I COULDN’T help but smile as I listened to Popoy, Rico Navarro’s eldest son, recall how at seven, he shifted to football from basketball because of his dad.
I remember those times. The Cebu sportswriting community had just gotten out of a silly cold war, started by the silliest of things, the group’s own sports awards and who deserved them. The tension got so bad that it spilled to the opinion pages and the editors in chief played the peacemakers since opinion pieces in the back pages were getting out of hand.
I got back into sportswriting for the third time just as the tension had thawed and communication lines were being open again. It was also about that time that Rico put on his new cap as a football dad.
“Do you know what Rico just texted me?” My boss told me one Sunday after I got to the office. At that time, being the new kid on the block, I wasn’t aware of the meetings with the EIC or that communication lines were back to pre-cold war status.
“I don’t care,” I said huffily, “I don’t read his columns.”
My boss laughed and just said, “He just wanted to know if you’d add that the dad of the one who scored the winning goal is a writer for The Freeman.”
I remember the game and the goal. It was the Aboitiz U7 finals; Ateneo vs. Springdale at the old Ateneo field in Ayala. It was the dying minutes and there was a goal mouth scramble and someone poked in the ball for the winner.
Rico read my report and must have liked it because there were no more further references of Popoy being his son in further communications between papers.
I too, stopped denying that I read his columns regularly.
Years later, I learned that Rico would talk behind my back and learned for the first time what kind of friend he is.
“______ complained to me. You didn’t write about____ during the game,” he said.
“Oh come on!”
“Sssh...sshh,” he’d say, pushing forward both his arms in what has been his trademark to calm someone down. “I explained that there are so many games in a single day, they can’t be all included in the report. ‘Basi pang finals na sila.’
Always a class act Rico is.
And when I got the desk and was rarely found in the field or would be late on the days that I would be, he’d say, “Good of you to join finally join us, Mr. Limpag,” and would share the crucial things I’d missed by both teams.
“Good of you to finally join us, Mr. Limpag,” I could almost hear him say when I got to his funeral mass late after a three-hour drive. But knowing Rico and how understanding he was, I know he wouldn’t mind.
And listening to his sons and wife, seeing all the people who showed up, made me think—as I assume everyone there thought—his was a life gone to soon. He could do so much more for Cebu sports, not just for basketball. And by more, I don’t mean trophies to be won but lives to be changed.
But then Popoy, that seven-year-old who poked the winning goal, reminded us that while our friend Rico may have passed on, his ideals didn’t or shouldn’t.
Cebu sports would be a better community if each of us would think, whenever we find ourselves in a tough situation, “What would Rico do?”
The bleacher is still talking to us. I hope we continue to listen.