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Starkey: Reynolds' shot still hits nerve

| Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010

Brace yourself. Navigating this column could prove painful.

But it also could be a cleansing exercise, for reliving a nightmare is often the best way to exorcise one.

Facing a demon can be the best way to slay one.

So, with apologies to Tom Fitzgerald — who redeemed himself by helping the Penguins win a Cup — let us begin by uttering the six names that elicit more heartache than all others in the panorama of modern-day Pittsburgh sports.

These names need no clarification.

These names can make grown men cry. And punch things.

Deep breath. Repeat after me: Dennis Gibson ... David Volek ... Francisco Cabrera (another deep breath, suppress urge to break something) ... Barry Goheen ... Larry Brown ... Scottie Reynolds.

Ugh, Reynolds. That wound remains fresh and will be re-opened for many when Villanova plays Pitt on Sunday at Petersen Events Center. This will be unique because none of the other perpetrators ever made a subsequent appearance in Pittsburgh as the focal point of an opposing team. Three of them — Gibson, Volek, Cabrera — vanished from pro sports within a year of their heroics.

Reynolds is back and better than ever, in the midst of a stellar senior year. Given what happened last March in Boston, when he beat Pitt on a last-second dash, he is not expecting a warm reception.

"Oh, man, I can only imagine," Reynolds said. "I have no idea what to expect ... but I don't think there's going to be any cheers."

Reynolds was quoted earlier this season as saying he didn't want to live off the shot, that he wanted to move on. He clarified the statement during our conversation Thursday, when I asked what it's like to know that when the NCAA Tournament kicks off in, oh, a thousand years, his shot will remain part of the highlights package.

"It is cool, it is," he said. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea. That was something special. It's something that team can always cherish and remember, just a special moment in basketball history."

Or a spectacularly tortuous moment, depending on one's perspective. But was it more tortuous than the acts perpetrated by the other five villains in this story• Tough topic. Subjective one, too. But we're in the middle of an exorcism here, so what the heck. Let's tackle it.

Let's rank those six heinous acts, using blunt-force impact and lasting power as the criteria.

» 6. The second of Brown's two interceptions in Super Bowl XXX ruined the Steelers' chance for an upset, but the villain in most minds was Neil O'Donnell. Brown was an innocent bystander, not to mention the most unlikely Super Bowl MVP this side of Dexter Jackson.

» 5. Goheen's dagger of a 25-footer in Vanderbilt's 1988 NCAA Tournament upset of Pitt should never be minimized, but on this list, it remains at No. 5 because it didn't win the game, it only forced overtime.

» 4. We'll go with Reynolds here. Mistakes were made on the Pitt side, but you have to credit Dante Cunningham and Reynolds with an amazing play.

» 3. When Gibson deflected a pass (O'Donnell again) at the goal line to clinch the Chargers' mammoth upset in the 1994 AFC title game, an entire city melted into mass depression. Dan Rooney says it was the worst loss he ever experienced.

» 2. The Penguins were deemed a cinch for a third straight Cup in '93, but Volek, an obscure Islanders winger, ruined a potential dynasty. Listen hard enough, and you can still hear the silence that enveloped the Civic Arena that night.

» 1. Having been immersed in the Pittsburgh sports culture for 20-some years, I feel secure in saying that no single event can match the soul-crushing finality of the Cabrera single that scored Sid freakin' Bream from second base. None set off such a dire chain of events, either. The Pirates haven't won since and might never win again.

I had to ask Reynolds if he ever had his heart ripped out while rooting for a team, if he ever felt the way Pitt fans felt last March.

"Hmmm ... nah, nothing like that ," he said. "I haven't had any real heart-breaking moments, and hopefully, I won't have any like that."

Feel better•

At least we tried.

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