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Top 10 Most Controversial Sports Calls in History

Top 10 Most Controversial Sports Calls in History

Winning takes talent and hard work.

Well, not always.

Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals who came away with a victory  thanks in large part to umpire Jim Joyce, who displayed his encyclopedic knowledge of how to hand a team a controversial win.

It’s understandable why Joyce was a hawk-eyed hero in the eyes of the Cards fans, but for Red Sox nation, he was the bane of their existence. Nothing would sooth their hurt feelings more than seeing him hanging upside down from the Green Monster.

The controversial ending to Game 3 of the 2013 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox wasn’t a first though. The sporting world is no stranger to controversial endings.

10 of the Most Controversial Game-Winning Calls in Sports History

1. The Tuck Rule Game

Don’t think for a second that Raiders’ nation has forgotten this one. Make no mistake about it, Oakland will never get over this call. Ever.

With less than two minutes on the game clock in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoffs, Oakland had the lead, 13-10, but the Patriots had possession. A young Tom Brady was in charge of leading the drive for New England and after receiving the snap, he dropped back to pass, only to be smothered by the Raiders’ Charles Woodson. The ball was knocked off Brady’s hand before being recovered by Oakland, and the refs initially called the play a fumble, essentially sealing the deal for a Raiders’ win.

But after a video review of the play, the referees changed the call into an incomplete pass based on Brady’s arm motion, which was all that mattered. The Patriots retained possession and eventually found a way to beat the Raiders, 16-10.

2. The Fifth Down

The blunder that occurred during a 1990 match between No. 12 ranked Colorado and the underdogs, Missouri, offered a very strong example to support referees taking arithmetic exams before being allowed to officiate a college game.

In the midst of an upset, the Tigers needed just one last strong defensive effort to prevent Colorado from overcoming a 31-27 deficit. They did just that, but the refs seemed to forget that, according to the rules of American football, every team is given four downs to complete at least a 10-yard drive.

The confusion started when the down marker reflected the wrong count of downs, hence giving the refs the misconception that the Buffaloes were due for a “fifth” down. Colorado took advantage of it and scored via a quarterback sneak to win the game.

3. The “Replacement Refs” call

While the NFL and its referees’ union were busy in the boardroom negotiating a new deal, the replacement zebras were busy disgracing the league’s rulebook by calling one botched ruling after another – none worse than the one they called in a Week 3 game between the Seahawks and the Packers.

In the final seconds of the game with Green Bay leading, 12-7, Seattle’s QB Russell Wilson threw a prayer, which the Packers’ M.D Jennings clearly intercepted in the end zone.

Unfortunately, the game was officiated by a band of incompetent referees who were duped by the Seahawks’ WR Golden Tate into calling a successful reception, when it was Jennings who emphatically caught it. The moment sparked a massive public outrage, calling for the heads of the replacement refs.

4. Brett Hull in the Crease

Hockey is a quick-paced sport that calls for referees to have a mutant-like ability to catch every infraction happening within the blink of an eye. It gets harder when the game on the line is a championship, much like the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. [sc:Other240banner ]

In Game 6 of the series, the Sabres were hoping to win and extend the series to a winner-take-all Game 7. Brett Hull, with some help from the referees, made sure that Dallas would get to raise the Cup right then and there.

Hull scored the game-winning (and title-clinching) goal in the third overtime, but it wasn’t without controversy as Sabres fans were quick to point out that Hull’s skate was in the crease before the puck zoomed past Buffalo’s goalie, Dominik Hasek. Replays support the Sabres’ fans claims but the refs ruled it a goal anyway, giving the Stars their first ever championship.

5. Don Denkinger

The Kansas City Royals were trailing the Cardinals 1-0 when Jorge Orta stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 1985 World Series. Three more outs and St. Louis would be the World Series champions as they led the series, 3-2. Orta sent a bouncing ground ball down to first baseman Jack Clark, before throwing the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell, who raced to cover first base.

It was a routine play but first base umpire Don Denkinger saw the opportunity to make his family name live on in infamy in St. Louis. Despite Worrell clearly beating Orta at first base, Denkinger called Orta safe. The umpire’s gaffe might have simply been forgotten, but the Royals scored two runs after that play to steal the game. In Game 7, the Royals completed their comeback by totally wrecking St. Louis, 11-0.

6. Hand of God

Popular Argentinian soccer player dragged the Lord’s name into his now well-known explanation of  how he managed to score a critical goal in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals against England, by using his hand without umpire Ali Bin Nasser noticing it. The goal was netted “partly by the hand of God and partly by the head of Maradona,” the legendary athlete quipped during a later press conference after the 2-1 Argentina win.

7. 1972 Olympic Basketball Gold Medal Match

Perhaps hidden in a chest somewhere are a set of gleaming silver medals still in possession of the IOC more than 40 years after their supposed owners, the United States national basketball team, were to wear them in the 1972 Olympic Men’s basketball medal ceremonies. The squad refused to claim their silver medals after the Soviets won the Gold Medal match under very questionable terms.

After Doug Collins sank two charities to give the US a 49-48 lead, the Soviets inbounded the ball with a second remaining and missed a game winner as time expired. But that wasn’t the end of it.

The officials allowed Russia to inbound again, this time with three seconds to work with as they argued that that was the correct amount of time left on the clock when they “called” a timeout (which wasn’t granted) after Collins’ first free throw. This time, the Soviets did score after Aleksandr Belov caught the inbound pass and found himself free for a game winning under goal stab.

8. Jeffrey Maier

For every Steve Bartman, there is a Jeffrey Maier. The 12-year old Maier became the toast of New York after playing a big hand in the Yankees’ win in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS.

Derek Jeter’s fly ball could have been easily caught by Baltimore’s outfielder Tony Tarasco had Maier not reached out over the railings and gloved the ball. Umpire Rich Garcia failed to acknowledge the play as fan interference and ruled Jeter’s hit a home run, tying the game 4-4 at the bottom of the eighth inning. It led to a dramatic game winning homer by Bernie Williams in the 11th inning.

9. Jordan’s Game Winner in 1998 NBA Finals

Just like Maradona’s “Hand of God”, this moment was made controversial because of the absence of a game-altering call.

Game 6 of the NBA Finals ended fittingly for Michael Jordan when he shook off defender Bryon Russell to free himself up before burying his patented game-winner at the top of the key. The controversy lies in whether Jordan, the greatest ever, should have been called for an offensive foul after he appeared to have pushed Russell before his shot.

10. Obstruction Rule

Indeed, this is the freshest one in our list of 10 most controversial game winning calls.

In a classic reminder that no one has seen it all on the baseball field, Game 3 of the 2013 World Series ended in a rare obstruction call, which allowed the Cardinals to win the game over Boston, 5-4.

With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, the Cards had a runner on second (Allen Craig) and third (Yadier Molina) when Jon Jay hit a grounder off Boston’s closer Koji Uehara, which was promptly caught by Dustin Pedroia. Meanwhile, Molina made a frantic dash to home plate only to be tagged by Jarrod Saltalamacchia after catching Pedroia’s throw.

This was when all hell broke loose.

Saltalamacchia, after tagging Molina, threw the ball wide to third baseman Will Middlebrooks in an attempt to get Craig, who was sliding into third. Realizing that the ball had sailed past Middlebrooks, Craig got up from third base to bolt for the home plate, but Middlebrooks, who was slumped to the ground, lifted his legs and obviously impeded Craig’s path.

Third base umpire Jim Joyce called obstruction, essentially awarding a run to Craig and a win to the Cardinals.

It was the first time that an obstruction call has ended a World Series game.

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Has an umpire or referee ever drove you nuts after making a call? Share this piece on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus and relive those excruciating moments with your friends. You can also visit our sportsbook to place a bet and and see if you can get lucky enough to avoid landing on the wrong end of a controversial call.

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Written by Rex

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