One shining moment: ’Nova fan Shurilla has enjoyed terrific run

Courtesy photo The Villanova Wildcats celebrate following their title win over Georgetown in 1985.

Editor’s note: This is part of the Mirror’s ongoing series “Picking favorites,” allowing sports fans to explain how they picked their favorite teams.

We could have seen another NC State miracle on Monday night. Or Villanova. Maybe a Danny Manning or Glen Rice or Kemba Walker type of individual dominance. Perhaps another thrilling go-ahead shot from someone such as Michael Jordan, Keith Smart or Kris Jenkins.

But no.

There was no NCAA Tournament championship game last night. The coronavirus wiped out March Madness and denied us all the thrills of a big dance this year.

So, college hoops fans can only imagine what might have been, while reminiscing about great games of the past.

One of the greatest NCAA Tournament title games took place 35 years ago, when Villanova shocked Georgetown, 66-64, for the 1985 championship, in what many people believe to be one of the biggest upsets in sports history. (In reality, Nova had only lost to the Hoyas by 2 (52-50) and 7 (57-50) that season in Big East play, had won at Georgetown the year before (65-63) and matched up pretty well overall, so the magnitude of the upset has long been overstated.)

Two years prior to that historic college basketball game, a Villanova player named John Pinone buried a 17-foot jump shot with 1 second left in overtime to give the No. 7 Wildcats a thrilling 71-70 win over No. 8 St. John’s, led by All-American Chris Mullin.

For some reason he still can’t explain, Jeff Shurilla became a lifelong fan of Villanova because of that shot by Pinone.

“As a 13-year-old in 1983, I went nuts when John Pinone hit an overtime buzzer beater versus St. John’s in a battle for the Big East lead,” Shurilla said. “At the time, I didn’t know any of the players or what was on the line. I simply remember the crowd going crazy at the dramatic finish.”

That’s all it took. Something clicked for Shurilla because of that one shot by a player he didn’t even know, and it forever shaped his life as a sports fan.

Local sports fans may remember Shurilla from his days as a sportscaster with WTAJ-TV 10 in Altoona from 1995-2000. He’s no longer in sports broadcasting and is now a PR and communications professional in suburban Philly.

“Growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, I was heavily influenced by Philadelphia teams and fans, but only one captured my heart: Villanova basketball,” Shurilla said.

And it started with Pinone’s buzzer beater.

“From then on, I was hooked,” Shurilla said. “I became a diehard fan and, just two years later, was mesmerized during the Wildcats’ improbable 1985 national championship.

“I was extremely nervous as a 15-year-old who was hoping and praying Villanova would pull the upset over Georgetown. I was surprised and thrilled the Wildcats won because the Hoyas were the defending champions and had a talented team led by Patrick Ewing that could blow out any opponent.

“The win solidified my love for sports and that the underdog story will always be one of my favorites, win or lose.”

Shurilla said he’s saddened that this year’s NCAA Tournament was canceled, but there has been one silver lining.

“CBS gave us a small hoops fix when it re-aired vintage title games, including the ’85 Nova vs. Georgetown classic,” he said. “This was special because for years I had audio only from the original broadcast. My small tape recorder held to the TV’s speaker captured pregame introductions and postgame interviews, as our family didn’t own a VCR yet.”

When it came time to go to college, as is the case with many sports fans, Shurilla wound up going somewhere other than his favorite team.

“In 1987, my fandom and loyalty was turned upside down when I enrolled at Pitt and was rooting for a new team,” he said. “While I’m all in on the Panthers, the Wildcats still have a place in my heart.”

So, too, does one of Altoona’s all-time greatest basketball players.

“I got former Mountain Lion and Villanova star Doug West’s autograph in college before I knew anything about Altoona, the place I proudly called home while working at WTAJ in the late ’90s,” Shurilla said.

“I also covered the Wildcats while working in Philadelphia. That’s where I met Ed Pinckney, who at the time was a Villanova assistant coach and the 1985 Final Four Most Outstanding Player. It was only the second time I’ve asked for an autograph, and he signed my hand-filled ’85 bracket that I still have today.”

Favorite memory of your team: 1985 Villanova national championship game

Least favorite memory: Nova’s 2009 Elite Eight win keeping Pitt out of the Final Four

Favorite player: Harold Jensen

Players you’ve been able to meet: Ed Pinckney

Player you would most like to meet: Harold Jensen

Favorite stadium experience: 1995 AFC Championship Game with Steelers defeating Chargers; Pitt’s Jerome Lane shattering the backboard vs. Providence in 1988. I still have pieces of broken glass from the game.

Your hope for the team’s future: A full college season in 2020-21.

Share your story

If you have an interesting or unique story for our “Picking favorites” series, email Cory Giger at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.


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