What makes a bad official’s call one of the worst of all time?
There has to be a something significant on the line. And there has to be a seriously egregious miscarriage of justice.
Unfortunately for the New Orleans Saints, Sunday’s no call in the NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams ticks both boxes.
NFL officials admitted after the game to Saints coach Sean Payton that game officials missed not one but two calls when Rams cornerback Nikell Robey-Coleman slammed into Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis on a pass from Drew Brees. The no calls likely cost New Orleans a chance to run the clock down to 15 seconds or so and kick a short field goal that if good would have left Los Angeles relying on a kickoff return or Hail Mary to pull out the win or the tie.
As it was, the Saints had to kick a field goal with 1:41 left, leaving plenty of time for the Rams to send the game to overtime 23-23. After Brees was hit and intercepted, the Rams kicked a field goal to win 26-23 and go to the Super Bowl.
The no call on Robey-Coleman is already being called one of the worst officiating blunders in sports history. It is a measure of infamous respect in a sense, though not one likely to give Saints fans much comfort in the days and years to come.
The list of the worst calls ever is purely subjective, but if we can agree Sunday’s play was one of the worst, here are 10 others in chronological order to hang in the galling gallery alongside it:
Three seconds in Munich
The U.S. team was 63-0 in the Olympics and thought it had secured another win and a gold medal as time ran out on a 50-49 victory over the Soviet Union in the 1972 Munich Games. But officials twice put :03 back on the clock because Soviet coaches claimed they called time out before U.S. player Doug Collins second of two free throws to give the Americans the lead. The USSR’s Sergei Belov finally made a layup off a full-court pass at the buzzer for a 51-50 victory. U.S. officials protested to no avail. To this day none of the 12 American players have ever accepted their silver medals.
In the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, umpire Don Denkinger called the Kansas City Royal’s Jorge Orta safe at first base against the St. Louis Cardinals. Replays showed Cardinals pitcher Todd Worrell clearly beat Orta to the bag. The Royals rallied for two runs in the ninth to win 2-1 and went on to pound the Cardinals 11-0 in Game 7.
'The hand of God’
In the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals against England in Mexico City, Argentine star Diego Maradona worked between two defenders (perhaps offside) to score a goal that helped lift his team to a 2-1 victory. Maradona later admitted he punched the ball in with his hand, saying the goal was scored “partly by the hand of God and partly by the head of Maradona.” Argentina went on to beat West Germany for the title.
The robbing of Roy Jones Jr.
In the 1988 Olympic light middleweight boxing medal final in Seoul, South Korea, American Roy Jones Jr. pummeled South Korean Park Si-Hun for three rounds, landing 86 punches to Park’s 32 and forcing two standing eight counts. Yet inexplicably, Park was ruled the winner 3-2. Later there were allegations of bribery against the three judges who voted for Park, though a 1997 IOC investigation refused to confirm those findings.
The fifth down
Trailing 31-27 in a 1990 game at Missouri, the Colorado Buffaloes late-game drive got the benefit of an extra “fifth” down when game officials failed to change the down marker after a spike by quarterback Charles Johnson. With future LSU coach Gerry DiNardo calling plays as offensive coordinator, Johnson scored on a 1-yard keeper as time expired in a 33-31 victory. The controversial win kept the Buffaloes on track for a share of the national championship with Georgia Tech.
Jeter and Jeffrey
Twelve-year old New York Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence in Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS to catch a fly ball by New York’s Derek Jeter, denying Baltimore Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco a chance to make the play. Umpire Rich Garcia called it a home run and the Yankees went on to a 4-1 series victory and the 1996 World Series title.
Heads or tails?
The 1998 Thanksgiving Day game between the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions went to overtime tied 16-16. On the overtime coin toss, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis called “tails,” but referee Phil Luckett insisted he said “heads,” giving the Lions the chance to receive the ball first. Detroit went on to win 19-16 on a field goal under the sudden death overtime rules at the time.
In the crease
In Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, the Dallas Stars’ Brett Hull beat Buffalo Sabres goalkeeper Dominik Hasek for the series winning goal in triple overtime, 2-1. Video evidence showed Hull’s skate was in the crease (the blue colored ice in front of the goal) before the puck, a hockey no-no at the time. But officials missed the call and did not ask for a replay.
The imperfect game
On June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from what at the time would have been just the 21st perfect game in major league history. Galarraga got Jason Donald to ground to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who tossed the ball to the pitcher for what appeared to be the final out by a half step. Instead, umpire Jim Joyce ruled Donald safe. Galarraga got the next batter out, but the damage was done. A tearful Joyce admitted his mistake afterward.
‘Is this a joke?’
In the 2017 ANA Inspiration tournament, the first women’s golf major of the season, Lexi Thompson was assessed a four-stroke penalty in the final round for remarking her ball in the wrong spot on the 17th green and signing an incorrect scorecard … from the third round. A viewer watching on TV phoned in an allegation of the rules violation, which Thompson was informed off as she walked off the 12th green the next day. “Is this a joke?” Thompson asked. It was not, and she lost in a subsequent playoff to So Yeon Ryu. In 2018, calls or emails from fans were eliminated from being considered in potential rules violations.