Cincinnati's top 30 moments of sports heartbreak

Posted at 11:40 AM, Jan 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-21 15:47:56-04
I first came up with the list last January when the Bengals blew it.

The Bengals' 18-16 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium was -- given the stakes, the backstory and the opponent -- the most gut-wrenching Cincinnati sports loss in my 40 years here, 30 of them covering and/or watching all sorts of games and athletes.

Now, I have to update my Top 30, all because of the double-whammy in the 2016 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

I rank 2-seeded Xavier's buzzer-beating loss to Wisconsin the new No. 14, and 9-seeded Cincinnati's clock-cancelling-dunk-loss to St. Joseph's the new No. 28 in our pantheon of most agonizing games/most crushingly personal sports moments.

Taken together, I could make a good case they would rank No. 4.

Here's the list, ranked from No. 30 to No. 1.
No. 30 - 1992: Jamie Mercurio of No. 13 seed Miami University hit eight three-pointers to almost knock off Dean Smith's No. 4 seed North Carolina Tar Heels in a first-round NCAA tournament game at Riverfront Coliseum.
No. 29 - 2004: Xavier-Duke, Elite Eight. The No. 7 seed Muskies, who at one point had been 10-9 during the season, knocked off the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds (Mississippi State and Texas, respectively) in the NCAA Tournament's Atlanta Regional, but fell just short, 66-63, against No. 1 seed Duke in a wildly entertaining game.
No. 28 - 2016:  UC vs. St. Joe's.
No. 27 - 2007: Another crushing defeat for Xavier, this time a second-rounder by No. 1 seed Ohio State, coached by XU evacuee Thad Matta. The Buckeyes, who trailed 61-52 with three minutes to go, hit a three-pointer after Xavier made one free throw and missed one that would have sealed it.
No. 26 - 2002: UC dropped a football heartbreaker to Ohio State at Paul Brown Stadium, failing to hang on to two would-be touchdown passes in the end zone in the final minute from Bearcat quarterback Gino Guidugli. OSU QB Craig Krenzel ran for a late TD as the sixth-ranked Buckeyes slipped past the Bearcats 23-19. The Buckeyes went on to win the national title. 
No. 25 - 1954: Three months after "going the distance" in mid-June with heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, former heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, "the Cincinnati Cobra," split Marciano's nose "wide open," but was knocked out in the eighth round. The two bouts are regarded among the best heavyweight bouts of all-time.
No. 24 - 1960: Hamilton's Joe Nuxhall (1-8, .111 winning percentage), was booed so unmercifully at Crosley Field that the Reds front office felt compelled to free him from the fans' wrath, trading him to Kansas City — which caused him to miss the Reds-Yankees World Series, a lifelong regret for the Ol' Lefthander. 
No. 23 - 1870: The Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball's first admittedly all-professional team, lost a couple of games after an undefeated 1869 season; the fans deserted them, and most of the team — and their famous red stockings — move on to Boston. 
No 22 - 1979: Many Bengals fans at Riverfront Stadium cheered when quarterback Ken Anderson, who wasn't playing well, was forced to leave a game against the New England Patriots in mid-September. (The same was true when Cincinnati fans booed the introduction of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton at the Celebrity Softball Game at Great American Ball Park during the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Week. What is about Bengals QBs?)
No. 21 - 1965: Reds traded Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles after the season. Not everybody hated this trade, but every Reds fan knew they would miss his average of 32 home runs and 101 RBI and fiery play during his 10 years here.

No. 20 - 1973: The Reds (99-63) lost the National League Championship Series three games to two to the New York Mets, who had finished barely above .500 for the regular season (82-79), but got hot at the right time behind young starting pitchers Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman and reliever Tug McGraw.
No. 19 - 1923: During the final football game of the University of Cincinnati's 1923 season against rival Miami University, Bearcat player Jimmy Nippert sustained a spike wound. He died of blood poisoning a week later. 

The ouster of former University of Cincinnati basketball head coach Bob Huggins is blamed by many fans on former school president Nancy Zimpher.

No. 18 - 2006: The entire Bob Huggins saga. Every mention of the name of University of Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher at the school's basketball arena -- let alone an appearance at Fountain Square -- always brought a cascade of boos. For many UC fans, Zimpher was the villain, the woman who shot down Huggy Bear, the popular UC basketball head coach from 1989-2005 who was undone by his drunk-driving arrest, leading to his forced departure from Cincinnati.

No. 17 - 1964: Going into the final two games of the season, the Reds were only a half-game behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in a wild four-team pennant race. In the Oct. 2 game against the Phillies, the Reds blew a 3-0 lead in the seventh and lost 4-3. The turning point came in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the Reds' Leo Cardenas was hit by Phillies' pitcher Chris Short, and Cardenas headed for the mound, bat in hand. In the eighth, shortstop Cardenas allowed Frank Thomas' catchable blooper to fall safely, which ignited a Phillies rally. After the game, Reds pitcher Jim O'Toole challenged Cardenas and threw him against the wall, and Cardenas went after him with an ice pick. 

No. 16 - 1994: The Huggins-Gillen "No Handshake" game. When No. 22 XU beat No. 19 UC 82-76 in overtime, things boiled over at Cincinnati Gardens. There had been heated exchanges between the benches during the game. UC head coach Bob Huggins refused to shake Pete Gillen's hand afterward, and Gillen yelled at him.  
No. 15 - 1964: Reds manager Fred "Hutch" Hutchinson had to step down during the season because of his battle with cancer. As Jim O'Toole always said, "We tried like hell to win it for Hutch."
No. 14 - 2016: Xavier's heartbreaker to Wisconsin.
No. 13 - 1972: The Reds lost Game 7 of the World Series, 3-2, at home to the Oakland A's. My buddy, a lifelong Cincinnatian, recalls vividly 43 years later that he couldn't get a ticket for the game, but that he and a friend grabbed a six-pack and sat at Fountain Square, waiting for the party that never came. "All that came," he said, "was a moron in a VW bug with California plates who kept circling the Square, honking his horn and pumping his fist out the window."
No. 12 - 1963: NCAA Basketball Championship Game. The University of Cincinnati went for the three-peat and was up by 15 points in the second half, but lost 60-58 at the buzzer in overtime when Loyola's Vic Rouse banked in a missed shot.
No. 11 - 1982: Super Bowl XVI. The Bengals fell behind 20-0 at half, but rallied behind quarterback Ken Anderson (5-yard touchdown run, 4-yard TD pass). A third-quarter goal line stand by the 49ers swung the momentum back to San Francisco. The Bengals scored their final TD with 20 seconds left, but their onside kick failed. 49ers 26, Bengals 21.
No. 10 - 1951: A mysterious source calling itself the "Three Travelers," sent letters to the police, the Reds and a local newspaper vowing to shoot Jackie Robinson with a scoped rifle as soon as he stepped onto Crosley Field. The FBI looked into the matter to no avail, but Robinson again defeated all with a home run over the center-field fence.
No. 9 - 2011: The UC-Xavier Brawl. With 9.4 seconds left in another Crosstown Shootout, the brawl starts when XU's Tu Holloway says something to UC guard Ge'Lawn Guyn near the baseline in front of UC's bench. Each school suspends four players and the Shootout is moved to U.S. Bank Arena for two years before it returns to UC last year and Xavier this year.
No. 8 - 2000: University of Cincinnati senior Kenyon Martin led the No. 1 Bearcats into postseason play. They had been ranked No. 1 for 21 weeks and were favored to win the national championship. Martin broke his leg three minutes into the first round of the Conference USA tournament in Memphis. He  was named consensus national player of the year — but without him, UC lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The San Francisco Giants celebrate a game 3 win over the Reds in the 2012 NLDS.

No. 7 - 2012: After the Reds won the first two games of the National League Divisional Series, the Giants culminated what the New York Times called a "three-day odyssey in enemy territory in which they edged the Reds in Game 3 on a 10th-inning error, battered Cincinnati in a Game 4 blowout and endured all of the late challenges in Game 5" with a Buster Posey grand slam at Great American Ball Park to take the series.

No. 6 - 1958: In the last game of the NBA Cincinnati Royals' regular season, 24-year-old Royals star Maurice Stokes was knocked unconscious after he struck his head on the court. He was revived with smelling salts and returned. Three days later, after recording 12 points and 15 rebounds in an opening-round playoff game at Detroit, he fell ill on the team's flight back to Cincinnati and later suffered a seizure and was left permanently paralyzed. Royals teammate Jack Twyman became Stokes’ legal guardian, turning a tragedy transcendent. Much the same as would happen on New Year's Day 2016 when it was announced that $2.2 million had been raised for pediatric cancer research inspired by the passing of Lauren Hill, jersey No. 22, Mount Saint Joseph University basketball hero.
No. 5 - 1976/1978: The unexpected dismantlement of the Big Red Machine began as Tony Perez was traded to Montreal after the 1976 season. Two winters later, manager Sparky Anderson was fired and Pete Rose departed for Philadelphia via free agency.
No. 4 - 2006: The Kimo von Oelhoffen game, when the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive linemen hit Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer low on the Bengals' first pass play of the wildcard playoff game. The Bengals QB tore his anterior cruciate ligament and his medial collateral ligament. The Bengals lost 31-17.

San Francisco 49ers receiver John Taylor scored the game-winning touchdown against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.

No. 3 - 1989: Super Bowl XXIII. The Bengals were 39 seconds from victory over the 49ers only to have franchise nemesis Joe Montana march his team down the field to win it. There were all sorts of psyche-crushers in this one — Stanley Wilson's drug overdose the night before the game, Tim Krumrie's broken leg, Lewis Billups' dropped interception of a Montana pass in the fourth quarter. Heartache galore. 49'ers 20, Bengals 16.


The Hit King, Pete Rose.

No. 1 1989: Pete Rose banned from baseball.

John Erardi has covered baseball in Cincinnati for 30 years. He is a two-time Associated Press Ohio Sports Writer of the Year and co-author of six books on the Reds, including "Big Red Dynasty" and "Crosley Field."