoulder as shield, guess what’s awaiting him? Manny’s left-handed smash.

The 2015 Cebu Marathon

What a way to start the new year! On the 11th day of what is expected to be a grueling and up-and-down-and-up 365 days of 2015, thousands joined the Cebu Marathon last Sunday.

This will be a terrific year. To those who doubted if they’d be able to finish 21 kms. by foot or those who previously thought that running 42,195 meters was unthinkable — well, think again. You’ve done it. To the brave, to the bold and yes, to the barefooted… kudos!

You might still be limping today. Your calf muscles are still as hard as stone. But those memories: the 1 a.m. wake-up call; those joyful minutes that transformed into painful hours; all those weeks of training and thousands of pesos spent on running gear and registration fees last year; they’re all worth it. You’ve made it. What a running start for 2015.

The over three thousand participants, including dozens of foreigners, could not have asked for better weather. The skies were not only rain-free (unlike last year’s deluge of sky water); the temperature was cool. To those who ran the return stretch at the SRP, weren’t those clouds God-provided to help you? The ideal conditions provided the backdrop for many to do a PR.

This was the 8th edition of CCM. The first two were labeled “Sinulog Half-Marathon” and the last six included 42Ks. Some have made it a Sinulog-type of pilgrimage, running every second Sunday of the year, joining every CCM. Like Abby Ponce. Another is my ultra-marathoner idol, Tony Galon, who’s done 7. Same with Atan Guardo, who finished with a speedy time of 4:24.

Why run the marathon? It’s a crazy thought, no? Willfully inflicting pain on yourself while others are fast asleep. There are many reasons. For some, their loss of 60 lbs. of body weight has enabled them to be lighter — like CERC president Steve Ferraren, who ran his 28th marathon. For others, it’s to escape pain; yes, how ironic: to escape pain, you inflict pain; but marathon running counters all other problems we have at home and at work. It’s an escape and a legal drug. For many, because it’s a goal that seemed impossible to accomplish.. then. But now, they’ve deleted the word’s first two letters and made it possible.

In behalf of RunRio and CERC (Cebu Executive Runners Club), we thank numerous groups who have made CCM15 another good run.

Dr. Peter Mancao and his team of dozens of doctors (Dr. Arnold Tan was at the finish) and nurses and volunteers, who assembled medical stations and paraded ambulances throughout the route.

To Citom, to our police, and to the hundreds of marshals: I don’t think Cebu has seen a road race as cordoned-of and safe for the runners as last Sunday’s.

To our Hydration Station partners: Bionic Builders (of soon-to-be-Ironman Bernard Sia), the Primary Group of Builders (of marathoner Wally Liu), Cebu Grand Hotel (of 21K finisher Carlo Suarez), Filinvest, Aeolus Tires (of Gerard Tan, who personally handed out water and Gatorade), to Barangay Lahug, Honda Motor World of Jonel Borromeo, Cebu Parklane Intl. Hotel, Holiday Gym and Spa (represented by Veron Enriquez); to Tinago Brgy. Captain Joel Garganera, to the Talisay City officials; to Joel Juarez, who coordinated for majority of the technical needs… To Ayala Center Cebu, the event’s main sponsor and venue… To Rio de la Cruz, who expertly managed the event with his RunRio team, spearheaded by Franco Bambico and JP Arandia… thank you.

Finally, I quote Patrick Concepcion, the organizer of the Condura Skyway Marathon (which runs this Feb. 1), who joined the marathon four mornings ago and wrote in his blog: “All things considered, the Cebu Marathon is beautiful and probably one of the best I’ve run thus far in the Philippines. I highly recommend you include this marathon in your bucket list.”

To those who didn’t join last weekend, see you on Jan. 10, 2016.

Pit Senyor!

Jacksonville Marathon: Surviving 26.2 miles

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JACKSONVILLE—Happy New 2015! I continue our U.S. trek: After braving the 2C cold in New York and spending 30 hours in Washington, D.C. to view the White House and the National Mall, we traveled down south.

We’re in Florida where the weather is like… Cebu’s. Yes, it’s winter-time in America but it’s sunny in Jacksonville.

Tony and Sol Baluyot are my wife Jasmin’s relatives. Tita Sol is the younger sister of my mother-in-law, Malu Mendez. When we planned our Christmas trip to the East Coast, we made sure that we’d spend time at the Baluyot home in Jacksonville, where they’ve resided since 1977. I had never been to Florida and the last time Jasmin visited was 25 years ago.

This city is special. Jacksonville is the largest city in the entire U.S.A. in terms of land area. Based on Wikipedia, it covers 1,935 sq.kms. (compared to Cebu City’s 315). The nearby city of St. Augustine (about 45 minutes away) is historical because it’s the oldest city in the country.

Talking of sports, I’ve always envisioned on doing a “42 on 42.” That’s running the marathon when I’m the same age as the marathon distance. And so when Jasmin and I finalized our vacation, I googled “U.S. marathons in December.”

Would you believe, of the 52 Sundays in the year, the Jacksonville Marathon would fall on exactly the time that we’d be in the city: Dec. 28, 2014. Plus, and this would take on a stronger significance, my father-in-law Jack Mendez passed away last July. To run an event with the words “Jack” and “son” on them, this would be special.

And so it was set: six years after my last 42K (the Quezon City Intl. Marathon), I’d be running the distance again.

We arrived from Newark Intl. Airport (New Jersey) via United Express on a Friday afternoon. Hours after we were picked up at the JAX (shortcut for Jacksonville) Airport, I visited the Town Center Mall with Tito Tony to register onsite at the 1st Place Sports Running shop. I paid the $80 registration fee and got my bright orange-colored “Jacksonville Bank Marathon” shirt. This is it. Two mornings later, I’d be on the road by foot.

The Jacksonville Marathon, now on its 34th year, is a Boston-qualifying event ran on a flat course. The average temperature, reads the website, is 56 degrees F. That’s 13 Celsius — perfect for running.

The day before the race, Jasmin and I had to celebrate an important occasion: it was our 17th anniversary. We had dinner with the family at P.F. Chang’s.

On Dec. 28 (race day), I set the alarm at 4:59 but woke up much earlier (like all excitable marathoners do) at 2 a.m. I ate four slices of bread with peanut butter and drank coffee and orange juice.

Before 6 a.m. and with Tito Tony and Jasmin, I arrived at The Bolles School, the city’s most exclusive (and expensive) school, for the start.

(More on The Bolles School, I got an email message from Bill Byrd, now residing in Cebu but previously a Jacksonville resident, who said: “You might be interested to know that BASIC tuition at the Bolles School for grades 7-12, is $41,000.00 per school year–Again, that is just basic for room/board, and books… Don’t know if you have ever followed Major League baseball at all, but one famous former student from The bolles School is Chipper Jones all-star and future hall of famer, 3rd baseman for Atlanta Braves.”)

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The forecast: no rain. Good news because the year before, the runners were drenched with rain. I checked the history and it was varied. Some years, it was as cold as 9C; some, as warm as 25C. I prepared for the “worst:” Before leaving Cebu, I bought gloves, arm sleeves and a beanie totaling P300 from Gaisano Country Mall. These would be used at the start but disposed of after the body warms and sweat begins. I never got to use them. The weather was warm in Jacksonville. At 6 a.m., it was still comfortably cold (at 15C) but it would reach 24C later in the morning.

Jasmin joined me at the start and took photos. She left. I waited for an hour inside the indoor gym. I sat down, stretched and, with 15 minutes left, took a blueberry-flavored Gu gel. At 6:50, I took my position at the starting line. A few thousand stood ready for the race. Apart from the marathon, there are two other distances: half-marathon and the 5K.

Three minutes before gun start, the national anthem played. It can’t get better than this, I told myself. As the dawn’s early light arose, the anthem played, “Oh, say, can you see by the dawn’s early light…” At 7 a.m., the starting gun fired and 3,000 runners were off… The roads here are all asphalted. (If you’re a runner, you’ll know it’s softer than cement.) The best part: Residents along the route stood outside their homes to cheer. Many prepared placards to display. Since Americans don’t use the metric system (kms.), one poster read: “In a scale of 1 to 10, you’re 26.2!” That’s the marathon distance in miles. Another read, “Go, Random Stranger!”

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The race was well-organized. The registration process (both online and onsite) was easy. You can even register an hour before the start! (Something we can learn for the Cebu Marathon.)

Along the race route, uniformed policemen with their police cars were positioned all over. They’d block the side roads. One unexpected act that they did: they cheered you on. Not all police officers but some would greet “Good morning!” (We should request our Citom guys to do the same!) The course was flat and every mile had a marker with a digital clock. Water stations (with Gatorade) were plenty. These were all manned by volunteers —  hundreds of volunteers who did their work with greetings and smiles.

My first half was relaxed. The clouds covered the sun (sunrise here comes late, at 7:22 a.m.) in the first 13 miles. There were portions that were foggy; it was very scenic running in the inner roads amidst the Florida homes. I ran the first 21K in 2 hours and 14 minutes. I felt terrific (like many of us do halfway through the race.)

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But when I reached the 20th mile (Km. 32), that’s when my legs started to harden and ache. I’d stop every few hundred meters to walk and stretch; I slowed down. This was understandable because I only did one 30K in Cebu (with fellow CERC members Steve Ferraren, Roy and Rosan Trani, Jesse Taborada and Dodong Sulatre). As a final “long run,” I planned a 34K run (three weeks before race day) but Typhoon Ruby disrupted this plan.

The one thing that helped was the Bodivance cream (P55 per sachet in Runnr) which I applied to my muscle-fatigued legs. (Thanks to Dr. Tony San Juan for the suggestion.)

With hydration, I made sure to stop and drink at each station (found in every two miles). But if there’s one recommendation that I’d like to offer the organizers, it’s this: it would be good to offer bananas or chocolates in the last six miles. Though I took Gu (the energy gel) every 45 minutes, it wasn’t enough. By Mile 21, I had a case of “hypoglycemia” (hitting the wall) and I felt disoriented. It was at this point that I took more walking breaks.

My strategy: not to think of the remaining distance (let’s say, six miles) but to target a signage or a police car with blinking lights at a far distance and run without stopping towards it… then “reward” myself with a short walk upon getting there.

When I reached Mile 23, my legs started to cramp. Oh, no. This is the big challenge with running; unlike basketball or football, you can’t “run the clock.” You’ve got to run or walk and move forward to finish. Meaning, if you sprint so fast and you’re about to break the world record but you collapse 100 meters from the finish line, you can end up being the last finisher.

With those cramps in the last 5K, I walked, slow-jogged and made sure that I didn’t make any abrupt steps. Mentally, I told the cramps to stop. (After over four hours on the road, you can get desperate.) Plus, the previously cold skies weren’t cooperating. It was getting Cebu-hot, about 25C. The sun was starting to bake our weary backs.

Finally, seeing that “Mile 25” signage was a beautiful sight. At the last bend, we turned inside the The Bolles School as we entered a patch of grass before circling the rubberized track oval until the arms-up-the-sky finish. I finished in 4:47. Whew. Agonizing. Disorienting. Leg-cramping. But painfully fulfilling. This Sunday, it’s your turn with the Cebu Marathon.

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Lousy Knicks, lively entertainment

Knicks gameNEW YORK — Jasmin, Jana and I watched the New York Knicks vs. Dallas Mavericks game the other week (Dec. 16). We sat in Row 225 inside Madison Square Garden. This arena is iconic; built in 1968, its tagline reads, “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

Today, MSG hosts over 300 sporting events each year and is home to three pro teams: the Knicks, the NY Rangers (hockey) and the NY Liberty (women’s NBA). For basketball, the seating capacity is 20,000.

Entering the coliseum, I was expecting a derelict facility (given that it’s 46 years old) but was surprised to see a spanking world-class arena. Newly-renovated last year, MSG was comfortable; the seats were cushioned; on top of the basketball court was a gigantic HD screen that endlessly projected slow-motion replays, up-close shots of the players and other highlights.

When we arrived at 7:45 p.m., the players were warming-up. As the Mavs and Knicks stars were introduced, the last man to be called was the most “sikat:” Carmelo Anthony. He wore an orange bandana that was the same orange color that spread across the Knicks uniforms.

Finally, the announcer says, “Let’s… play ball!” All the lights were off. The girls danced an intro number. After the players stood ready, Margot Bingham was called to sing the national anthem. Like we see on TV, once the song reaches those last few lines, everybody sings along. Someone screamed, “Let’s go New York!” It’s wonderful to see Americans so proud of their song, people, nation.

Game on! New York had possession after the jump ball. But, like an ominous sign of the bad things to come, they didn’t even fire a shot: they were penalized after a 24-second shot violation. Bad sign! Seconds later, Tyson Chandler was lobbed an alley-hoop pass which he barreled into the ring. A slam dunk for the Mav’s first two points. Shot after shot, the Mavs wouldn’t miss. They converted on their first six attempts. No miss. After four minutes, the score was lopsided: 19-7. Chandler had one more dunk. And another. Three dunks in five minutes.
Dallas is an amazing offensive team. They lead the NBA in points, averaging 113 per game. It was evident that night: after six minutes, they amassed 27 points. Moments later, the score was 29-11. Led by Dirk Nowitzi, the Mavs led from the first minute until the last. From beyond the arc, they buried 15 of 33 three-point attempts. This wasn’t a ballgame, it was a New York massacre.

You know Americans; they’ll let you know in your face how they feel. They’re blunt and direct. And the New Yorkers let their players know how they felt. They booed. They turned quiet. The initial atmosphere of excitement was replaced by oh-no-here-it-comes-again…. another beating.

By the end of the first quarter, the score was 36-24. At that point, the Mavs made 79 percent of their field goal attempts. Amazing statistic. As bad as the Knicks were, the Mavs were unstoppable — they were possessed when they possessed that ball.

The Knicks weren’t a team of five players on-court; they’re a one-player squad. Carmelo Anthony led with 26 points but that was it; everybody else was lousy. This is nowhere near the team that won the NBA crown back in 1973 (their last win) that had Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas and Phil Jackson, now the Knicks president.

But as lousy as the Knicks were, the entertainment was fantastic. Plenty of celebrities watched. Golfer Jason Dufner. Actor John leguizamo. Devon Kennard of the Giants. Even John Starks came to watch.

During timeouts, they have what’s called a “Dance Cam” where they find spectators who’ll dance and they’ll showcase their moves on the large screen. One man juggled balls. They also had these “machine guns” where they’d fire t-shirts to the crowd. One shirt was fired towards us and Jana caught it. They had a Tic Tac Toe game played by two men. They had all these side entertainment gigs to make the lousy game fun. In all, it was fun despite the Knicks losing by 20.

Watching the New York Knicks

NEW YORK — This is my third trip to the U.S. The first time, back in 1993 and together with the whole Pages family, we stayed in the West Coast. Then, we got to watch two MLB baseball games. The first was between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers (we saw Mike Piazza score a homerun). In the second game, the Oakland A’s played the Toronto Blue Jays (amazingly, I caught a ball in that game).

In my next trip here, my dad Bunny and I spent three weeks in NYC to watch the US Open. We witnessed Serena Williams win her first major and Andre Agassi win his second Open trophy.

For this trip, I made sure to watch two other sports. The first one, which I chronicled last week, was American football. In that Dec. 14 game, the New York Giants defeated the Washington Redskins at home (MetLife Stadium), 24-13. With my good buddy Ping-J Villegas, who’s resided in the Big Apple for over 17 years, we watched the outdoor game together with 70,000 others in cold 4C temperature. It was an unforgettably festive, beer-drinking, and loud atmosphere. It was very American.

Two nights after watching the NFL, I watched another kind of ballgame. Months before our trip, I purchased online tickets for the New York Knicks vs. Dallas Mavericks game.

Choosing between two teams here in NYC — the Knicks or the Brooklyn Nets — the choice was easy: the NY Knicks are one of the most iconic of NBA teams. And the venue (Madison Square Garden or MSG) is revered among the world’s indoor arenas.

And so last week — Tuesday night, Dec. 16 — my wife Jasmin, daughter Jana and I took the famous New York subway from Wall Street to Penn Station, a few blocks from MSG.

But before that, some pre-game activities: We toured Bryant Park in Manhattan, took photos of their ice-skating rink; we trekked 5th Avenue and gazed at the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers; and, visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we found out that there was a 12 noon mass. As we sat near the front pew awaiting the start of the holy celebration, a buzz started. Walking right by us was someone we listen to often: Andrea Bocelli. He not only visited but he heard mass with us.

For lunch, we dined at PotBelly Sandwich Shop. After touring the NY Public Library and several other famous spots, we took the open-deck Big Bus hop-on, hop-off bus and got off for our late afternoon destination: the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It’s an amazingly well-done museum but, at the same time, it’s heart-breaking viewing all of those torn steel beams and horrific photos. It’s a must-visit place, the 9/11 site.

The game was to start at 8 p.m. Outside the huge oval coliseum (I wonder why it’s called ‘Square’ when it’s circular-shaped), the Madison Square Garden tagline explains it all: “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

Neon lights that changed colors decorated the outside walls. As we arrived, hundreds of people had congregated and were lining-up. Security, like in most important venues here, was strict: we had to unload all items, including belts, coins and bag contents. As soon as we showed our tickets, we took several flights of stairs and were handed nice gifts: blue shirts with the Knicks logo. Perfect for Christmas (except for the shirt size: XL).

We followed the parade of people going up until we reached our seats: Row 225. Our tickets were priced at $172 each. These were not front row seats (these would sell for over $400) but they were not all the way at the ceiling. They were mid-range seats down the middle (not the back of the goals).

I wore the free Knicks shirt. Seated beside me was a couple from Brisbane, Australia who were also tourists (lucky them, a few nights before when we had yet to arrive, they watched the Nets-Cavs game when Prince William and Kate sat beside Jay Z and Beyonce).

MSG is historic. Built in 1968, it has hosted concerts of all major artists from Elvis Presley to Depeche Mode to John Lennon’s final concert before his murder. Ali-Frazier (Part I) fought here. More on Tuesday…

America’s most popular sport

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NEW YORK—Here in the U.S., the most popular sport is not baseball or the NBA or hockey or Serena Williams’ game or soccer. It’s American football. From the first name alone (“American”), we know that this game is deeply rooted to this nation’s 320 million people.

The National Football League (NFL) is the name of the sport’s professional league. It features 32 teams divided into two groups: the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The season doesn’t run for 12 months; it’s only from September until February and it culminates with the biggest sporting event in America: the Super Bowl. This season, it will be held on Feb. 1, 2015 in Arizona. The Super Bowl is that one-game-only Finals that is watched by over 110 million TV viewers.

I’ve followed American football. This started back in high school at the Cebu International School when, surrounded by American schoolmates, we’d toss and throw the football.

On TV, I watched the Super Bowl plenty of times. Featuring half-time performances that would invite names like The Rolling Stones, Madonna and The Black Eyed Peas, it’s a mega sporting and entertainment event. The hosting of the Super Bowl hops from one city to another.

Last February, Super Bowl XLVIII was played at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. That’s where I was last Sunday.

The moment when Jasmin, Jana and I finalized our plans to spend Christmas in the U.S., I contacted a friend to find time and join me in watching a spectacle that I’ve longed to see for years: a live NFL game.

Ping-J Villegas is someone I’ve known for over 25 years now. Her older sister, Cefelin, was my girlfriend in high school and I’m very close to his two other siblings, Lovelin and JP. A huge sports fan who played basketball at CIS and Cebu Doctor’s back in Cebu, Ping-J has now resided in New York for over 17 years. Within minutes of my contacting Ping-J a few months back, we researched the options and Ping-J quickly bought tickets online.

The date was set: Dec. 14 at the MetLife Stadium featuring the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins.

From Cebu, we arrived at the Newark Airport in New Jersey the night before the game (Saturday) at 9 p.m. and made sure that no jet lag would hamper the following day’s excitement. After hearing mass at 10 a.m., Ping-J was right on time picking me up at 11.

A Porsche Boxster, Ping-J’s two-seater of a sporting machine, stood shining at the front. We were off. The temperature? It’s 4 degrees Celsius cold in NYC. But that didn’t stop us from opening the hood of the Porsche and speeding towards the arena (at over 80 mph) in the New Jersey cold.

We got to the Metlife Stadium early. The game was to start at 1 p.m. but, over an hour before the kickoff, thousands had congregated in the humongous parking area. For here’s what I learned about American football: it’s not just about the game. It’s family. It’s friends. It’s a Sunday timeout. It’s a moment to bond, to drink Bud Light, to wear blue Giants jerseys, to brave the bitter cold for warm smiles — this is a traditional American pastime.

All the parking areas were filled with people cooking barbeque, sipping beer, munching hotdogs. It’s called “tailgating” and it’s part of the whole football experience. People arrive hours before the game, they take out their portable grilling equipment and they cook. And eat. And party.

Ping-J parked the Porsche Boxster as we proceeded to the stadium. Security is tight, as what you’d expect from a gigantic event of 70,000 spectators.

With an hour to spare, Ping-J and I did the one thing you do when you’re at a game: drink beer. We ordered two bottles (in plastic cups) each. With liquor, they’re very strict here: each one is asked to present an I.D. We sat just outside the stadium’s doors and talked about Cebu, our families, biking (Ping-J has a Cannondale road bike and he pedals often).

Ping-J Villegas and I watched the New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins game last Dec. 14. I wore three layers of clothing: an inner warmer, a Uniqlo sweater and a thick Zara jacket borrowed from Dr. Ron Eullaran. Gloves covered my hands; a beanie did the same with my head. A scarf wrapped my neck. It was 4C.

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The MetLife Stadium is gigantic. It seats over 82,000, making it the second largest among the NFL teams in terms of capacity. The other Sunday, I estimate the stadium to be 80 percent full. That’s nearly 70,000 people, all jammed in the same outdoor space, all cheering for the same blue team. What’s interesting about MetLife Stadium is that it houses two NFL teams, the NY Giants and the NY Jets. Yes, America’s most populous city has two football teams and, because they play just once a week, they alternate playing in the same arena — the only NFL stadium among the league’s 32 teams that’s shared by two teams. MetLife Stadium is new; it finished in April 2010 and is reputed to be the world’s most expensive stadium at $1.6 billion.

Ping-J and I had good seats. It wasn’t all the way up (they call them ‘nosebleed’ seats) and not too close that we can’t see the formations. We paid $233 per ticket. As you’d expect, everything here is expensive. Parking costs $30 (that’s with an “S” and not in pesos.)

The Redskins scored first, on a field goal (3-0). On the succeeding play, the Giants, led by 2-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning (Peyton’s brother) threw a pinpoint pass to a sprinting catcher who ran for a touchdown. After a successful extra-point attempt (via kicking), the score was 7-3 in favor of New York.

Fans here are fanatical. They wear Giants shirts and all-blue; a popular activity is everybody standing up and waving the white towels (that were given to us for free upon entry) to cheer on the home team. What a sight: tens of thousands of Giants fans, all standing, cheering, waving the towels.

American football is physical. It’s like boxing with body padding. Giant men with Schwarzenegger-like muscles barge into each other. They slam, tackle and block the offense. They’re 11 men on each side who bump, slam, barge head-on. You see sprinters who dart onwards. You see a kicker who’s brought in to score a field goal. You see the quarterback, the leader of the team, calling the shots and passing. That’s Eli Manning.

What I’ve observed here: the people who troop to watch don’t come simply to watch. It’s more than a game; they cook barbeque at the parking lot and dine there for lunch (tailgating); they order beer and gulp a dozen; dads enjoy the company of their sons. It’s a whole American tradition every Sunday.

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You know how we get together every time Manny Pacquiao fights? It’s the same here on Sundays. For football fans, they either go to a real game to watch (and eat and get drunk), or congregate in a sports bar with friends, or they troop to someone’s house for lunch and watch the game on TV.

Back to the game: After the Giants scored a touchdown, it was the turn of their neighbors from Washington, D.C. to score theirs. By the end of two quarters, it was 10-7, advantage Redskins. That’s when the combination of Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. took over. Manning is the quarterback while Beckham Jr. is the wide receiver. Their tandem resulted in 17 more points in the 2nd half for the Giants. At game’s end, Beckham Jr. had 12 catches for 143 yards. The 22-year-old is poised to become not only the Rookie of the Year but one of NFL’s best. This month, he had dinner with LeBron and Michael Jordan and him are text-mates.

Despite the 24-13 win by the Giants, they’re lousy this season. Prior to the Redskins game, they sported a 4-9 record (which included losing seven straight from October to November). Since then, they’ve recovered (winning three in a row) and now carry a 6-9 win-loss card. As recently as 2007 and 2011, they were Super Bowl champs.

For a first-timer, what an experience for me to see this giant-sized American game.

Running those problems away

If you have problems, I recommend a solution: Run.

I don’t mean that you “run away from your problem.” That’s ineffective. If you don’t solve it, that nagging concern will continue to haunt you until you summon the resolve to fix it. As my dad often tells us: “Close those open loops.” These “open loops” are unresolved issues that should be addressed now.

By run, I mean literally: stepping one foot forward, then the other foot onward, swinging those arms, bobbing the head, walking, sprinting, following a straight path where your leg muscles push against the asphalt to propel you forward.

Running is medicine. It’s an anxiety-reducing pill that works. And it’s for free. (Well, you’ve got to buy a good pair of running shoes — but let’s reserve that for another article.) You can run anytime: morning or noon; if you’re insomniac, you can run at 12:14 a.m. On the treadmill. While wading through the swimming pool. On business trips or vacations. Around your subdivision, at Cempark, or circling the CCSC (Abellana) oval — the choice is yours, pick a spot, tighten those laces, then press “Go!” in your brain.

Running solves problems. Your mind clears. Whatever fears or worries you may possess, these evaporate as the sweat evaporates from your skin. Trust me. The best way to combat stress is to push hard physically.

Run when you’re feeling tired. You’ll emerge energized. Run when you’re feeling low. You’ll inhale that runner’s high. Run consistently. Make it a habit. Don’t run only when problems start chasing you; this is good medicine but, when you run four times each week, running ceases to be medicine — it becomes a vitamin. Remember the adage, “Prevention is better than cure?” Regular running is prevention. Take Vitamin R. That stands for Running — it’s good for your mental health.

You want to be more creative? Then don’t just sit there, slump on your chair, cross your feet, stare at the ceiling and daydream. Get out and go. After a 30-minute exertion of the body, your mind will release creative juices.

In “5 Brain Benefits of Running,” the author Denise Schipani explains in “New Thinking,” the first reward for running: “‘Running sparks the growth of fresh nerve cells, called neurogenesis, and new blood vessels, called angiogenesis,’ says J. Carson Smith, PhD.”

In the second reason, “Sweating the Details,” the author says, “Running helps you get better at learning and storing new information and memories, and can potentially stave off age-related dementia.”

When I searched “running good for the mind” in Google, a total of 519 million results can be accessed. This is indisputable. By doctors, scientists, psychology experts.

Running is the easiest way to good health. Why don’t more people run? Actually, more and more are running. What started as a craze six years ago when Cebu hosted events once a month has morphed into an every-Sunday activity. Can you plot a weekend without a fun run? Hardly. This is terrific. But it’s only a small percentage of our total population.

And so I address this to those who have yet to be bitten by the feet-tickling bug: When will you start? Here’s what I suggest: go to your favorite sports shop and buy those shoes today. Don’t delay. Just that simple act will inspire you to get on your feet.

Start by walking. Running is, simply analyzed, faster walking. Cajole a friend or force your husband to stroll with you before or after work. Then, join a 3K run. Start jogging. Walk-jog, hop-walk. Prioritize this time. Set aside — like you would lunch or taking a shower — time for running. Start with half an hour. I guarantee you: it’s addicting. When you skip a session because your son stayed longer in school, that’s okay. Try not to miss your next date with running.

As to your problem, no, it won’t disappear. But it will feel lighter; a solution will pop in your brain during that jog. Drink regularly: Vitamin R.

Floyd v. Manny? Implausible, yes, but possible

This is perplexing. I don’t understand it. The question: Why Money won’t fight Manny. Maybe Money doesn’t need money? Is he afraid? Scared that his unblemished record will be tarnished? I say all of the above.

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. versus Emmanuel Pacquiao. It’s the face-to-face bout that our planet’s seven billion people have been craving for. It’s what Mike Tyson wants. It’s what P-Noy wants. It’s what every Pinoy wants. Sadly, only one person can decide this and he says No.

Why? Reason No.1: He’s afraid to add a “1” to his “L” column. Mayweather is undefeated. He sports a 47-0 grade. Among those victories, he knocked-out 26. Why risk that perfect report card?

Floyd is trying to surpass the record of Rocky Marciano. The American, who lorded over the 1950s, won 49 and lost zero. Floyd is eyeing that figure. Don’t you think he wants to win thrice more, break Rocky’s streak and reach the magical “50?” That’s his goal. And a certain Gen. Santos City politician might thwart his plans.

Why risk it? He can fight Amir Khan. Win via unanimous decision. Seek a rematch. Win again. Reach 49 Ws. Fight one more unheralded bloke and summit that No. 50. Easy path, right?

Pacquiao has agreed to all of Mayweather’s requests. Blood testing. A smaller chunk of dollars to be harvested. Pacquiao is willing to bend, to bow, to accede to the spoiled-brat requests of Mr. Unpredictable just to face him inside that 23 ft. x 23 ft. platform.

Floyd’s response? Let’s do a 70-30 deal. What? Crazy. Well, yes, with that demand, he is. That’s preposterous. While a 50-50 deal is no longer possible — given Pacquiao’s two recent losses — that 70-30 proportion is out of proportion. Maybe 55-45? Or 60-40? Or how about a 55-35 split, with the last 10 percent going to the winner? If Floyd wins, he pockets 65%; if Manny wins, he nets 45. Fair? Actually, it’s unfair for Manny.. but sige nalang. To allow the “Fight of the Century” to happen, Manny’s willing to be Mr. Humility.

Is Floyd avoiding Manny because he’s a righty and he’s a lefty? One man thinks so. “The real problem is that Mayweather is so damn smart when it comes to boxing,” said Bob Arum, whom I had the chance to meet last year and who just turned 83 last Dec. 8. “He (Floyd) realizes that of all the fighters fought and all the fighters out there that Manny poses the biggest threat. Why? Because Manny is fast, Manny can punch and Manny is left handed. Floyd never wants to fight a left handed fighter because his style is designed to fight orthodox fighters.”

We know the strength of Floyd. It’s that “shield” called his left shoulder that he raises to cover his head that makes him impossible to hit. But, says Arum, that stance is good for everybody else — but not against Manny The Lefty. “If you look at his style and how he fights defensively,” said Arum, “everything he does is designed against a right-handed fighter.”

Arum is The Godfather of Boxing Promoters. When he speaks, people listen. He makes sense. With a potential windfall of at least $50 million (P2.25 billion), it’s shocking that anyone, even someone as wealthy as Floyd, will turn down that kind of cash. But, week after year after month, Floyd has spurned Manny’s hand to fight.

Instead, Mayweather is opting for weaker choices, favoring to meet the winner of today’s bout between Khan or Devon Alexander. Even Miguel Cotto, whom he defeated in 2012, is another possible opponent. Cotto would be a rehash; a has-been.

“To get Mayweather in the ring with Pacquiao is a monumental task,” said Arum. “Not because of splits, not because of money, because Manny stands the best chance of anybody that Floyd has faced to beat him.”

The key to Floyd’s yes? It’s to bait him. To tempt him by saying, “Why not be undefeated-for-life and finish 50-0 by beating Manny before you retire?”

This might tempt the narcissistic Floyd. Then, after he agrees, Manny beats him. Manny retires as Floyd heads home with his head bowed, his left shoulder swollen as big as his ego.

The Hometown King leads the Cavs

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The Cleveland Cavaliers lost their very first game this ’14 season. Then, after winning the next one against Chicago, they proceeded to lose the next two. Four wins after that and with a commanding 5-3 scorecard, NBA fans worldwide proclaimed the Cavs as legitimate title contenders.

What happened next? They lost the next four clashes, against Denver, San Antonio, Washington and Toronto. By then, people panicked. Sporting an embarrassing 5-7 win-loss record, many criticized LeBron and Co. The man himself, No. 23, summarized their state in that Nov. 22 loss to the Toronto Raptors in one simple yet horrifying word: “Fragile.”

Well, well. How time flies when you’re having fun and winning. Those defeats and that “fragile” spirit seemed too long ago. After a November that zigzagged and twirled like a roller-coaster — similar to the ones found near Cleveland (in Ohio) that’s considered as “the roller coaster capital of the world,” Cedar Point — that up-and-down first month for the Cavs has been smooth of late.

The Cavs won their 8th straight yesterday. They now carry a 13-7 record, ranking fourth in the East (against 15 teams). The latest victim? The same battalion who defeated them in their last defeat, the Raptors — a previously 16-5 (scorecard) team that’s No.1 in the Eastern Conference. How big was that? Well, how big was that shot, a looping missile from beyond the 3-point line, with 48 seconds left in the game and the score tied 99-all, LeBron James firing one rocket at the top of the key to rupture the Raptors?

That was big. That was LeBron, the man who grew up in this state as a kid and returned home as an adult to pacify and appease all those whom he crucified when he left. The same 6-foot-8, 250-lb. giant who, after that 3-pointer, said to the crowd, “That’s what I came here for.”

He amassed 35 points in 42 minutes, including a monstrous double-clutch reverse dunk after he stole the ball in the 2nd quarter. The night before: the same royal performance before royalty. With Prince William and his beauteous wife Kate sandwiched between Jay-Z and Beyonce at ringside, LBJ scorched the New Jersey Nets, leading his Cavs to a 110-88 victory.

Now on his 12th NBA season, LeBron is not only experienced as a champion, with his two NBA rings and four MVP crowns, but he’s happiest back home.

“I know what LeBron is here for,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, after the Raptors game. “And I know why he’s here. Because he wants to be. So maybe that effort that you saw and maybe what he laid out there tonight for his team and for his fans sort of speaks to that.”

Thus far in the season’s 20 games — more like a First Quarter report for the Regular Season, which has 82 games — LeBron is averaging (per game) 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists.

If he’s Batman, his Robin (Kyrie Irving) is doing excellent work, averaging 20.8 PPG. If we add Kevin Love’s 17.4 points per game, these three average 63 points — about 61 percent of Cleveland’s average total (103.5) per outing.

“It’s fun,” said Irving. “It’s fun to be playing the way we’re playing right now, and it’s fun to be part of it.”

Is this a momentum shift? Will this continue until the playoffs? Has this team gelled?

Yes, yes, yes, but, no, let’s not get too cocky in behalf of the Cavs as the NBA season has three more quarters left. And, lest we forget, in this winning streak, they did not face a single Western Conference team; and we know how bombarded that section is with the league’s finest: Golden State, Memphis, Portland, Houston, LA (obviously, not the Lakers), San Antonio and Dallas — seven teams that have better win-loss scorecards than Cleveland.

But, for now, with the King performing in front of the Prince, with Kevin Love saying, “We just have a good energy about us right now,” with eight straight smiles after four straight frowns, Cleveland is happy that their son is back home.

CCM, CCT, TDC and IPTL

CCM. The slots for the Cebu City Marathon (CCM) are filled-up. A total of 1,300 registered for the 42K and 1,400 for the 21K. With the 10K, good news for those interested to join. While the registration has officially closed, there is still an option to join the 10K. During the Race Expo at the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu (from January 7 to 9), a booth will be ready to receive onsite registrants. The only thing is, the usual freebies (singlets and finishers shirts) will no longer be available. The onsite registrants will be given Race Numbers (with timing chips) only but these will be offered at a discounted P400/participant. Maximum of 200 slots.

CCT. A week before the Sinulog grand parade is CCM. That’s Jan. 11. The week after the Sinulog party is CCT. That’s on Jan. 25. Spelled in full, that’s the Cebu City Triathlon. Organized by the Cornerstone Group, the same team led by Steve Maniquis and Quinito Moras that brought us San Rem 8080 (a very well-organized triathlon event that I joined last month), this time, we don’t have to travel far as the three-part race is to be held in Cebu City. The distances: 750-meter swim (at the CSCC pool), 20K bike towards the SRP, and a 5K roundabout to Fuente Osmeña. I registered yesterday. Only 500 slots are available and I suggest you enlist today at www.cornerstone8080events.com.

TDC. Last Friday was an ideal day for car racing. Typhoon Ruby had not arrived and the skies the whole day were overcast. By 7 a.m., the Cebu I.T. Park revved with excitement as over two dozen vintage sports cars sat on display. One by one, driver and machine were called onstage as Chris Tio announced, “10, 9, 8…” From Lahug to Ayala Heights to Balamban and down south to Moalboal, these multicolored cars toured the island. They stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. They overtook slow-moving trucks. They braved rain in the mountains and dust in the inner roads to emerge unscathed upon the finish at Chateau de Busay. They traveled over 340 kms. The original plan was to make pit stops in Dumaguete and Bacolod; a Negros/Cebu sojourn in what was labeled as a “historic rally across the Visayas.” But no thanks to the typhoon, the route was shortened but the race continued. Fittingly on this first event, the Tour de Cebu was held within Cebu. I watched video footages from Charlie, my brother, and it was like watching a scintillating videogame car chase. Only, this was real. His orange ’69 BMW was chasing Red Durano’s lime green Porsche 911 SC. Exhilarating. PACE, the organizers, have reason to smile. Their event was an inaugural success and they can’t wait for Dec. 4, 2015 for the 2nd edition. Until then, plenty will have a year to tinker with their vintage toys. To Jay, Kenneth, Yong, Glenn, Harley and the rest of PACE — you’ve started an event that will turn international and become very big for Cebu tourism in the years to come. Congratulations.

IPTL. I missed going to Manila the other weekend to watch the International Premier Tennis League. Organized by Mahesh Bhupathi, the former top-ranked doubles player, this first of its kind team tennis tournament in Asia has gotten good reviews. Andy Murray flew to Manila. So did Gael Monfils and US Open champ Marin Cilic. The star: Maria Sharapova. To the thousands who watched inside the MOA Arena — including plenty from Cebu: Ernie Delco, our Casino Español group, Dr. Ronnie Medalle, Dr. Rhoel Dejaño — it was a rare chance to see these world-caliber netters up close. After Manila, the players flew to Singapore. Now, they’re in New Delhi, India. Next, they’ll move to the UAE. There are plenty of reasons why this format is excellent. It’s non-traditional. There’s shot clock to force the players to speed up. Doubles is highlighted. The veterans (Sampras, Agassi) are mixed with today’s best (Djokovic, Federer).

Tour de Cebu: marathon for vintage cars

I asked Dr. Peter Mancao: What passion does driving a vintage car bring? “When you drive these cars you are talking of the bare essentials of motoring,” he answered. “There is no power steering, it’s manual transmission, no a/c, the brakes… hmm, they stop but you have to put a little engine brake here and there and the ride is on the stiff side.. you literally feel the road.”

This weekend, Dr. Mancao will join 25 other vintage car enthusiasts, driving from Cebu to Dumaguete to Bacolod and back, joining what is termed as the country’s first-of-its-kind Mille Miglia-inspired touristic rally: the Tour de Cebu.

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Peter explained that this is not all show-and-drive. “The ERUF is building a training center in Mandaue,” he said. Extra funds generated will be donated to the organization. “ERUF is giving us its full support. One ambulance will be with us for the entire event,” he said, adding that the ERUF team will be on full alert during the Cebu leg.

As for his personal reason for joining, “I’ve crossed out running a marathon in my bucket list. This ranks next to it,” said Cebu’s top heart surgeon, who’ll be motoring his red 1970 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet (convertible). “Everything is stock in the car (not modified),” he added, “and I would be very happy if we can just finish the race!”

I, too, had first-hand experience last week. My brother Charlie, a car enthusiast just like my dad Bunny, lent me his toy for the night. I drove it home. A tear of sweat trickled down my face. The reason: his 1969 BMW 2002 had no aircon, no power steering, one window couldn’t be opened and I had to press hard the brake. Maneuvering and parking required all of my muscular strength. This screaming loud orange BMW (with the occasional fireworks-like blast) will be driven by Charlie as he joins PACE this Friday.

Another participant is Chris Aldeguer. “I have always been a car fanatic since I was 18,” he said. “Which is why being part of this is exciting for me personally.”

Chris explains that this event is rare because it will bring many historical cars in one setting and, he said, “We will get to do what these cars were designed to do in the first place: Be Driven.”

Iconic cars are often displayed in public during a car show. “This time, these will be driven and driven long. Therefore, the limits will be tested for both cars and drivers,” said Chris, a top triathlete whose physical and mental prowess will be tested as he drives the fully-open ’55 Porsche 550 Spyder.

“Any car enthusiast would appreciate the design and engineering of these vintage cars. It will be more exciting for the enthusiast to see them running for 1,000 kms. across the Visayas,” said Chris. “I hope it will be exciting for the 42 towns and the 12 cities that we will be passing through. It works both ways. Historical cars in a rally will be witnessed by the locals and, at the same time, we will be witnessing these beautiful places.”

Prior to the Friday start, the organizers (PACE) have invited two of the country’s foremost automobile enthusiasts to give a lecture on “the wonders of owning, collecting, restoring as well as racing of vintage cars.”

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Andy Sta. Maria and Gonzalo “Nene” Syquia, the founders of the Manila Sports Car Club, will be here to give a talk entitled, “What is the Meaning of Vintage?” It’s by-invitation only on Thursday at The Henry Hotel, and will be followed by the official race briefing.

Now, the question: Where can we see these cars, all 26 of them, prior to the call, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” The flag-off is at 7 a.m. this Friday at the Cebu I.T. Park. The cars are expected to depart at 8:30. “What’s good is that you can go near the cars to have photos taken and you can talk to the drivers,” said Chris. The finish: it’s on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Northwing of SM City Cebu.

Tour de Cebu: a first

webre-1024x775Dr. Peter Mancao, Sophie de los Santos, Kenneth Cobonpue, Mike Jo, Red Durano and Jay Aldeguer (CDN photo/Brian J. Ochoa)

Unlike my dad Bunny and brother Charlie, I’m no car enthusiast. But I know that there are hundreds of automobile aficionados residing in Cebu.

Next weekend, from Dec. 5 to 7, will be a historic moment as 26 car devotees and their vintage cars — those manufactured older than Dec. 31, 1979 — will parade from the starting point at the Cebu I.T. Park; they’ll rev their engines, pump the brakes, and punish that pedal, traveling 1,000 kilometers in three days.

Yes, no misprint there: from Lahug to Toledo to Santander, then staying overnight in Dumaguete; the following morning, they’ll rise and start those half-a-century-old machines again — this time, passing the coastal roads of Negros (Oriental and Occidental) before halting in the City of Smiles for their second night; finally, on Sunday, they’ll trek that last full day, leaving Bacolod to climb Don Salvador Benedicto before descending to San Carlos City, hopping on a ro-ro boat, landing in Toledo City and heading up north to San Remigio before the final assault back to Cebu City.

Exhausted reading the itinerary? I am. Imagine if you’re driving that entire distance. If there’s a marathon on four wheels, this is it: the 1st Tour de Cebu.

Conceptualized by a close group of friends called PACE (Performance and Classics Enthusiasts), they teamed-up with the Manila Sports Car Club to organize this event they term “a historic rally across the Visayas.”

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This isn’t purely for show. Sure, the cars are multi-million show cars and they’ll reserve time when they park their vehicles in Dumaguete, Bacolod and Cebu for displaying their prized possessions, but next weekend is also a race. The term is “Regularity Race” and it’s not a whoever-finishes-first type of contest. Outright speed is unimportant.

“Unlike speed races, regularity events must be completed in a pre-defined time and not in the fastest time possible,” read the media kit. Although most Regularity Events include “penalties” and the winners will be those incurring the lowest penalties, it will be different in the TDC.

Event organizer Sophie De Los Santos explained: “There will be no penalties but will focus only on finishers and that the real important aspect is the passion and camaraderie of all participants all enjoying their historic cars and the scenic spots of the Visayas.”

The participants: PACE: (1) Bobby Aboitiz – ’71 MB 280SL White, #32. (2) Harley Yunam – ’71 Porsche Orange 911, #20. (3) Glenn Soco – ’67 Alfa Romeo Duetto Red, #67. (4) Kenneth Cobonpue – ’61 Jaguar E type Red, #88. (5) Junjun So – ’59 MGA, #39. (6) Mike Jo – ’64 Karmann Ghia Mint Green, #08. (7) Harold Ong – ’73 BMW 2002 Maroon, #07. (8) Jay Aldeguer – ’62 Porsche 356B, #02. (9) Red Durano – ’78 Porsche 911 SC Lime Green, #45. (10) Chris Aldeguer – ’55 Porsche 550 Spyder Silver, #18. (11) Yong Larazzabal – ’65 Shelby Cobra Black, #33. (12) Lui Alvarez – ’72 Porsche 911 Silver, #28. (13) Darren Deen – ’66 Corvette Stingray white, #24. (14) Louie Uy – ’69 Chevy Chevelle Green, #11. (15) Peter Mancao – ’70 VW Red, #53. (16) Erwin Miranda – Ford Mustang Red, #58. (17) Grand Benedicto – ’63 Kougar, #09.

MSCC (Manila Sports Car Club): (18) Jorge See – ’63 Jaguar XKE Red, #63. (19) Dodo Macapagal – ’68 Mbenz 280 SL White, #23. (20) Dominique Ochoa – ’69 MGB White, #25. (21) Adolfo Sy – ’66  Shelby GT350 White, #21. (22) Mike Aguilar – Porsche 356 Dark Cream, #65. (23) Oscar Medalla/Joe Lao – ’65 Corvette Blue, #28.

GUESTS: (24) Charlie Pages – ’69 BMW 2002 Orange, #69. (25) Julio Mapa, Jr. – ‘72 Datsun 240Z Yellow, #77. (26) Matteo Guidicelli – ’55 Porsche 550 Spyder Cream.

Are all expected to complete the adventure, driving over five hours and 300 kms. each day? That’s the wish — but that might be unrealistic. A couple of cars are nearly “senior citizens” (60 years old). Most have logged tens of thousands of miles; many have been parked in garages, sitting idle, asleep for years only to be reawakened.

For Manny, no KO is OK

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In a sports-loaded weekend that included LeBron and the Cavs losing their fourth straight, Roger and Stan winning for Switzerland their first Davis Cup trophy, Lewis Hamilton subduing his teammate Nico Rosberg in Abu Dhabi for the F1 title — the highlight was Manny Pacquiao’s impressive victory over Chris Algieri.

Lopsided? No contest? Walay bout? Not in the same league? Check, check, check, check. All of the above.

But first, Mommy Dionisia. What a character. It’s obvious that the strong persona of Manny came from his mom. What an actress, a stage mom, a prayerful warrior, a newly-in-love woman this lady. Her falling to her knees. Her holding the rosary and blessing a reluctant Manny. She’s as much of a star as her son — in fact, she elicited the loudest cheers when the cameras focused on her. Amazing, remarkable Mommy D.

Chris Algieri? All the ladies in attendance swooned over his good looks. “Pildi si Manny!” the shouts were heard, “Sa pa-gwapohay.” They also commented on the man who stood beside Algieri before the bout’s start. Was that his handsome brother? Well, as it turned out and as everyone predicted, Algieri was just that: all good looks but a mediocre boxer.

MP and CA are not in the same category. One has 60-plus bouts fighting the greatest welterweights of all time; the other is a Big Apple native whose 20 wins came against unknowns.

It showed last Sunday. Alan Choachuy commented: “Algieri better join the Cebu Marathon!” I agree. We’ll ask Rio de la Cruz to give him a complimentary 21K slot. He ran in circles around the square ring. Dr. Ronnie Medalle gave our group (in Ray and Letty Patuasi’s house that included Dr. Grace and Bryan Borja, Atty. Jephte and Sandra Romea, Dr. Ron and Raycia Eullaran) a wise suggestion: Can’t they make the ring much smaller so there’s no escape and no running around?

This was Algieri’s only strategy. Had he engaged, faced the Pinoy squarely, stood his ground and not sidestepped — the fight would have been over in 19 minutes. He did what he had to do and he survived. That was his goal, to last the full 36-minutes distance.

Four times he fell to the floor (plus two more times when he slipped). He stood up, green eyes dazed, lanky legs wobbly, mind vacillating and arms wavering, the tussle in his shoes tired from all the flip-flop — but he fought on. We also have to give him applause. He’s tough. In that Round 9 when he tumbled (I’ve never seen that before!), many a fighter would have folded. They’d have quit. But not the 30-year-old. The following round, his legs sprung to action, his arms active. He was alive. He “won” by simply being able to stand up at fight’s end.

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With Pacquiao, the “disappointment” was the lack of a defining knockout. He tried. And this was a much more aggressive Manny than we’ve seen in his last few contests. Freddie Roach wanted that KO and he broadcasted it. But what to do onstage when your partner won’t dance? “It takes two to tango,” says the line. In boxing, unless the victim wants to be subdued, there’s little you can do if he dances solo.

Here’s the question: Did the God-fearing and now-free-from-vices Manny P. relax in Round 12, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to floor Algieri anyway, and just coast through the final three minutes to pocket his $25 million?

“That was a Christian demonstration and a humane type of boxing,” reported Mayor Michael Rama minutes after the unanimous proclamation. “Manny is a good man. Boxing is not about butchering people.”

With that charismatic smile that Manny flashed and that friendly touch-of-gloves that he invoked upon Algieri prior to R12’s start, yes, I agree, Manny is not the Manny of the 2007 to 2010 era when he would destroy and maim the tomato-faced gladiator fronting him. He’s more compassionate and knows that boxing is savage and it’s man hurting man. He aims to win, gets the win — never mind if there’s no KO — and climbs the ring corner to raise his arms in thanksgiving to the Macau fans and to Almighty God.

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Can SuperManny still score a knockout?

What we love about Manny Pacquiao is his knockout power. Who’ll forget his perfect stab on Ricky Hatton’s cheek in Round 2? Or the forward-lunging attacks on Erik Morales? Or, with blood smearing his baldhead, the Miguel Cotto stoppage in R12?

In Manny’s pro career spanning 63 fights, of the 56 times that he’s triumphed, he won via KO on 38 occasions (versus only 18 by decision). That’s a high 68 percent. In the three times that my very own eyes have watched him, my most memorable sight was when he floored Fahsan Por Thawatchai with a left hook that saw the Thai fly in Manila. In boxing formulations, the equation is simple: MP = KO.

But there’s a problem: That was then. The last time Pacquiao knocked cold an opponent was Cotto five Novembers ago. Correction! The last time Pacquiao was involved in a knockout was when HE was KO’d – by J. M. Marquez two years ago.

That’s the past. Today is 11-23-14, a brand new morning. Will the Gen. Santos City native return to his former self against the New Yorker today? We all wish. But his past fights explain a weakening and he’s-getting-old Congressman. Since that TKO over Cotto in Nov. of 2009, Manny fought eight more times – winning six and losing twice. What’s troubling is that none of those six wins came via KO; each was an “MD” or a “UD.”

Will today be different? One person is confident and it’s Manny’s confidant. “He showed signs of greatness in training. He was knocking sparring partners down,” said Freddie Roach, who knows his student more than any other. “It’s not enough to win nowadays. You have to win impressively, and knockouts are impressive. I love knockouts.”

Who doesn’t? The top reason why we follow boxing is not simply to endure 36 minutes of jabs, pokes, head butts and chest-to-chest sweaty hugs. We all await that knockout. That single moment perfected in time when the fist collides with the face.

Boxing would be boring without that KO. It’s more than baseball’s homerun; more than a Dwight Howard slam dunk; it’s like a football goal, waiting patiently for 90 minutes before that kick or header greets the net – but boxing’s knockout is even more thrilling.

Does Pacquiao still possess that SuperManny force? Can his present fists replicate his past feats?

First, let’s remember his age. Though Manny’s not Bernard Hopkins-old (who’ll turn 50 this Jan.), our fellow Pinoy is no longer youthful. This Dec. 17, he’ll turn 36. Considering that he started this warfare state in his teens, that’s over two decades of battered bodies and bloodied fists.

Two: he’s moved up in weight. Said Roach: “He has only knocked out two welterweights (Cotto and a weight-drained De La Hoya) since we’ve moved up in weight for the big fights. All those other big knockouts were in smaller divisions.”

His point? The bigger the man you’re facing, the more daunting the task of putting him to sleep. A recent example was Nonito Donaire, dominant in his previous category but outclassed by the larger Nicholas Walters. If Manny wins today, Team Pacquiao is signaling a return to lighter weight divisions.

“The real question is, how do I feel and how do I perform when I return to those lower weights?” said Pacquiao. “I could be faster than when I fought at welterweight and (junior middleweight), and if my power remains the same, I may be able to score more knockouts at lower weights. I weighed 138 when I knocked out Ricky Hatton, 142 when I stopped Oscar De La Hoya and 144 when I scored a TKO of Miguel Cotto. Many people consider those fights some of my best, so why not go back down if that is where the bigger and better fights are going to be fought?”

That’s next year. Today, the strategy is to go for the jugular. “This is what I’m going to do to this kid (Algieri),” Manny told Roach. “I’m going to knock him out early.”

Roach agrees. “Manny is an eight-division champion with speed and power. When he hurts a guy, he knows what to do. Chris Algieri is not fighting Ruslan (Provodnikov). This is not a ‘Rocky’ movie. It might be one round.”

Let’s see the boast.

Zonta says No

Malu Mendez, my well-loved and eternally generous mother-in-law, won’t run this Sunday but she’s advocating that we all do. She’s part of the Zonta Club and it’s the “Zonta Says No” race at The Terraces of Ayala Center Cebu.

Organized by the all-women group, the goal is to say no to violence against women, girls and children. This Sunday’s run offers three categories: 3K, 5K and 10K.

Zonta president Nellie Chiu said in a recent press conference (story written by Richiel Chavez): “We want to promote our advocacy through the run. The orange color will represent the support for women and children who experience violence. The more runners we have, the more mileage we can get for this advocacy.”

The funds generated from the run will be used for the future construction of the Zonta Center, a venue that will offer victims multiple support services.

Say “Yes” by joining the run and help Zonta say “No” to violence against women.

101 hours of footall

If it sounds absurd to play nonstop football for 101 hours — that’s four days/nights straight plus five hours — it’s because, well, it is ridiculous. But, as the saying goes, “Just because something is unbelievable it does not mean you shouldn’t believe it.”

Well, you better believe it. It’s happening from Dec. 2 to 6 at the San Roque Football Field in the city led by Mayor Jonas Cortes. And it’s another Guinness World Record attempt. (Pretty soon, Cebu will amass a world record for having the most number of sports-related world records!)

Jaq Siwala is one of the lead organizers of this herculean task. We met two afternoons ago at the office and if the prospect of two teams, manned by a total of 18 players each, playing for 6,060 consecutive minutes is crazy — it is. It’s also for a wonderful cause because the proceeds will benefit children with congenital heart diseases, through the NGO called Let It Echo.

As the countdown nears for Dec. 2, we ask the Cebuano public to support this project — through donations, word-of-mouth publicity, and to visit and cheer-on these indefatigable players.

SRP: Sports Recreational Park

Can we rename the “SRP” to “Sports & Recreational Park?” Why not? The South Road Properties is 330-hectares large that’s intended for commercial, industrial, tourism and recreational pursuits — and why not include sports in the equation?

Michael Lopez Rama called me late last week and we had a spirited discussion on the SRP. A lifelong athlete who dabbled into basketball and who continues to shoot 3-pointers like Stephen Curry, the Cebu City mayor is pro-sports. You can ask Ed Hayco about this. You will even see him running (not just for public office) on the road.

With the proposal of Cebu City Councilors Mary Ann de los Santos, Jun Gabuya and Hanz Abella to allocate huge tracts of land for sports — the mayor is not opposed to that. He welcomes it. In fact, since he took office, he has been suggesting this to the community.

The questions are: How big will the space be for sports? Who will fund it? Where at the SRP will it be? Can a viable transport system be planned to include the influx of athletes and spectators — granted Cebu hosts major athletic events?

To me, this lot should not house the Indoor Sports Arena. If this were government-initiated, it would be too costly. It has to be private sector-led. The best group? SM. I’ve been inside the MOA Arena in Manila and it’s a structure to be proud of. I hope Marissa Fernan can help convince Hans Sy to build this. To house NBA exhibition games, Taylor Swift concerts and more, this will be the go-to Vis-Min coliseum (to replace the derelict Cebu Coliseum).

The open air SRP Sports Park — the mayor is eyeing an initial three to five hectares — can be a wide expanse littered with football fields, a track oval, tennis rectangles, a baseball diamond, archery fields, multi-purpose courts and more.

Let’s get this approved!

Donnie Nietes is the pride of the Pinoys

An overflow crowd flocked to the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino last weekend. Each “Pinoy Pride” series of ALA Promotions always elicits a jampacked audience — but last Saturday teemed with even more fans and excitement. It was hot. Seated up on-stage, I saw ALA — Tony Aldeguer — fanning himself. The reason: Cebuanos overheated and swarmed the ballroom to witness Donnie Nietes win his 10th straight against a Mexican. Ahas, the slithery-snake-of-a-champion, was to reward the spectators with Historic Win No. 34.

Judging from their physiques alone (as they entered the ring), it was obvious who was the world champ. Carlos Velarde, youthful at 24 and carrying both a boyish grin and some unneeded fat plastered around his body — he was a neophyte. Skills-wise, the Mexican was shoddy; his strategy was to hug and embrace.

The ending was anti-climactic. The crowd longed for a flurry of uppercuts punctuated by a falling Velarde. But a knockout wasn’t meant to be. In the end, Velarde was “saved” by the accidental head-butt. With his face bloodied, it was the perfect excuse for him to quit.

RECORD. Ronnie Nathanielsz best explains Donnie’s win in his Philboxing.com article: “With the win Nietes reached a high-water-mark in his career by remaining undefeated for 7 years, 1 month and 15 days as he chases the record of 7 years and 3 months established by the great Hall-of-Famer, the late Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde who reigned as world junior lightweight champion for seven years and three months… This means that the 32 year old Nietes will surpass the longtime record of Elorde on January 1, 2015 which will significantly be on the eve of Elorde’s death in the early hours of January 2 signifying that from the ashes of one all-time Filipino great another champion in Nietes, arises.”

MILAN. I’m not sure why but Milan Melindo looked unimpressive. Yes, his diminutive opponent clearly lost the bout but Milan’s victory did not excite the crowd. Several moments during the 12-round encounter, you could hear awkward silence. Were some starting to fall asleep? The firepower and attack-mode were absent. Michael Rama, when I sat with the mayor at the lobby minutes after the event, was shaking his head at his wobbly performance.

CROWD. It’s hard to please the Cebuanos! This was the conclusion arrived at by my seat-mate, Atty. Jingo Quijano. After we witnessed two prolonged battles lasting a dozen rounds each between Pagara-Hilares and Melindo-Suarez, the audience felt bored. They wanted a knockout. You could hear their “disappointment” at Pagara and Melindo, despite the wins. But here’s the funny point: the crowd complains when a visitor gets KO’d in the early rounds — saying that the ALA officials always bring lousy boxers. But they also complain when the bouts are long.

VERBAL CONFRONTATION. An interesting occurrence happened after the Melindo bout. The manager of the Mexican boxers confronted ALA Promotions CEO Michael P. Aldeguer. He complained. A large, mestizo man wearing the Mexican red jacket, it looked like he was ready for a brawl — against Michael. He signaled with his fingers the number “2.” I wasn’t sure what he was saying, if it was “Your (ALA) boxer won only two rounds!” or if it was “You stole two victories from us!” But his voice grew louder until the security personnel intervened. Michael, always sporting a cool demeanor, shrugged off the outburst. But the man kept on shouting. MPA approached to pacify him but he wanted none of it. Finally, the hot-tempered Mexican was moved aside and the tension was diffused. Imagine if he pushed or threw a punch.

PACQUIAO. After Nietes, it’s now the turn of an even more illustrious Pinoy boxer to do his part: win this Sunday. Back-to-back weekends of boxing. To the fan of this sport of jabs and uppercuts, it’s a treat. After Manny’s expected win, here’s hoping for that eventual Manny-Money mega-fight.

History will be made this Saturday

In boxing, everybody says they’ll knockout their opponent. Right? Haven’t you noticed this? Fighters brag and showboat. “I am prepared to give a knockout,” said the visitor. But, as we know and unless there’s a draw, at fight’s end there’ll only be one winner.

Donnie Nietes will be the lone man standing inside the stage this weekend, raising his Murcia-bred arms towards the Waterfront Hotel ceiling, blood dripping, sweat raining, applause from his fellow Cebuanos deafening the ballroom.

His opponent: A Mexican named Velarde but not first-named Mike. He’s Carlos and his 26-wins, 3-loss record will become four defeats before midnight. I’m not saying that Nietes is invincible. Unlike basketball that requires 48 minutes or volleyball where each set must reach 25 points, boxing is spine-chilling: You may dominate the entire fight but, in one careless moment, that incoming stab can plunk you to sleep. Remember Marquez’s wallop on Manny?

Let’s wish this doesn’t happen to Ahas. Having witnessed numerous Nietes fights, I think the 32-year-old is too crafty and too clever to be careless — and thus, we anticipate that he’ll break the nearly-half-a-century-old record of Flash Elorde as the longest-reigning Filipino world champ.

(Read the two articles I wrote about Donnie last April 24 and April 28.)

unnamedWith the world champ

My hope this Saturday — in a night loaded with A-list boxers from ALA Promotions that includes AJ Banal, Albert Pagara, Milan Melindo and Mark Magsayo — is this: That Carlos Velarde put up a tough stand. We’ve witnessed many Waterfront Hotel sorties that finish in a few seconds. We want a quarrel, an altercation, a pummel-versus-jab encounter, a clash and scuffle — with Nietes smiling in the end.