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How Vic "Rambo" Sanchez earned his reputation as a PBA enforcer

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Playing tough in the PBA (1:25)

Vic "Rambo" Sanchez, one of the original PBA enforcers, shares his secret to intimidating opponents back in the day. (1:25)

Victor "Vic" Sanchez earned the reputation of being a bruising defender and enforcer over his 12-season PBA career playing for Tanduay, Beer Hausen and Shell.

Starting as a rookie for Tanduay in the 1977 season, Sanchez sowed terror in the hearts of opposing players due to his no-fear approach. In fact, the 6-foot-3 Sanchez's toughness was evident early on in his career after he received a "welcome" hit from Toyota stars Robert "Sonny" Jaworski and Ramon Fernandez.

"Natatandaan ko na ang unang nagbigay sa akin eh si Sonny Jaworski, tapos nasundan ni Mon Fernandez na binira din ako, mga Toyota (players)," Sanchez said in a conversation with An Eternity of Basketball on Saturday.

However, the former Mapua Cardinal admitted he didn't take the physical PBA "welcome" from Jaworski and Fernandez sitting down.

"Gumanti ako kay Jaworski at Mon Fernandez. Dun nila nalaman na ako pala'y tirador. Kasi babanggain ka talaga," he recalled. "Si Mon nga tinira ako dito (pointing to his chin) so gumanti ako. Nung gumanti ako, hindi na ako tinitira."

Sanchez remembered what Jaworski told Tanduay guard Rene Canent.

"Kahit si Sonny, sabi niya, 'Ne, tinira ako ni Vic.' Tapos sabi ni Rene, 'Eh tinira mo eh, di titirahin ka talaga,'" Sanchez said. "Kasi kapag di ka gumanti ay wala na, tapos na career mo, magretiro ka na sa PBA."

Given Sanchez's physical approach to the game, the late TV anchor Joe Cantada gave him the moniker "Rambo", after the fictional action movie hero portrayed by Sylvester Stallone during the 1980s.

Rugged plays as a pro

Knowing that his role was to stop the best local scorer or import from the opposing team, Sanchez said he had to make sure he was always at his absolute best defensively. Sanchez, one time, even tried to get Ginebra import Terry Duerod out of focus by hitting him in the body during a game.

"Eh nung tinitira ko, nilapitan ako ni Chito Loyzaga, sabi sa akin, 'Vic huwag mo titirahin import namin,'" Sanchez said. 'Eh tinitira ako kaya gumaganti lang ako,' sabi ko."

Duerod, a member of the Boston Celtics team that won the NBA title in 1981, didn't mind the physical play, dropping 41 points and leading Ginebra to a 154-131 win over Tanduay in their semifinal game.

"Eh yung import sumasawa kakatira ko kasi inintindi niya lang ang bola. Ako hindi, iniintindi ko katawan niya eh kasi talagang tama ng tama. Talagang bigayan talaga," Sanchez added.

When Sanchez moved to play one season for Beer Hausen in 1984, he came to Fernandez's rescue following a series of physical skirmishes with Great Taste forward Arnie Tuadles.

"Kakampi ko si Mon Fernandez. Eh binibira ni Arnie si Mon Fernandez. So bigla akong pinasok ni Coach (Bonnie) Carbonell, palakpakan mga tao sa Araneta (Coliseum) kasi alam na nila ang mangyayari. Hiyawan na kasi pinasok si Rambo eh," he said.

"Sabi ko kay Arnie, 'Huwag mo tirahin (Fernandez) kasi kayo kapwa Cebuano, huwag kayo magtirahan, eh si Mon di naman naninira. Kung gusto mo ako tirahin mo, maghapon tayo magtirahan wala kang marinig sa akin,'" Sanchez recalled warning Tuadles.

"Eh tatawa-tawa lang, di siya naniniwala. Sabi ko 'Huwag ka da-drive at yari ka'. Eh nag-drive sa baseline so dun ko sinalubong. Pagsalubong ko bagsak siya," he added.

Sanchez was ejected from the game, but when Beer Hausen faced Great Taste anew, he said Tuadles didn't bother to retaliate.

"Sumunod na game namin, kapag si Arnie Tuadles ako bumantay, di na kumikibo yun, umiiwas na kasi ako pag nagsalita at di ko ginawa, di sila maniniwala," he said. "Kaya ginawa ko talagang dinipensahan ko siya (Tuadles) at talagang latag siya. Iyun talaga ang pangyayari kasi ako sinuportahan ko lang si Mon Fernandez. Sabi ko kasi sa kanya, 'Huwag mo tirahin, di ka naman tinitira, titirahin mo.'"

In the 1985 season, playmaker Onchie dela Cruz was a rookie for Tanduay. Sanchez, who at the time returned to play for the Rhum Makers, remembered teammate Abet Gutierrez telling him that Dela Cruz was a tough guy since his amateur days.

"'Pare iyan ang siga sa PABL, sa amateur. Talagang tirador yan,'" Sanchez said, recalling what Gutierrez told him. "'Eh di testingin natin, siga pala eh.'"

During one instance in practice, Dela Cruz drove past a defender and Sanchez, playing the last line of defense, came hard on him and sent the rookie guard flying to the wall of Tanduay's practice venue.

"Nung binanatan ko, balandra siya sa dingding, pero di siya nakibo," he said.

While they were about to head to the shower shortly after practice, Sanchez said Dela Cruz approached him and asked if they could be "buddy-buddy" on the team.

"Sabi ko walang problema yun," he said with a smile.

That season, Sanchez admitted he already reached the maximum number of ejections, which would prevent him from flashing his tough-guy approach in the game. But he had a solution.

"Nung panahon na 'yun di na ako puwede manira, maba-blacklist na ako sa PBA. Hindi na ako puwede manira so pinasa ko kay Onchie yung aking ano (reputation)," he said. "Sabi ko kay Onchie, 'Onchie, para ikaw sumikat, tirahin mo mga star players.'"

Although the 5-foot-11 went on to develop the enforcer mentality, Dela Cruz played an instrumental role in helping Tanduay win three PBA titles in 1986 and 1987.

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'Rambo' gives advice to Onchie

Vic "Rambo" Sanchez gave fellow enforcer Onchie Dela Cruz a rude welcome to their team but later also offered words of wisdom to the then-PBA rookie.

Ending the title drought

Sanchez toiled for the first 10 seasons of his career without winning a championship. In fact, the closest he got to winning a PBA title was a runner-up finish by Tanduay during the 1978 PBA Invitationals where the Rhum Makers lost to Toyota in the finals.

But Tanduay became ripe for the championship in the 1986 season.

With Fernandez leading the way, and a solid supporting cast that included Freddie Hubalde, JB Yango, Dela Cruz, Padim Israel, Willie Generalao and Sanchez, Tanduay captured the Reinforced Conference behind the explosive import duo of Rob Williams and Andre McKoy. Tanduay won another title in the All-Filipino Conference.

"Para bang na-accomplish mo after lahat ng paghihirap mo at nakatikim ka na ng championship. Kaya masaya ako nun," said Sanchez, describing what he felt when Tanduay won back-to-back titles under coach Turo Valenzona in the 1986 season.

Import woes during the Open Conference prevented the Rhum Makers from pulling off a Grand Slam finish as they settled for fourth place. Tanduay players, though, experienced a windfall of bonuses during their two-conference dominance, which was mostly because of the high-scoring efforts of Williams and McKoy.

"Kapag pareho mo pinagsabay ang dalawa, walang tatalo sa amin. Sobrang galing talaga kaya ang blessing namin sunud sunod kasi nga puro panalo," he said.

And though the Grand Slam eluded Tanduay in 1986, the Rhum Makers went back to their winning ways after ruling the Open Conference the following season behind former Boston Celtic David Thirdkill.

Nicknamed the "Sheriff from Bradley", Thirdkill was the hands-down choice for Best Import after leading Tanduay to a 4-1 Finals series win over the Michael Young-led Great Taste Coffee. Sanchez said Tanduay was blessed to have Thirdkill, who was not just an unstoppable scorer, but an all-around player as well.

"The best yun, tahimik lang siya pero magaling," Sanchez said of Thirdkill. "Si Rob Williams kasi parang guard, eh si Thirdkill all around, mapa-labas ng shaded lane, eh magaling tumira, sa drive magaling kaya di mo kayang pigilan."

Thirdkill in fact scored 61 or more points four times in the team's championship run, including a PBA career-best 72 points in Tanduay's victory over Great Taste in the semifinals.

Retirement

Following Tanduay's disbandment at the close of the 1987 season, Sanchez signed a one-year pact with Shell, which finished second behind San Miguel Beer in the 1988 Reinforced Conference.

"Rambo" failed to get a fresh contract heading into the 1989 season, leaving him with no choice but to retire after playing for 12 seasons in the pro league. Upon retirement, he went on to coach Perpetual in Biñan before handling the Laguna Lakers in the Metropolitan Basketball Association in 1999.

But Sanchez said as a coach, he never taught his players to follow his footsteps.

"Hindi ako nagtuturo na para maging salbahe kasi ganun pala yung ma-experience mo na pag ikaw ang nag-coach, na hindi mo puwede turuan ang players mo na maging salbahe," he said. "Turuan mo paano sila gumaling at paano maabot ang mataas na tournament gaya ng PBA. So nagiging magaling ka lang na coach kapag gumaling ang player at nag-champion ang team."

Sanchez, now based in San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, played a total of 501 games and has career averages of 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds.