IF there's one man at San Miguel who knows that a 3-1 lead in the PBA Finals isn't safe against Barangay Ginebra, it should be head coach Leo Austria himself.
Austria, afterall, was a back-up point guard in the Formula Shell team that blew a 3-1 lead in the 1991 PBA First Conference finals against a Ginebra team that, from that point on, established itself as the pro league's never-say-die team.
Austria, a strapping point guard out of Lyceum who was named the PBA' Rookie of the Year in 1985, was a back-up to starting guard Ronnie Magsanoc in that Shell team that looked to have wrapped up the title after taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven finals.
But that was until Robert Jaworski's Ginebra side authored what for decades stood as the greatest comeback in PBA history, capped by that iconic fallaway jumper by Rudy Distrito with five seconds left and the score tied at 102-all in Game Seven.
“Nandoon ako (sa ULTRA) when Rudy Distrito made that game-winning shot,” Austria said decades later when asked about that game, adding that shot reinforced his belief that 'miracles do happen.'
To Austria's credit, he and this current batch of Beermen did one better just last year when they came fighting back from a 0-3 deficit against Alaska to win last year's Philippine Cup championship.
But it will still be different on Sunday when Austria gets the chance to exorcise the ghost of his past against the same team that broke his heart 26 years earlier.
That, plus the Perpetual Trophy, should make it quite a special day for the veteran coach.