The 8 Most Controversial Calls in NFL Playoff History
There isn't a more exciting time of year than the NFL playoffs. Unfortunately, the one thing that can completely ruin that excitement is controversial calls by the referees.
Nobody expects them to be perfect, but sometimes there is an obvious catch called a drop or an obvious fumble called an incomplete pass. Sometimes a team just gets screwed out of a game.
Whatever the issue may be, here are the eight most controversial calls in NFL playoff history.
8. No Pass Interference?
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This Wild Card Round matchup between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers during the 2002-2003 playoffs was quite the game.
The Giants were up 38-14 late in the third quarter, but a late rally by San Francisco brought it back. In fact, San Francisco making up a 24-point deficit is an NFL playoff record.
When the 49ers scored a touchdown with one minute remaining to take a 39-38 lead, there seemed little hope for the Giants. However, Kerry Collins led his team down the field and put it in field-goal position to win the game.
The snap was botched by Trey Junkin, and holder Matt Allen picked up the ball and heaved it downfield towards offensive guard Rich Seubert. Seubert was basically tackled on the play, which should have resulted in a pass interference call.
However, the refs considered Seubert an ineligible receiver and called the incomplete pass the last play of the game.
7. Music City Miracle
In this Wild Card game, the Buffalo Bills were leading the Tennessee Titans 16-15 with only 16 seconds remaining in the game.
What happened on the ensuing kickoff seems more likely in a movie than an actual football game. Tight end Frank Wycheck received the kickoff, ran to one side of the field and chucked a pass across the field to Kevin Dyson, who returned it for a 75-yard touchdown.
Where the controversy comes in is that many thought Wycheck's pass was a forward pass and should have been ruled illegal. Watch the reply and decide for yourself whether the pass was legal or not.
6. Rob Lytle Fumbled, Right?
In a playoff game between the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders, running back Rob Lytle took the handoff and instantly put it on the ground.
The Raiders defense jumped on the ball and looked to have sealed up the victory, as they could just run down the clock. However, the referee called no fumble, and the ball went back to Denver.
Denver would score the go-ahead touchdown, and Oakland would be unable to match with little time left.
The fact that the refs missed such an obvious fumble is why this play is so controversial.
5. Are the Refs Blind?
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Super Bowl XL was a matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams looked good in their conference championship games, and this was supposed to be one of the better Super Bowls.
Unfortunately, the Seahawks got the short end of the stick on nearly every single call. There were so many missed calls and wrong calls that nearly everyone felt the refs were the only reason Seattle lost to Pittsburgh.
Referee Bill Leavy finally admitted that he missed some calls well after the game was over, but by then the damage was already done.
Had so many controversial calls not been made, the Seahawks would have been the one hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the game.
4. Was That a Catch?
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When an NFL rule needs to be made because of you, it's likely that something you did on the field was rather controversial.
During the 1999 NFC Championship Game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the St. Louis Rams, Bert Emanuel made a 13-yard reception with under a minute left in the game.
Emanuel had possession of the ball for the entire catch, but the nose of the football hit the ground as he was bringing it into his body. The referees overturned the catch, and Tampa Bay lost a game it was likely going to win.
The play was so controversial that the NFL "clarified" (fancy word for "we messed up and we'll fix this") what a catch was. The new ruling is generally called the "Bert Emanuel Rule."
3. Was He Really Out of Bounds?
Even though I wasn't alive for the live showing of the 1979 AFC Championship Game between the Houston Oilers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, I still can't believe what happened to Mike Renfro.
On a game-tying touchdown pass, Renfro was called out of bounds when he clearly had both feet on the ground in bounds. Just look at the image above and you can see how much room both his feet have from the sideline.
The refs completely botched this call, and the Steelers would go on to win the game.
2. The Tuck Rule
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Ah, the infamous "Tuck Rule." It's a rule that New England Patriots fans love and Oakland Raiders fans want to shove down the throat of every striped referee on the planet.
Oakland was holding on to a three-point lead with little time left on the clock. Tom Brady dropped back to pass, and Charles Woodson came off a corner blitz and knocked the ball out of Brady's hand.
The Raiders recovered, and the game appeared to be over. However, the call was overturned thanks to the "Tuck Rule." New England got the ball back, Brady worked his magic and Adam Vinatieri kicked a game-tying field goal.
The Patriots would win the game in overtime, and Raiders fans everywhere would look for the closest thing to punch.
1. The Immaculate Reception
Is it just me, or does it seem like the Pittsburgh Steelers have more controversial calls go their way than any other team? Also, why are the Oakland Raiders on the wrong side of every controversial call?
This one, though, takes the cake for both teams. In a play that has simply been named the "Immaculate Reception," Franco Harris caught a pass that bounced off something with time running out to give Pittsburgh a 12-7 lead.
The big problem was that no one was quite sure who, or what, the football bounced off. Was it wide receiver John Fuqua? Was it safety Jack Tatum? Did flubber appear on the field and the ball bounce off that?
If the ball hit off a Steeler before Harris caught it, the catch would have been illegal, and Oakland should have won the game. Had the ball hit off Tatum, everything would have been fine, and Pittsburgh rightfully won the game.
This is absolutely the most controversial play in NFL playoff history and is one that will likely be debated until the end of time.