When the playoffs arrive, the last thing fans and teams want to deal with are the referees. Even though the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB send their best crews to the postseason, human error still rears its ugly head. When that inevitably happens, things can turn ugly fast. In a seven-game series, like the NBA postseason, players and coaches complain to the media. In the NFL there’s no point to complain, the league will “review the rule” in the offseason anyway. Here, for your pleasure (or not), are the worst playoff calls made by refs. The conspiracy theory surrounding game four in the 2017 NBA Finals is worth the price of admission alone!
The Goal That Wasn’t In The 2017 Stanley Cup Finals
Needing a win to push the 2017 Stanley Cup finals to game seven, the Nashville Predators thought they scored the first goal to steal the game’s momentum. The referee had other plans and stole the goal right back. With his vision obstructed by players, the ref thought the Penguins goalie stopped a shot.
In reality, the puck stayed in play and was back into the night half a second after the ref blew the play dead. Colton Sissons celebrated his goal until he realized what just happened. The game went scoreless until Pittsburgh scored with less than two minutes left in the third period. There was no game seven.
Refs Miss Five Calls In Final 13 Seconds Of Spurs And Thunder 2016 Match
After game two of the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals ended, the NBA admitted the refs missed five calls in the final 13 seconds that could have impacted the game. The Thunder beat the Spurs 98-97.
The first called happened when Manu Ginobili stepped over the line defending an inbound pass. On the same play, Dion Waiter elbows Ginobili in the chest, fouling him. Still, on the same play, Patty Mills holds Steven Adams, preventing him from getting open for the inbound pass. AGAIN, on the inbound pass, Kawhi Leonard holds Russell Westbrook, restricting his movement. Finally, and not on the inbounded play, Serge Ibaka grabs LaMarcus Aldridge in the act of shooting. He did not get free throws.
Chase Utley Breaks Ruben Tejada’s Leg On Slide And Is Called Safe
Initially, Chase Utley was called out on one of the dirtiest plays in MLB postseason history. After video review, he was correctly called safe, and MLB made a quick offseason rule change.
Breaking up a double play opportunity in the 2015 NLDS, Utley slid into the bag but aimed for Tejada. The intentional collision broke Tejada’s fibula. Utley was suspended for two games, and MLB changed the rules regarding a legal slide into second base. This story has a happy ending, though. The Mets won the NLDS and eventually made it to the World Series. Our next play is only controversial if you’re a Raiders fan!
The Immaculate Reception Probably Was An Incomplete Pass
The “Immaculate Reception” is one of the most famous plays in NFL history. Down a score to the Raiders in a 1972 AFC playoff game, Franco Harris caught the ball after a ricochet and scored a game-winning touchdown. With no replay at the time, the call on the field stood, and history was made.
Even if there had been replay in 1972, this one would have been impossible to reverse. The ball bounces off something, but there is no camera angle to show whether it hit the ground or another play. If the ball hit the ground or another Steeler, the play should have been whistled dead. Now, if the ball hit a Raider first, it’s a touchdown. The odds aren’t in the ref’s favor!
Dez Bryant Caught The Ball According To Everyone But The Refs
When the Dallas Cowboys played the Green Bay Packers in a divisional round playoff game in 2014, no one was expecting the refs to make a call that would decide the game. Driving down the field for a comeback win, Cowboys quarterback threw a pass to Dez Bryant on the sideline. Bryant bobbled the ball, dove forward and lost the ball. The “incomplete pass” ended the game.
Upon further review, Bryant appeared to gain possession of the ball and “make a football move” before losing the ball and crashing to the ground. At the very least the Cowboys should have had the ball on the goal line. Since 2014, the NFL has changed the definition of what a catch is multiple times to try fix this ghastly error. Coming up, an NBA Finals game fans believe proves the NBA uses refs to rig games!
NBA Fans Are Sure The Refs Rigged Game Four Of The 2017 NBA Finals
In 2017 it looked like the Warriors were going to sweep the Cavaliers until the refs got involved. The conspiracy theory claims that if the series went five games and the Warriors won at home, the league would have earned millions of more dollars. By halftime, the Cavaliers had 86 points, and the game was out of reach.
Online, fans fought back. First is this simple comment, “Refs and Cavs need to extend series so NBA doesn’t lose money. Already a bunch of blown calls.” Another fan echoed the same sentiment, “Officials are blowing this game. Just ANOTHER case of NBA refs showing clear motives. Guess game 5 is worth some.” The Warriors won game five at home, but it’s questionable whether the series should have gone that far.
The Infield Fly Rule Makes Its Way To The Outfield
Few refs calls are as shocking as when Sam Holbrook used the infield fly rule on a ball hit into the outfield. The play in question happened during the 2012 Wild Card game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
With runners on second and third and two outs, the Braves needed a hit to tie the game. Andrelton Simmons popped a lazy fly ball over the shortstop that landed in front of the left fielder. Holbrook decided the ball was an infield hit, and called the infield fly rule, forcing an out to avoid a double play. If you’re confused it’s okay, we all are.
Refs Love Missing Important Goals In Hockey
In the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, the Calgary Flames should have taken a 3-2 lead of the Tampa Bay Lighting with seven minutes remaining in the game. The score would have won the game and given them the second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Referees, however, saw the goal differently. Driving in on a power play, Oleg Saprykin took a shot that ricocheted off the netminder and crossed the line before the Lightning goalie kicked it out. Refs only saw the kick out and called the play dead. The game went into overtime, and Calgary lost. Next up is another play Raider fans hate being reminded happened…
The Tuck Rule Kept The Raiders Out Of The Super Bowl
Perhaps more controversial than the “Immaculate Reception,” the Raiders had every right to complain after the “Tuck Rule” saved the day for the Patriots. On the brink of going to the AFC Championship Game, Oakland needed to stop New England one last time. They sacked Tom Brady, who fumbled the ball.
Refs ruled Brady was tucking the ball back into his body at the time and called it an incomplete pass. Few explanations in the history of sports have been less satisfying. New England maintained possession, forced overtime, and then won the game in overtime. Raiders fans still haven’t gotten over it.
The Phantom Elbow Gets Called For A Follow In The 2006 NBA Finals
The Miami Heat went toe to toe with the San Antonio Spurs in the 2006 NBA Finals. There was no reason the refs had to call a foul on the phantom elbow to help. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened in game six. With under a minute to go in a one-point game, Dwayne Wade charged past Dirk Nowitzki and flopped instead after contact like he had just been shot in the chest.
The refs called a foul, sending Wade to the line. He nailed his two shots, and the Heat took a three-point lead. The phantom elbow did his job, and the Heat won the game and the NBA Finals. As you’re about to see, the elbow isn’t the only phantom ruining playoff games!
Chuck Knoblauch Applies The Phantom Tag
Here’s the scene: the 1999 ALCS with the New York Yankees taking on the Boston Red Sox. Boston’s Joe Offerman sprints to second to avoid a double play. Chuck Knoblauch gets the ball and applies the swipe tag. Offerman is out according to the refs.
In reality, cameras clearly showed Knoblauch missed the tag and the refs messed up big time. There was no replay in 1999 either, so the play stood. The Yankees won the series, then won the World Series. The Red Sox would live with the “Curse of the Bambino” for five more seasons.
Sabres Lose The Stanley Cup In 1999 On A Confusing Rule
The Buffalo Sabres were on the brink of winning the Stanley Cup in 1999 when the refs allowed disaster to strike. Looking to force a game seven, Buffalo conceded a goal with five minutes left that ended up deciding the match. Only the goal shouldn’t have counted, and the NHL fixed their confusing rule about it after the matter.
While taking the shot, Brett Hull’s skate entered the crease. The move had been deemed illegal by the NHL for goalie safety. Refs said the play was allowed because Hull didn’t interfere with the goalie. We don’t know who to believe!
A Classic Playoff Match Between The Giants And 49ers Ruined By A Bad Call
In 2003, the 49ers and Giants faced off in an all-time classic playoff game. Leading 38-14 deep into the third quarter, San Francisco mounted a comeback and took a 39038 lead with one minute left. Kerry Collins pushed the Giants downfield and into field goal range. A botched snap forced the Giants to throw the ball deep to an offensive lineman.
The refs declared the Giant’s player an ineligible receiver. Many critics of the call argue that pass interference should have been called regardless as Seubert was tackled before he could make a play on the ball. The 49ers controversially won the game, and the Giants will always be left wondering what could have been. Up next you’ll find out what happens when the ref can’t call a foul on himself!
Ref Can’t Call A Foul On Himself So He Gets Chauncey Billups Instead
With 30 seconds left in game seven of the 2005 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, a referee ran into Damon Jones, forcing him out of bounds. Finding the closest player to the action, the ref called a foul on Chauncey Billups.
When you watch the replay, you can see the ref run into Jones just before crashing into the TV camera. Billups looks as surprised as anyone about the bush league call. The screwup by the ref, however, didn’t affect the outcome of the game. The Detroit Pistons beat the Miami Heat and advanced to the NBA Finals.
Blue Jays Fans Can’t Handle Call, Throw Trash At Umps
In the 2015 ALDS, the Toronto Blue were playing the Texas Rangers at home when fans finally had enough of the refs. On a crazy play, a Rangers’ runner scored from third when the catcher hit Shin-Soo Choo’s bat throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Umpires reviewed the play and decided the run counted. Fans reviewed the play and decided to shower the field with trash.
The Blue Jays played the rest of the game under protest, meaning if they lost, MLB would have to review the whole and determine if they should have won. After winning the game 6-3, the protest didn’t matter much, and Toronto fans went home happy.
Refs Catch An Illegal Curve In The 1993 Stanley Cup Finals
The Montreal Canadiens were determined to even their 1993 Stanley Cup series with the Los Angeles Kings. With less than two minutes remaining in game two, the Canadien’s head coach called a timeout and asked the refs to measure Marty McSorely’s stick. The refs complied and penalized McSorley for the remainder of the game.
The call might not seem controversial at first, but it gets worse. McSorely claims that before the game, Montreal’s equipment staff entered the Kings’ locker room to measure all their sticks. The sneaky move shifted momentum to Montreal, who won four straight games to win the cup. Sometimes refs admit when they make mistakes. As you’re about to find out, it’s really not very helpful.
The Refs Take The Fall For Super Bowl XL
The 2006 Super Bowl is not one Seahawks fans enjoy re-living. Seattle lost to Pittsburgh 21-10, but plenty of critics will tell you the refs determined who won the game. Like any games, the refs missed calls. Head referee Bill Leavy admitted after the game that he missed calls.
Of course, it doesn’t do much to admit your mistake after the final whistle blows. Seattle waited almost ten years for another chance at the Lombardi Trophy. They didn’t let it go either, destroying the Denver Broncos 43-8.
Umps Miss Fan Interference In 1996 ALCS
The Yankees were trailing the Orioles 4-3 in game one of the 1996 ALCS when Derek Jeter hit a two-run homer to give New York the advantage. The problem is the homer should never have counted. A fan read over the stands and caught the ball. The umpires didn’t call fan interference, and the Yankees won the game.
Fan interference wouldn’t become a hot-button topic for seven-season until the “Bartman” incident in Chicago. Today, Jeter’s play would either be called out or a ground rule double, and the fan would be kicked out of the stadium.
A Missed Offsides Killed The Islanders Chances At The Stanley Cup In 1980
The 1980 Stanley Cup Finals feature the Philadelphia Flyers taking on the New York Islanders. New York had a 3-2 series lead, but the Islanders would have forced a game seven if not for a missed offsides by the refs.
Replays that Duane Sutter was offsides receiving the puck from Butch Goring in the offensive zone. Refs missed the penalty and called the pass, and goal, clean. The Flyers forced the game into overtime when they should have won the game regulation. The missed call spelled their doom as New York scored in overtime to win the game and cup.
Refs Call Marcus Camby For A Foul Away From The Play
In possibly the worst foul call in NBA history, ref Joey Crawford called Marcus Camby for fouling Steve Nash when neither player was near each other on the court. The call happened in game five of the opening round of the 2010 playoffs. Nash gets the ball at the top of the key. Camby is busy defending another player under the rim.
When Steve Nash passes the ball, the foul is called on Camby. Camby can’t believe it. Nash can’t either, but doesn’t complain and steps up to the line to take foul shots. The call, somehow, didn’t affect the outcome of the game, but it is amazing that Joey Crawford was allowed to keep his job after!