The 20 Worst Blown Calls in Sports

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterSeptember 25, 2012

The 20 Worst Blown Calls in Sports

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    Officials, referees and umpires. Oh my!

    Sports officials are the worst. If you had list of all the things that bother sports fans, the men and women calling the games on the ground would go on top. 

    Which is to say they are on the bottom of what we hold dear. 

    That's not to say any of us would want this thankless job, but it's fun to relive all the worst moments in balls and strikes being called or touchdowns being unfairly awarded. 

    The men and women with the whistles are rarely applauded and frequently booed. Here are the times when the boo birds were well warranted. 

    Keep the conversation going with your thoughts and suggestions on the worst of the worst. 

    These are the worst calls in sports history. 

No. 20: Eric Gregg Rings Up Fred McGriff

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    This was arguably the worst call of many bad calls by umpire Eric Gregg. 

    It was the final pitch of a pivotal Game 5 Marlins win. The Marlins would later go on to win the 1997 NLCS in six games, and later win the World Series. 

No. 19: Phil Luckett Hears Heads

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    For the few of you who saw the movie Rat Race will recall the role of the NFL referee played by Cuba Gooding Jr. 

    His character botched a simple coin flip opportunity. 

    It happens. Seriously, it happened. 

    Phil Luckett managed to hear heads when Steelers' running back Jerome Bettis stated tails prior to the start of overtime in a 1999 Thanksgiving Day football game. 

    The Lions won the coin toss and scored before the Steelers ever got possession of the ball.

No. 18: Tim Welke Calls Jerry Hairston Jr. Out

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    This call was so bad you can't even be mad about it. 

    I mean, look at how far Todd Helton is off of first base as the Dodgers' Jerry Hairston Jr. reaches the bag. 

    Umpire Tim Welke was in that juicy part of the the field that completely blocked the 3-feet patch of dirt separating Helton from the base. 

No. 17: Mike Renfro's Amazing No Catch

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    For the younger generation, there was a time in the NFL when referees would make a horrible call on the field and those at home could watch the blunder over and over and gripe over the need for instant replay. 

    As we have seen recently, instant replay doesn't solve everything. 

    Still, it would have allowed Mike Renfro to add this touchdown reception to his resume. Renfro ended up being ruled out of bounds and the Oilers lost this 1979 AFC title game to the Steelers 27-13. 

No. 16: New England Patriots Get Hosed

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    The 1976 NFL playoff game between the Raiders and Patriots was mired by a controversial finish.

    In the video, you can see a play that still has Patriots fans a little uncomfortable with roughing the passer calls. 

    On a third-and-18 play, referee Ben Dreith called Pats' Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton for roughing against Ken Stabler, giving the Raiders a first down late in the fourth quarter. They would score a touchdown a few moments later with seconds remaining to win 24-21.

No. 15: Kent Hrbek Smash

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    There was hardly a more bush league play that went unpunished. 

    Kent Hrbek visibly takes Ron Gant off first base by force and umpire Dave Coble merely stood back and thought to himself, it looks like Gant just completely lost his balance there.

    Yes, his momentum was taking him that way, but not enough for him to just plummet to the ground like that. 

    If there is a lesson, it's to practice safe baseball and always slide. 

No. 14: Colorado Buffaloes Get Five Downs

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    Scoring ain't easy. 

    It's marginally easier if you get five downs to do it. Back in 1990, Colorado defeated Missouri on a late-game drive that concluded with the Buffaloes getting five downs.

    The down marker was never changed to reflect the proper downs and it left every fan in attendance confused.

    Don't worry, because that confusion would later turn to frustration, and then to anger.

No. 13: Vinny Testaverde's Helmet Poses as Football

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    Hooray for replays. As you will see later in this slideshow, replays aren't perfect, but they certainly make leagues like the NFL far less frustrating to watch.

    The impetus behind the league getting full-time replay was Vinny Testaverde's phantom touchdown run in a 1998 game against the Seattle Seahawks.

    With mere seconds on the clock, the Jets trailed 31-26. On fourth and five, Testaverde took the ball and dove forward, but was seemingly stopped just short of the end zone.

    Well, forget seemed. He was stopped just short.

    As the NY Daily News reminds us, the official actually thought Testaverde's helmet was the football, which means he mixed up a white helmet with a brown football.

No. 12: Chuck Knoblauch's Phantom Tag

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    Horrible throws to first base withstanding, Chuck Knoblauch was quite the ball player. If you don't believe me, consider his ability to make a tag without ever making a tag.

    Like magic.

    During Game 4 of the 1999 ALCS, the Yankees infielder tried to make a tag on Red Sox' Jose Offerman.

    Photos show he clearly failed to do so, but umpire Tim Tschida had the last word and decided that yes, a tag had been made. Vision be damned.

No. 11: Thierry Henry Handball

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    Seriously, world football?

    It's time to get instant replay and goal-line technology of various sorts implemented. This egregious handball by French striker Thierry Henry cost a nation a trip to the World Cup.

    What's more is that Henry admitted to the handball, but asserted the one thing that makes this moment a must-have for a list like this, via Huffington Post.

    I will be honest, it was a hand ball. But I'm not the ref. I played it. The ref allowed it. That's a question you should ask him.

No. 10: The Tuck Rule

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    The Patriots were housed earlier in this list by the Raiders, but made up for that error and then some with some karma years later.

    Well, some say karma, we say shoddy officiating.

    During the 2001 AFC playoffs, the Raiders and Patriots were embroiled in a heated battle amid mounds of snow. 

    In the final moments, the Pats' Tom Brady fumbled the ball away, essentially giving the game to the Raiders, who led at that point 13-10.

    The officials took a look at the replay and established that Brady had his arm going forward, which is all that mattered, even if he was apparently trying to tuck it back into his chest.

    The world found its least beloved NFL rule.

No. 9: Bert Emanuel Gets His Own Rule

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    The St. Louis Rams lucked out in the 1999 NFC Championship game when a late reception by Bert Emanuel was called into review.

    Despite clearly having control of the ball, the officials wanted to take another look and ended up saying that a piece of the ball had touched the ground.

    If it's any consolation, the former Buccaneers receiver would get his own rule named after him.

No. 8: Brett Hull in the Crease

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    Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals featured one of the most controversial calls in NHL history. Dallas Stars forward Brett Hull scored a goal despite clearly having a skate in the crease, which was illegal at the time. 

    What made a controversial call all the more emotional is it came in the third overtime of what was the decisive sixth game, sending the Buffalo Sabres packing with the worst of tastes in their mouths. 

No. 7: Jim Joyce

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    This one is important to place in this list of official gaffes and missteps. It reminds us that, in the end, these are all just games and mean very little when you consider the people making these calls.

    Jim Joyce ruined a perfect game on June 2, 2010, from then-Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, and he later found that out.

    After looking at the play at first base again, he saw what he had just done and lost it. He was visibly shaken and apologized to Galarraga.

    In the end, pitcher and umpire made amends with the world getting some perspective. It was a horrible call, one of the worst.

    But Joyce felt like the lowest person in the world after that, and there is nothing you can do at that point but pick the 'ol boy up.

No. 6: Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley

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    Oh, boxing. You are the rapscallions of the sports we choose to love, constantly giving us reasons to never come back into your open arms. 

    Such a time was the decision given at the end of the Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley bout, a fight Pac-Man clearly won. 

    Two judges, Duane Ford and C.J. Ross, saw it differently and gave the fight to a surprised Bradley. 

    Most analysts, like ESPN's Dan Rafael, had the fight clearly in Pacquiao's favor, and stats like Pac-Man landing 190 power punches to Bradley's 108 would suggest they were right. 

No. 5: Replacement Refs

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    How horrible was this call? Let me count the ways. 

    The Packers held the lead with the final play of the game coming when Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw a jump ball into the end zone.

    First off, Golden Tate obviously pushed Packers receiver Sam Shields to the ground, but no call was made. 

    Second, Packers defender M.D Jennings clearly catches the pass for an interception and keeps it to the ground.

    All the while, Seahawks' Tate puts his hands on the ball and dupes a replacement referee into thinking a reception had been made.

    The call set off a firestorm in social media circles over replacement refs and the growing visibility of their incompetence.

No. 4: Don Denkinger

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    Blown calls are made nearly every Sunday for the NFL and virtually every day during the summer for baseball, but they become nearly unforgivable when they occur on the biggest of stages.

    We take you to the 1985 World Series, pitting the St. Louis Cardinals against the Kansas City Royals. 

    In the ninth inning of Game 6, the Cardinals led by a run. In a pivotal play, umpire Don Denkinger calls the Royals' Jorge Orta safe at first, which was clearly the incorrect call.

    The Royals would go on to score two runs and win the game, and in Game 7, the series. 

    If you love to see things go horribly awry, here is a link to the video.

No. 3: Hand of God

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    I am pretty sure that if Diego Maradona ever wanted to get a drink in England, he would be forced to drink it without the use of his hands.

    The Argentine legend pulled off one of the most egregious handballs in World Cup history back in 1986, grabbing a goal over the Three Lions.

    Argentina would win 2-1 and God is credited with a great deal of that victory.

No. 2: Roy Jones Jr. Olympic Travesty

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    Roy Jones Jr. didn't just beat Park Si-Hun during the Seoul Olympics in 1988, he destroyed him. The American boxer landed 86 punches to Park's 32. 

    The Korean fighter also took two standing eight counts during the fight but still somehow came away with the gold medal. 

    This remains one of the worst decisions in Olympic history.

No. 1: 1972 Olympic Basketball Game

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    The U.S. came from behind in the 1972 final at the Summer Olympics in what should have been a beautiful story.

    Instead, it turned into a chaotic mess that ended with Doug Collins having to shoot a free throw with a buzzer in his ear, the Russian team getting three chances to inbound the ball as well as time being stopped for them to start the play.

    More than 40 years later, the members of the U.S. team have failed to claim the silver medals as theirs.

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