The 10 Biggest Blown Calls By Referees In NFL History

Full disclosure here: I’m a Western New York native, which means I’m a Bills fan, too. I’ve been a bit perturbed over Week 9’s Seahawks-Bills game on Monday Night Football. A blown call by NFL officials, namely when Seattle’s Richard Sherman didn’t get flagged for running into Buffalo kicker Dan Carpenter during a 53-yard field goal attempt, contributed significantly to the Seahawks’ 31-25 victory.

Getting jobbed by the refs is a red-white-and-blue badge of courage worn by many Bills fans. Maybe it’s the penance we have to pay for Buffalo losing four straight Super Bowls. I don’t buy that, though. As much as Bills fans like to think we can claim ownership of every bad call, my open mind knows most every NFL fan can cite chapter and verse on more than a single instance of what they believe is the latest in a litany of lousy calls by NFL officials.

So, with the Bills guaranteed of making a memorable appearance, here are the top 10 blown/missed calls by NFL officials:

10. 1999 NFL Wild Card game, Packers vs. 49ers, Jan. 3, 1999

Trailing by four points with less than a minute left in the game, San Francisco marched down the field and into Green Bay territory. Future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice hauled in a pass, but apparently fumbled while being tackled. Referee Gerald Austin ruled, though, that Rice was down by contact, keeping San Francisco’s hopes alive. Replays, however, showed otherwise. With the 49ers retaining possession, Terrell Owens caught a game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass, known as “the Catch 2,” with eight seconds remaining, giving San Francisco a 30-27 victory.

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9. 2002 Wild Card Game: Giants vs. 49ers, Jan. 5, 2003

The New York Giants have every right to feel they drew the short straw in San Francisco’s 39-38 victory. The controversy came during a botched Giants field-goal attempt. After holder Matt Allen picked up the bobbled snap, he tried to throw a pass to guard Rich Seubert. Seubert, however, was knocked down before the pass arrived, in what appeared to be a pass interference call. The referees disagreed, calling a penalty on the Giants—not the 49ers—for an illegal man downfield though Seubert had, indeed, checked in as an eligible receiver. The next day, the NFL announced that the officials had blown the call.

Image Source: New York Daily News

8. Super Bowl XL, Steelers vs. Seahawks, Feb. 6, 2006, in Detroit

In what may be one of the most controversial Super Bowls in NFL history, Super Bowl XL is generally regarded as also one of the worst officiated championship games. What happened in Pittsburgh’s 21-10 victory over Seattle? How about the officiating crew, led by Bill Leavy, catching heat over a phantom holding call, a questionable offensive pass interference call and an illegal block call against Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselback? A poll after Super Bowl XL found that 61.7 percent of the 103,167 votes cast found that “officiating mistakes affected the outcome of Super Bowl XL.”

Image Source: Seattle Seahawks

7. Mike Renfro’s great “non-catch,” AFC Championship, Steelers vs. Oilers, Jan. 6, 1980

Houston wide receiver Mike Renfro was denied football history when his game-tying touchdown catch was waved off by side judge Donald Orr. To Orr, Renfro didn’t get both of his feet down inbounds. Replays showed, though, that Renfro did indeed have both feet down inbounds, but the league’s instant replay rule was still six years away. The Oilers lost 27-13. The win sent Pittsburgh to its fourth Super Bowl.

Image Source: ESPN

6. Holy Roller, Raiders vs. Chargers, Sept. 10, 1978

Trailing San Diego 20-14 with 10 seconds remaining, Oakland quarterback Kenny Stabler was about to be sacked when he fumbled the ball forward. Oakland running back Pete Banaszak, closest to the “fumble,” pushed the ball ahead of him toward Oakland tight end Dave Casper. Casper knocked the football ball across the goal line and then jumped on the ball for a touchdown, giving the Raiders a 21-20 victory. Referee Jerry Markbreit allowed the play to stand, ruling that the Raiders didn’t intentionally knock the ball forward. Both Banaszak and Casper have admitted that’s what they did.

Image Source: Oakland Raiders

5. Music City Miracle, 1999–2000 Wild Card Playoff, Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans, Jan. 8, 2000

Controversy erupted on a kickoff return with the Bills holding onto a slim 16–15 lead with 16 seconds left in the game. During the return, Titans tight end Frank Wycheck threw a lateral pass across the field to Kevin Dyson, who then ran 75 yards for the winning touchdown. The officials said Wycheck’s pass was legal (a lateral pass must go sideways or backward) rather than an illegal forward pass, and awarded the Titans the touchdown and a 22–16 victory. Bills fans, to this day, think otherwise.

Image Source: Tennessee Titans

4. “Bert Emanuel Rule,” 1999-2000 NFC Championship Game, Tampa Bay at St. Louis, Jan. 23, 2000

With Tampa Bay looking at a go-ahead score, Bucs quarterback Shaun King hooked up with receiver Bert Emanuel for a diving catch deep in the Rams’ zone. Though Emanuel had both hands under the ball and rolled over with it against his chest, game officials put the play under review. After watching replays, the officials ruled that the tip of the ball touched the ground, making it, under existing league rules, an incomplete pass. The following season, the NFL changed the rule, meaning the ball could touch the ground as long as the player maintains control throughout the process. The Buccaneers lost 11-6 to the Rams, who ended up winning Super Bowl XXXIV at the Georgia Dome, defeating Tennessee, 23-16.

Image Source: Big Blue Interactive

3. Snow plow game, Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots, Dec. 12, 1982

Snow during a December game in New England should come as no surprise. The issue here, though, is how Mark Henderson, a convicted burglar on work release from a nearby Massachusetts prison, played such a pivotal role in the game. After snow fell upon Schaefer Stadium’s iced-over artificial turf field, officials agreed to let a sweeper, not a snow plow as originally reported, clear the field every 10 yards. Fast forward to the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 0-0 and New England facing fourth down, the Patriots were about to attempt a field goal. Enter Henderson. Instead of sweeping only the 20-yard line, Henderson’s path took him to the 23-yard line, where New England’s Matt Cavanaugh would hold the ball for placekicker John Smith. Smith’s kick from a cleared spot on the field was good, giving the Patriots a 3-0 victory.

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2. Steelers vs. Lions – Nov. 26, 1998

When this Thanksgiving Day game went into overtime, captains from both teams met at midfield for the coin flip. Referee Phil Luckett asked Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis if he wanted heads or tails. Bettis called “tails.” Luckett, however, heard “heads.” The coin landed tails up. Detroit received the ball, drove down the field and kicked a field goal to give the Lions a 19-16 victory.

Image Source: Youtube

1. “Tuck Rule Game,” AFC Divisional Playoff game, Raiders vs. Patriots, Jan. 19, 2002

This game earned its name thanks to a controversial game-changing play. During the play, Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson sacked New England quarterback Tom Brady. The hit appeared to cause a fumble that was recovered by the Raiders, a pivotal play that stood to seal an Oakland victory. After officials reviewed the play, they determined Brady had stopped his throwing motion and was attempting to “tuck” the ball into his body. That determination made it an incomplete pass, not a fumble under the then-effective NFL rules. As a result, the original call was overturned. With under a minute left in regulation, New England placekicker Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal sent the game into overtime. Later, Vinatieri kicked a 23-yard field goal to win the game, 16-13, for the Patriots. New England went on to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

Image Source: The Inquisitr