Ten minutes after Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50 yesterday, Leo Austria, the San Miguel Beer coach, was on the phone to return a call.
“Sorry di ko agad nasagot tawag mo, tinapos ko lang yung Super Bowl,” said Austria, who a week ago led SMB to an unprecedented comeback from a 0-3 deficit against the Alaska Aces in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals, becoming the first team in league history to make it all the way back.
“Bilib ako sa Broncos, meron silang blitz defense na ang bilis umatake,” Austria said, warming up on the subject of the vaunted pass rush that forced three key turnovers by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the 24-10 Denver triumph.
That he was knowledgeable of the NFL came as a surprise, a side of him that hardly has been written about, and Austria was asked if he had been a fan for long.
The San Miguel mentor, winner of three of the last four PBA championships, laughed.
“Sa totoo lang, itong football and inspirasyon ko noong nag-umpisa akong mag-coach more than 15 years ago,” said Austria, who started his career as an assistant coach at Chowking in the Philippine Basketball League before taking over when the team lost, interestingly, its first three games.
“Kako ang dami-daming players sa field pero nakakalusot pa rin ang plays nila, nagagawan ng paraan sa offense,” he said. “Sa defense naman, ang gagaling mag-tackle. Me kanya-kanyang roles sila. Iniisip ko mas mahirap na sport ito at maganda siguro kung maa-apply sa basketball yung ilang basic ng football like timing and hard work.”
Quarterbacks John Elway, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Broncos, and the legendary Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers, the former Formula Shell point guard and PBA rookie of the year said, are his all-time NFL favorites.
Asked to recall how his first season as a full-time coach and football follower turned out, Austria chuckled.
“Sa maniwala ko man o hindi, tapos namin matalo ng tatlong dikit, nanalo naman kami ng apat na sunod kaya umabot pa kami sa semis,” he said. “Pero don na kami natalo sa knockout game sa Red Bull.”
Austria also bared that Game 7 of the recent Philippine Cup Finals coincided with his anniversary as a head coach back in 1999, a moment he shared with a former Chowking player who sat on the opposite side from the Beermen that Feb. 3 evening – Alaska Aces assistant coach Topex Robinson.
“Magkasama kami ni Topex noon so many years ago,” Austria said. “Magkasama pa rin kami sa loob ng court nitong anibersaryo ko.”