Dick, Joe and Pinggoy: How three PBA sportscasters shaped my career

The enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) has triggered an avalanche of sports nostalgia for fans missing the action of live games. Nothing really compares to sports where you have no idea of the result, but what can you do when your favorite leagues can't hold games?

The usual route for sports fans eager for nostalgia is to head to YouTube or unearth wobbly VHS or VCD copies and insert them into now mostly unstable playback machines. The next best alternative is the PBA Rush channel on Cignal. Games from as far back as the early 1980s have been shown, appreciated by many even as understandably the technology of the era replayed today shows mostly low resolution pictures.

Not all the games have been preserved, though, as a fire once hit the PBA office and the different production houses that handled the coverage did not all have today's digital capabilities and data capacities. We hope for the best as we still look forward to the era of The Fast and The Furious, Major Pain and the other stars of the early 21st century.

The announcing teams of the pre-digital era remain crystal clear nevertheless. From 1975 to 1981, cool and suave Dick Ildefonso and bubbly partner Emy Arcilla did the sportscasting chores. When Vintage Enterprises took over in 1982, the veterans Joe Cantada and Pinggoy Pengson came along with partners Andy Jao, Steve Kattan and Jun Barnardino at the start.

The sportscasters I will mention here are the voices my generation grew up with, while Cantada and Pengson were my mentors at Vintage when I started with the radio panel in 1986. For this piece, I will reminisce only on these three and will leave others to judge on the value my contemporaries and I have brought to the PBA coverage.

In the 1999 Brunei Darrusalam SEA Games and 2000 Sydney Olympics, I had the great opportunity to be on the same team with Dick Ildefonso. We had never met before, but he generously shared with me stories from his previous coverages. He was also a generous member of the teams, diligently working on sports assigned to him. I remember he loved the tennis matches in Sydney and went to them everyday and did off-tube or delayed commentary in the studio.

In 2003 when it was time for the last Crispa-Toyota reunion match at Araneta Coliseum, it was fitting that he and Emy Arcilla would team up anew. I was excited to be the coliseum barker that day, a task I had never really done before but I had lots of help from the PBA technical group. When I watched the replay days later, the game transported me to the time when I would watch the PBA with my street basketball teammates in Sta. Cruz, Manila. Dick Ildefonso never lost his cool ever and the ball as well in all his years of covering sports.

Joe Cantada was the man for boxing, the summer bike tours and a few basketball tournaments like the NCAA. He was the Smokin' Joe that impressed the world as the ring announcer of the Thrilla in Manila. His was the first voice I could impersonate because it was so clear and unique. His vocabulary and phraseology on the air felt like you were reading well crafted prose or even poetry. I once did a school cheer rally in his voice.

When I made it to the Vintage panel in 1986, we were all brought to the ULTRA which would be the new home of the PBA. The producers knew very well I could impersonate Joe since I auditioned both as myself and then as Smokin' Joe. To this day, I think the Cantada part still made the better impression.

As Joe was walking up the stairs to our perch in the upper box, the producer asked me to fire away. In Cantada-like fashion, I said, "He scales the stairs with no fear, no doubt establishing authority over the steps" or something that sounded like that. The staff was laughing like crazy while I wondered if I had offended a legend. He then said, "I've heard about you. Thank you. You've given me the ultimate compliment."

From then on, Joe was a big brother who gave me broadcast and life tips and even acted as mediator when occasional misunderstandings would come up. Everyday was a lesson in sportscasting and human relations and they were valuable to all of us who were with him then. It was a sad day when we had to say goodbye to him when he lost his battle to what he called "the overrated bully known as the Big C."

Pinggoy Pengson was a popular DJ in Cebu and an advertising executive before he returned to sportscasting in 1982. Pinggoy studied his craft assiduously, constantly looking for terms he could add to the broadcast. He coined "cardiac game" to describe tightly fought battles and caught the attention of TIME magazine that did a piece on how language can transform around the world. "The Quick Brown Fox" for Ricardo Brown, "The Scholar" for Philip Cezar and "The Skywalker" for Samboy Lim came from him.

Pinggoy was also generous in his mentoring. In my first panel meeting, I was the Benjamin or the youngest back then in 1986. He arrived as early as I did and immediately wanted to know more about me. He made me feel at home immediately and through the years, made sure I was comfortable and well fed during our meetings.

Pengson also gladly gave up to me some of his appearances on the Vintage coverage. He didn't have to because he was definitely more senior than me. But he said it was time for me to get more seasoning and he knew that I would learn more working with Dr. J, Joaqui Trillo, Norman Black and Quinito Henson.

Lastly, Pinggoy gave me a handwritten note just before leaving for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. I was going to the Olympics rather than Joe as his doctor did not want him to travel and be far away for long. Pinggoy and I were already slated to be studio hosts and Pinggoy relished our upcoming roles. But as fate would have it, Joe became studio host and Pinggoy held the PBA fort as games continued in that Olympic year.

Going back to the note, Pinggoy gave a lifelong lesson. "When you're on camera, talk to one person, your wife, friend, gasoline boy or even me. This is the core of your relationship with the audience."

Watching old sports events can mean many things to different fans. The battles of a different time bring back forgotten thrills and even scars from rivalry wounds. To me, the old games bring back the lessons learned from great mentors and heroes. It's always great to go back to Dick, Joe and Pinggoy.