The 20 Worst Calls in Sports History

Zack Pumerantz@z_pumerantzAnalyst IIIAugust 16, 2012

The 20 Worst Calls in Sports History

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    If we've learned anything after one week of football preseason play, it's that competent referees are the backbone of fair play. These replacement folk won't get it done—just ask the Giants and Jaguars.

    But even the best make mistakes. Flawless Ed Hochuli and echoing Jim Joyce have been there. Come on, it's the human element. Yet sometimes, these blown moments decide the outcome and truly taint the sporting world as a whole.

    The human vs. instant replay debate has been flooding the scene for some time now, and every error provokes the higher ups to institute more technology and eliminate room for future human failure. Among the past mistakes are 20 mind-boggling calls (or no-calls) that shocked the world.

    Clench those fists and endure the most heinous of the bunch.

20. World Series Wrestling Match

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    With nearly 60 pounds on Ron Gant, Minnesota first baseman Kent Hrbek didn't need much movement to carry his crafty opponent off of first.

    Following a single by Gant in Game 2 of the memorable and climactic 1991 World Series, he was essentially lifted off the base when he retreated in an effort to avoid being thrown out. One could blame momentum, but we'd prefer to note the savvy wrestling performance by Hrbek.

    Umpire Dave Coble was sold. Twins win the series in seven hair-ripping games. 

19. Mess with the Bull, Call a Foul

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    With a speck over two seconds remaining in Game 5 of the '94 Eastern Conference semifinals, Hue Hollins made a call that would leave Chi-town fans in pain for a long time.

    The Knicks, looking to rob the Bulls with one last shot, got the benefit of the doubt after John Starks chucked the ball to Hubert Davis, who then leaped in preparation of a game-winning two.

    We'll never know whether Scottie Pippen truly scraped Davis on his way down, but we do know that the Knickerbockers stole a pivotal fifth game. Chicago would lose in seven games.

18. The Crease Cross Heard 'Round the World

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    Buffalo fans continue to fume over the controversial series-clinching goal of 1999.

    Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, legendary goalie Dominik Hasek still draping the crease with his dominance. Until Brett Hull comes trampling through, skate possibly over the line, referees obviously ready to go home.

    The crease rule would be toyed with the following season.

17. Thanksgiving Day Massacre

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    The most routine chapter of any football game became a horrific nightmare for referee Phil Luckett on Thanksgiving Day, 1999.

    In preparation for overtime between the Lions and Steelers, Luckett asked Jerome Bettis to call heads or tails. He called tails, but Luckett heard heads. Lions get the ball, and the eventual win.

16. Sugar Bear Rough

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    Instead of an incomplete pass and a fourth-and-impossible, the Patriots were faced with heartbreak.

    Up by three points in the last two minutes of the first game of the 1976 playoffs, New England saw defensive end Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton get called for one of the most feather-like penalties in gridiron history. A routine hit instantly became roughing the passer.

    It was referee Ben Dreith who made the call after Hamilton hit quarterback Ken Stabler, who would eventually scramble for a red-zone touchdown to win 21-17. Oakland would win Super Bowl XI.

15. Fred McGriff Endures the Prehistoric Strike Zone

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    When homeplate umpire Eric Gregg called strike three on Fred McGriff to end Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS, we even expected nearby cameras to begin screaming profanities (yes, technology yelling). 

    Livan Hernandez's pitch was not only several feet outside, but it helped propel the Marlins to World Series promise. The Braves were left wondering, what if?

    In the words of Bob Uecker, "Juuuuuuuust a bit outside."

14. A Rose-Petaled Disgrace

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    We're not saying Michigan's Charles White didn't cross the goal line on his three-yard scramble during the second quarter of the '79 Rose Bowl, but we are saying the ball's shadow didn't.

    Despite Jerry Meter's timely recovery of the one-yard-line fumble, officials would reject the turnover and state that White had crossed the line. It would prove to be the difference, as USC beat Michigan 17-10.

13. The Bert Emanuel Rule

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    The Greatest Show on Turf against the most feared defense in the NFL. You couldn't script a more contrasting matchup for the 2000 NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, the refs weren't as excited or focused as we were.

    Bert Emanuel's pivotal first-down catch with 47 seconds remaining was naturally called complete when it was clearly in the Buccaneer receiver's grasp, but somehow overturned after. Rams win 11-6, and eventually the Super an inch.

    A clear-cut, receiver-associated rule was eventually named after Emanuel.

12. The Sneak That Wasn't

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    Following a nearly seven-year hiatus (it was voted out after the 1991 season), the NFL finally decided to re-institute the instant replay system...with coaching challenges added for effect (or perhaps efficiency). 

    And we can all thank Vinny Testaverde for forcing the league to make such a decision. On a 4th-and-goal from the five-yard line with 27 seconds remaining in a game against the Seahawks (trailing 31-26 of course), the Jets former quarterback audibled to a sneak.

    Touchdown! But not.

11. The Neighborhood Play

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    We'll spare you the video footage in an effort to keep you relaxed. Because let's be honest, this horrific out call instantly became ammunition for critics looking to eliminate the human element from baseball.

    Blame it on the angle, sure. Or blame it on the rest of the ump crew for not overturning the call. Maybe they were all too busy checking out that leggy blonde in the third row.

10. Jerry Rice Gets a Pass

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    With his only catch of the '99 NFC Wild Card game against the Packers, eventual Hall of Famer Jerry Rice coughed up the rock. And while replays concur with fumble, refs called him down.

    The 49ers would secure victory on Steve Young's heart-wrenching touchdown toss to Terrell Owens with the clock winding down.

9. Jeffrey Maier's Golden Glove

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    It's Game 1 of the '96 ALCS, Yanks trailing the Orioles 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth, captain clutch Derek Jeter eager to make history.

    But it would eventually be a 12-year-old fan named Jeffrey Maier who would secure his spot in history. We'll never know whether Jeter's game-tying shot to right would've been gone (actually, yes, we do), but we're sure Maier took away any possible catch from outfielder Tony Tarasco.

    Home-field advantage at its finest. Watch here.

8. Mike Renfro's Corner Creep

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    First let's appreciate coach Bum Phillips' furry fashion statement...historic footage indeed.

    Now to the touchdown. Late in the third quarter of the 1980 AFC Championship game, feisty receiver Mike Renfro looked to tie the game at 20 with a tip-toe effort in the corner of the end zone.

    But this was before instant replay came into play, and the lack of on-field technology gave the referees little to work with. No catch. Steelers win 27-13.

7. The Imperfect Game

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    As the only pitcher in Major League history to throw a 28-out perfect game (essentially), we'd expect Armando Galarraga to be fuming over his missed opportunity.

    But if it wasn't for Jim Joyce's utter failure at first base on what was thought to be the final out of Galarraga's masterpiece against the Indians, we'd likely have already forgotten him. These two now seem like best buds...what a happy ending.

6. Don Denkinger Alters Momentum

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    With the Cardinals leading the Royals 3-2 in a heated 1985 World Series, Game 6 went exactly as predicted. A pitchers duel, with the Cardinals scraping across a run in the eighth.

    And then came the ninth, with St. Louis pitcher Todd Worrell ready to close things out. First batter, Jorge Orta, hits a slow dribbler to first. Worrell races to the bag, catches the toss, safe, safe! First base ump Don Denkinger, reputably flawless, saw something nobody else did.

    Perhaps legendary broadcaster Jack Buck put it best, "He had the base and he had the ball, man, what else is there? That's the rule isn't it?" The Royals would win the game 2-1. And, with Denkinger manning home plate, secure Game 7.

5. The Hand of God

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    While playing every minute of every Argentina game during the 1986 World Cup in which he totaled five goals and five assists, it was clear not even a clear handball was going to stop the great Diego Maradona from carrying his squad to victory.

    In the 2–1 quarterfinal win over England, Maradona was seen soaring by defenders, before he punched the ball into the net. In the words of Maradona himself, the goal was scored with "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God."

4. Confusion at the '72 Olympics

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    Seven Olympic gold medals since 1936 was all the American basketball team needed to be considered favorites. Until they met the determined Soviets.

    A grueling battle came to a halt with 10 seconds left. After getting fouled, Illinois State guard Doug Collins sank two free throws to give his squad their first lead of the game.

    But with one second left, the refs stopped play to discuss putting three seconds back on the clock. The Soviets claimed they called a timeout between free throws and it was never acknowledged.

    Seconds later, the Americans had finally achieved the victory and added another gold...until the refs ordered them back on the floor. The clock hadn't been "properly reset." Third time's the charm...for the Soviets, who would win on a layup.

    The Americans were distraught, and in turn refused to accept the silver medal. It remains unclaimed in Lusanne, Switzerland.

3. The Phantom Tag

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    Game 4 of the '99 ALCS, the Red Sox igniting a momentum-changing rally, Boston in a frenzy.

    That was until ump Tim Tschida fell for Chuck Knoblauch's mile-wide tag on Boston's Jose Offerman, completing a heartbreaking double play. With the right call, star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra would have come up with a runner in scoring position and two outs.

    Pinstripes win the game and the series in five, and the curse lives on.

2. Roy Jones Jr. Gets Robbed

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    Today he remains the "Fighter of the Decade" for the '90s, according to the Boxing Writers Association of America, but Roy Jones Jr. remembers a time when the winds weren't blowing so swiftly in his favor.

    During the Seoul Olympics of 1988, Jones out-dueled, out-classed and out-muscled Park Si-Hun en route to a finishing score of 86-32. Victory was in the bag...or so it seemed.

    Only the shocked look on Si-Hun's face can possibly sum up the ubiquitous reaction. Oh, and his eventual apology. Until the disgraceful final, Jones had yet to surrender a single round.

1. The Notorious Fifth Down

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    During the most incompetent moment in college football history, Missouri fans could only shield their eyes from the on-field embarrassment. In the end, we're still questioning whether Colorado even scored on that infamous fifth down.

    The Buffaloes would go on to share the 1990 national championship with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, although not without its share of controversy.


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