The life of a professional sports referee is thankless. Do a good job and nobody notices you exist, but mess up just once and in comes an avalanche of criticism, hatred and death threats.That’s what made the NFL’s decision to lock out referees and opt for replacements that much more perplexing. As hard of a job as it is for the regulars, it’s vastly most difficult for a bunch of under-qualified, under-experienced officials.
While the replacement refs did a phenomenal job of blowing calls left, right and centre—including directly costing the Green Bay Packers a win on Monday Night Football—let’s not forget that the regular refs screw up sometimes, too.
Here is a look back at the Top 10 biggest reffing mistakes of all time.
1986 World Cup Quarterfinals
Referee: Ali Bin Nasser
They say the first time is the one you remember. For Argentinean soccer player Diego Maradona, his first goal against rival England would be the one every soccer fan would remember for life.
As he challenged English goalkeeper Peter Shilton for a floating ball, he raised his hand over his head to punch the ball into the net. His nearby teammates didn't flinch, assuming the goal would be disallowed. But referee Ali Bin Nasser didn't see the blatant handball and the Argentinean players rushed Maradona to sell the scene.
Outcome: Maradona would strike again three minutes later, leading Argentina to a 2-1 victory. They later captured their second-ever World Cup.
1996 American League Championship Series
Referee: Rich Garcia
Before Steve Bartman, there was Jeffrey Maier.
While both of these passionate fans sat near the live boundaries of play and interfered, Maier was the one who helped his own team. In the bottom of the eighth inning during game one, the Bronx Bombers were trailing 4-3. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter launched a fly ball that was going to bounce off the top of the right field wall, just inches short of a home run, but Maier stuck his glove out and helped the ball over the fence.
Although right-field umpire Rich Garcia rushed down the line to get a better view of the play, he missed the fan interference and ruled it a home run.
Outcome: Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco was rightfully irate. Riding the momentum from the lucky play, the Yanks took game one in extra innings and advanced in five games.
June 2, 2010
Referee: Jim Joyce
Armando Galarraga was one out short of becoming the first pitcher in Detroit Tigers history to throw a perfect game, but thanks to umpire Jim Joyce, he never earned that title.
Galarraga pitched a midsummer gem when the Tigers hosted the Cleveland Indians, not allowing a hit or walk throughout the first 26 batters he faced. The last out was an easy groundball on the infield, and Galarraga, covering first base, appeared to have beaten Indians hitter Jason Donald by a clear step, but Joyce called him safe, ruining the perfect bid.
Outcome: Joyce's blown call was embarrassing, and after viewing the replay after the game, he admitted as much. Galarraga had every reason to be livid, but he nobly suggested afterward that nobody's perfect.
1998 NBA Finals
Referees: Dick Bavetta, Dan Crawford, Hue Hollins
Michael Jordan is widely considered one of the best guards in NBA history. Armed with an explosive first step and an impeccable ability to change direction at will, Jordan could always create space for his shot. But in the 1998 Finals, with his Chicago Bulls down by one point to the hometown Utah Jazz and with less than 10 seconds remaining, Jordan clearly pushed off defender Bryon Russell's thigh for a clean look at the basket. Russell fell to the ground and Jordan easily drained the 20-foot jumper.
Outcome: Since the Jazz failed to score on their next and final possession, Jordan's shot proved to be the clinching shot of the series and is now one of the most memorable moments in NBA Finals history.
1991 World Series
Referee: Drew Coble
Bigger isn't always better, but in game two of the 1991 World Series, Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek proved a case where it was.
After Braves hitter Ron Gant singled, he took a wide turn as he rounded first base. The Twins' fielders took note of this and relayed back to first, where Gant returned safely but slightly off balance. The 250-pound Hrbek applied a pretty fierce tag, essentially pushing the 170-pound Gant off the bag. First base umpire Drew Coble claimed that Gant's momentum pulled him off the base and called him out.
Outcome: Gant and manager Bobby Cox vehemently protested to no avail. The Braves lost game two by one run and would drop the Series in seven games.
The 'Pine Tar Incident,' 1983
Referee: Tim McClelland
If being the first baseball player to attain 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, 600 doubles, 100 triples, 1,500 runs batted in and 200 stolen bases isn't enough to be remembered by, how about a terrific temper tantrum?
When third baseman George Brett of the Royals gave his team a 5-4 lead with a ninth-inning, two-run home run, Yankees manager Billy Martin protested to the home plate umpire, Tim McClelland, that Brett had more than 18 inches of pine tar on his bat.
After a quick measure, McClelland signaled Brett out and awarded the Yankees a victory. Brett stormed out of the dugout and had to be physically restrained from a face-to-face confrontation with McClelland.
Outcome: The Royals obviously felt robbed and protested. American League President Lee MacPhail upheld their objection, stating that an umpire could only remove the bat from the game and could not call the batter out. The remainder of the game was to be completed later in the season, beginning after Brett's home run. The Royals would hold on for a 5-4 victory.
1998 NFL Wild Card Game
Referee: Gerald Austin
In San Francisco 49ers lore, there are two last-second, heroic touchdown receptions simply known as The Catch and The Catch II--the latter of which should never have happened.
Down by four points, the 49ers moved into Packer territory with less than one minute remaining. On a second-down play, Jerry Rice made a reception on a short crossing route and fumbled. Replays showed that the ball had slipped from Rice's grasp before either of his knees had made contact with the ground, but the official ruled that Rice was down prior to losing control of the ball.
Outcome: The 49ers completed the comeback as quarterback Steve Young picked out Terrell Owens between five Packer defenders on a miraculous 25-yard touchdown with three seconds left.
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