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Most Controversial Moments in Sports History

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2002 NFC Playoff Giants vs. 49ers



It’s hard to feel too bad for the Giants on this one, as the only reason they were down 39-38 to the 49ers in a 2002 Wild Card game was because they had given up 25 straight points after jumping out to a 38-14 lead. With six seconds to go, all that separated the Giants from saving face was a forty yard field goal. Punter/holder Matt Allen couldn’t hang onto the snap though, and rolled to his right before lobbing a desperation heave that landed a few yards short of the end zone. Pretty much the type of throw you would expect from a punter on the run.Allen’s intended target had been offensive lineman Rich Suebert, who was an eligible receiver in this field goal formation. Before the pass got to Suebert, he was blatantly tackled by the 49ers’ Chike Okeafor in what should have been a clear case of pass interference. Instead, the referees forgot that Suebert was a legal receiver on the play and flagged the Giants for ineligible men downfield, which ended the game.

“Pine Tar Incident”



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On July 24, 1983, George Brett stepped to the plate in the top half of the ninth inning with two outs and his Kansas City Royals trailing the New York Yankees 4-3. Brett cranked a two-run homer, which led to Yankees manager Billy Martin requesting that the umpires inspect Brett’s bat. The amount of pine tar on the bat exceeded the amount allowed by rule, Brett was ruled out, and the Yankees declared the winners. A famous tirade ensued.But here comes the really controversial part: the Royals protested the game, and league president Lee MacPhail ordered that the game be restarted from the point of Brett’s home run with the Royals winning 5-4. This game never should have been restarted. Brett broke the rules, and should have been called out. Don’t want to be called out after a two-run homer for having too much pine tar on your bat? Then don’t have too much pine tar on your bat!

Jerome Bettis Calls Toss Correct, Or Did He?



Jerome Bettis’ dream scenario of playing in his hometown of Detroit on Thanksgiving 1998 came to a disappointing end when referee Phil Luckett’s coin toss blunder practically handed the game to Detroit. Luckett asked Bettis to call it in the air. Bettis called tails. It came up tails. Luckett awarded the coin toss to the Lions anyway, Detroit scored on the first possession and ended the game. Hopefully the criticism over this blown call helped Luckett develop thick skin, because he was also the ref behind this next, even more controversial moment.

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“The Music City Miracle”



The Tennessee Titans came within a yard of defeating the St. Louis Rams in the 2000 Superbowl, but to get there they first needed to defeat the Buffalo Bills in that years Wild-Card round. When Buffalo took a 16-15 lead with just 18 seconds left in the game, it didn’t look like the Titans were going to be able to keep their season going. Enter the Music City Miracle.

The Bills kicked off, and the ball was fielded by Lorenzo Neal, who handed the ball to Frank Wycheck. Wycheck ran to the right side of the field and the entire Bills team followed him. Wycheck then launched the ball to the opposite side of the field, where a waiting Kevin Dyson caught it and sprinted in for a touchdown. Pretty much everyone watching thought that Wycheck’s toss to Dyson had been an illegal forward pass, and the play was reviewed. After deliberation, referee Phil Lucket stunned everyone when he announced that the touchdown would stand. Even legendary NFL journalist Adam Schefter insisted that the ball had illegally travelled forward, and the NFL office of officiating received multiple letters from mathematicians explaining how the throw couldn’t have been a legal lateral according to the laws of physics. The play stood though, and it would be nearly twenty years before the Buffalo Bills played their next playoff game.

Armando Galarraga

In a 2010 game between Detroit and Cleveland, Tigers starting pitcher Armando Galarraga retired the first 26 batters he faced. Everyone in the stadium thought he’d gotten 27 out of 27 when Jason Donald hit a soft ground ball and a covering Galarraga beat Donald to first base. Everyone, that is, other than first base umpire Jim Joyce. Joyce broke down in tears after the game while apologizing for his error, “There’s nobody that feels worse than I do.”

Pirates Fall to Braves

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The Pirates entered this 2011 contest six games over .500 with their best chance to make the playoffs in twenty years. Nearly seven hours and nineteen innings later, Jerry Meals inexplicably called Julio Lugo safe at home to send Pittsburgh home with a 3-4 loss, setting off a brutal 19-43 slide to end the season that would see the Pirates go from first in their division to 24 games out of a playoff spot.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the MLB started researching how to incorporate instant replay challenges shortly after this game. But instant replay wouldn’t be able to correct all MLB blown calls, in fact, all it seemed to do on this next entry was prove that the umpires were either blind, or fixing games.

Adam Rosales no Home Run



In the ninth inning with his team down by one, Adam Rosales launched a game-tying homer that bounced off a railing in the stands and back into the field of play.

Umpire Ángel Hernández reviewed the play by watching replays that clearly showed the home run, but for some reason ruled the hit a double. Rosales was never able to get home from second, sending Oakland home with a one-run loss at the hands of the Cleveland Indians

“The Holy Roller”



Raiders fans call it “The Holy Roller.” Chargers fans call it “The Immaculate Deception.” Whenever one single play changes the NFL Rulebook, you know there’s something juicy about it. Two different Raiders “fumbled” the ball forward on the last play of the game while down by six points to the San Diego Chargers. Under the guise of chasing down the loose ball, the Raiders booted and muffed the football all the way from the 14-yard line into the end zone for six points. In response, the NFL passed new rules the following off-season, which restricted the advancement of fumbles in certain scenarios. From that point on, in the last two minutes of a half or on fourth down, only the player who fumbled the ball would be able to pick up the ball and continue running.

Chargers fans will tell you the play shouldn’t have stood even before these rule changes, as players were never permitted to intentionally fumble the ball forward in the manner that Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler admits he did.

Handball Handcuffs Americans 2002

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During the first World Cup America qualified for, in 1930, the United States Mens National Team finished third. Since then, the USMNT hasn’t had a whole lot going for it. The squad missed the big tournament every year between 1950 and 1990 and again did not make the cut for the 2018 edition. In 2002 though, the American soccer team had some real momentum in the World Cup, making it to the tournament quarterfinals.

In the 49th minute, with the Americans trailing by one goal, the ball appeared to be heading into the German goal. At the last second, the ball was stopped by the outstretched arm of German defender Torsten Frings. The Americans thought they were about to take a penalty kick to tie the game, Frings would be given a red card, saddling Germany with a one-player disadvantage for the rest of the game. Instead, the referee did nothing. No red card, no penalty kick, no handball, no foul, no call, no explanation — nothing.

Using this assistance from the ref, the heavily favored Germans were able to hold on to their one goal lead and keep the young American squad from playing in the World Cup semifinals for the 72nd consecutive year, a streak that continues to grow to this day.

“No Goal”



In triple overtime of Game Six of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, Brett Hull scored what might be the most controversial goal in NHL history to give his team the championship. At the time, NHL rules stated that a player couldn’t score if he had entered the crease without possession of the puck. The referee’s decision that Hull had possession of the puck in the middle of a four-player scrum while the puck wasn’t even on his stick still doesn’t sit right with the people of Western New York.

Despite many similar plays in that year’s regular season being called the opposite way, the NHL’s official stance is that allowing Hull’s goal was the correct decision. To avoid further controversy, the rule was removed from the rulebook just a few months after the “no goal” incident.

Richard Petty, 10/09/1983

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By 1983, Richard Petty wasn’t quite the dominate force in NASCAR that he once was. While he still managed to finish the season in the top 5 in total points, the wins were coming less and less often for The King. At the 1983 Miller High Life 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Petty recorded his 198th career win, inching ever closer to 200 career wins.

While Petty was celebrating in victory lane, officials noticed that left side wheels were mounted on the right side of Petty’s car, which was a violation of the rules. This prompted a complete inspection of Petty’s car, which resulted in the discovery that Petty had run the race with an engine that was 24 cubic inches larger than the maximum size allowed by rule. Controversially, NASCAR decided to allow Petty to remain the victor. By the time Petty’s infraction was found, second-place finisher Darrell Waltrip and his vehicle had already left the track, meaning officials couldn’t inspect the runner-up car to see if it was legal. NASCAR also said that Petty’s win would stand because fans should know who won the race as they exit the track.

While Petty was fined and docked points in the season standings, one has to wonder if Petty’s career would seem a little less magical if his career had ended shy of the 200-win mark.

“The Immaculate Reception”



Quite possibly the most famous play in NFL — and maybe sports — history, happened in the 1972 playoffs. The Steelers’ Franco Harris caught a deflected pass with less than thirty seconds to go and rumbled for a 60-yard score.

After 15 minutes of discussion, the referees decided to award Pittsburgh the six points. Prior to 1978, the NFL rulebook prohibited double-touches by the offense, which meant that an offensive player couldn’t be the first player to possess a tipped ball from his own teammate. To this day, it’s still debated whether the ball last touched the Steelers’ Frenchy Fuqua or the Raiders’ Jack Tatum.

1985 Orta Safe at First



Down 1-0 in the game and 3-2 in the series, the Kansas City Royals stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth just three outs away from losing the 1985 Fall Classic to the Saint Louis Cardinals. Obviously, something crazy was about to happen, or you wouldn’t be reading about this game right now on a list of most controversial sports moments.

Jorge Orta bounced a ball to Cardinal first baseman Jack Clark, who flipped the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell covering first. The throw beat Orta to the bag, but umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe anyway. The Royals would go on to score two runs in the inning to win the game, then completely demolish Saint Louis 11-0 in game seven to claim the series.

Lance Larson Robbed

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At the time of the 1960 Olympics in Rome, they used a judging system for swimming where each place was assigned its own set of three officials to determine which swimmer had finished in that position. Electronic timing was in its infancy, and was only used as a backup in case there was some reason a manual verdict wouldn’t suffice. America’s Lance Larson and Australia’s John Devitt were neck and neck as they raced toward the finish line of the men’s 100-meter freestyle.

As the wake subsided, the three officials assigned to determine first place and the three officials assigned to determine second place realized they were faced with a problem: The first-place officials thought Devitt finished first, relegating the American Larson to second. However, the second-place officials were confident that Devitt had finished in their assigned position, meaning that Larson had been faster than Devitt.

The electronic timing system showed Larson’s recorded time as .06 seconds faster than Devitt, but chief judge Hans Runstromer asserted that this timing system’s status as an emergency backup prevented it from being factored in to the judge’s decision, and awarded the victory to Devitt. The United States appealed the decision not only because it seemed incredibly foolish to ignore the electronic timer that recorded Larson as the winner, but because there was nothing in the rulebook that gave the chief judge any authority to break ties. Unfortunately for Larson, the appeal was denied.

Roy Jones Jr. vs Park Si-Hun



In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, American Roy Jones Jr. faced off against South Korean Park Si-Hun in the gold medal boxing match. Jones absolutely dominated the fight, landing nearly three times as many punches as Park. Incredibly, three of the five judges gave the decision to Park, who was given standing eight counts twice because the ref feared he might not be able to continue.

After the match one of the judges who voted for Park explained his decision: “It was a terrible thing, the American won easily; so easily, in fact, that I was positive my four fellow judges would score the fight for the American by a wide margin. So I voted for the Korean to make the score only 4-1 for the American and not embarrass the host country.” Despite this confession the result was never overturned. As if it was any consolation for the robbed Jones Jr., the three scorers that awarded the decision to Park were each suspended for six months.

USMNT Gets Hard Time From Refs in 2010



Having conceded two goals before halftime, the United States was facing an uphill battle entering the final 45 minutes of their second game of the 2010 World Cup. Amazingly, a few minutes after tying the game with just seven minutes to go, the Americans thought they took the lead off of this header by Maurice Edu. The Americans thought that, the opponents thought that, the announcers thought that, the fans thought that. The only person that had different ideas was referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali. With no explanation, he disallowed the goal, and the game would end as a 2-2 draw.

Not surprisingly, FIFA has not allowed Coulibaly to officiate or even be an assistant referee in any World Cup game since this incident.

Derek Jeter 1996 Home Run



The Baltimore Orioles were leading the New York Yankees by one run in game one of the 1996 ALCS when Derek Jeter stepped to the plate in the eighth inning. The rookie shortstop made solid contact, but it appeared as though his at-bat was going to end in a loud fly out near the right field fence. That’s when 12-year-old Yankee fan Jeffrey Maier reach into the field of play and pulled the ball into the outfield bleachers before Baltimore right fielder Tony Tarasco could make a play on the ball. Umpire Rich Garcia controversially ruled the play a home run, a call which stood as a result of instant replay reviews not being utilized in baseball during the time.

The Yankees would go on to win the game by one run when Bernie Williams hit a walk-off home run in the eleventh.

Chavez vs. Taylor Round 12 Stoppage



The twelfth and final round of this 1990 world championship fight began with Meldrick Taylor comfortably leading Julio César Chávez; all Taylor had to do was finish the round and he would be the new world champion. Even when Taylor was knocked down with 16 seconds to go, it appeared all he had to do was get back to his feet and time would expire before Julio César Chávez could close in again.

Taylor was up on his feet even before referee Richard Steele’s mandatory eight-count, but with four seconds remaining, Steele decided Taylor was unfit to continue and ended the fight. Upon reviewing the footage, Taylor probably was too dazed to fight, but considering he was back on his feet and Chávez didn’t even have time to throw one more punch, fans of Taylor think that their man should have been awarded the victory.

Mike Renfro No Catch



Down by seven in the 1979 AFC Championship game against the Steelers, Houston Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini appeared to hit receiver Mike Renfro in the corner of the end zone for the game-tying touchdown. Instead, a huddle between the referees resulted in the play being ruled incomplete and an outraged coach Bum Phillips.

This call was so controversial that in 1986 the NFL cited it as a reason for introducing instant replay into the league. Instant replay would be removed from the NFL in the early nineties, until this next moment proved so controversial that reviewing plays was immediately brought back.

Vinny Testaverde Touchdown Leads to Replay

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The Seahawks desperately needed to win versus the Jets in December of 1998 to make the playoffs. They were leading 31-26 late in the fourth when Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde tried to catch the defense napping on a QB Sneak from the five-yard line.

Testaverde never got in, the above photo was as close as he got to the goal line on the play, but the officials gave the Jets six points anyway. Seattle lost, finished the season 8-8 and missed the playoffs as a result.

Ron Gant Pulled off Bag

With the Braves trailing the Twins by one run in game two of the 1991 World Series, Atlanta’s Ron Gant ripped a hit to left field. A wild throw to the infield was scooped up by Minnesota pitcher Kevin Tapani who then threw to first trying to get a retreating Gant. Gant beat the throw back to the bag, but in one motion Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek scooped the ball and used his glove hand to push Gant’s leg off the base. Hrbek’s maneuver was deemed reasonable by first base umpire Drew Coble, who called the third out of the inning on Gant, stranding the Braves’ tying run at third in the process.

Livan Hernandez Strikes Out Fred McGriff



Not too many games are remembered specifically for the umpire’s strike zone on that day, but that’s exactly the case when it comes to game 5 of the NLCS.

With the series tied at 2-2 and games six and seven scheduled to be played in Atlanta, the Florida Marlins knew that their last home game of the series was a must-win situation. Apparently, so too did home plate umpire Eric Gregg based on the extremely generous strike zone he gave to Marlins’ starter Livan Hernandez. Hernandez struck out fifteen on his way to out-dueling Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, including the last out of the game, when he sat down Fred McGriff looking on a curveball that was only a foot or two outside.

The Trash Throwing Incident



The Boston Red Sox needed to win Game 4 of the 1999 ALCS to even the series at 2-2, but they were trailing the Yankees by one run in the bottom of the eighth. With one out and Jose Offerman representing the tying run on first, John Valentin hit a weak ground ball to Yankees second sacker Chuck Knoblauch. As Offerman ran by Knoblauch, Knoblauch halfheartedly moved his glove in Offerman’s direction to simulate what would have been a tag had Offerman not been five or six feet too far away for Knoblauch to reach. Second Base umpire Tim Tschida unbelievably called Offerman out anyway, and Knoblauch tossed to first to complete the inning-ending double play.

An inning later, inspired by the ejection of their enraged manager Jimmy Williams, Red Sox fans went over the edge, pelting the New York Yankees players with bottles and other garbage. Umpires waved the Yankees defense off the field until order was restored. Even after being instructed to resume play, Paul O’Neil, the Yankees right fielder, had a bottle thrown at him as he was attempting to fetch a batted ball. George Steinbrenner, upset over the out of control Red Sox fans, blamed the incident on Jimmy Williams: “He incited this.”

Burt Emanuel’s Catch

With 47 seconds remaining in the 1999 NFC Championship game, the Buccaneers’s Bert Emanuel appeared to make a catch at the Rams’ 22 yard line. With Tampa Bay trailing 11-6, it was assumed that their potentially game-winning drive was going to be allowed to continue. However, Emanuel’s catch was reviewed, and despite the fact that he maintained possession of the football, the catch was overturned as a result of the nose of the football scraping the ground. This led to the NFL promptly drawing up “The Bert Emanuel Rule” which supposedly clarified the definition of a catch. Spoiler alert: it did not. We’re closing in on year number twenty of the NFL having no idea exactly what’s a catch and what’s an incomplete pass.

Calvin Johnson No Catch

You would think that as soon as a receiver possesses the ball in the end zone, the play is over. After all, the defense can’t strip a running back seconds after he runs in, and recover a fumble. For receivers, however, the precedent that was set here states that they must catch the ball, complete their football motion, take a postgame shower, kneel for next week’s anthem, and buy Escalades for 35 of their childhood friends all while maintaining possession for the play to count as a touchdown. Since this play in week one of the 2010 NFL season, nobody really knows what a catch in the NFL is, not even the refs, as evidenced by this next entry.

“Fail Mary”



After weeks of terrible calls by replacement officials in 2012, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and forced the NFL to end the referee lockout. At the time of the play, one ref called this an interception for Green Bay while the other signaled a touchdown for Seattle. The official ruling on the field ended up as a Seattle touchdown, something that was upheld even after the video review.

Michael Jordan Push-Off



Down by one point with twenty seconds left in Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz and dribbled up the court. Jordan drove inside the three-point arc and performed a cross-over, pushing off defender Bryon Russell in the process. The resulting space allowed Jordan to rise up and knock down the most legendary shot in NBA history. Even if the refs did see Jordan push off, I can’t blame them for swallowing their whistle. Can you imagine going down as the official that negated the most iconic moment of Jordan’s career?

This isn’t the only time officiating has decided a world championship basketball game as time expired, as our next entry proves, it can be much, much worse.

USSR Wins Basketball Gold

All you need to know about how much controversy surrounded this series of events is that Team USA refused to accept their silver medals, leaving the second place spot on the podium empty as the Stalin squad sang along to their anthem. Even though the American team could only consist of amateur players, the professional ballers representing The Soviet Union were down by one point with three seconds to play, with seemingly one chance to save their Olympic ambitions. Instead, absurd antics by the Soviet coach and questionable decisions from the officials resulted in the communists getting not one, not two, but three chances to run their final play. Team USA prevented a basket on the first two attempts, but were unable to a third consecutive time, at which point the referees decided to end the game.

Anything Involving Tom Brady

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Sure, Tom Brady is obviously a legendary player, but he’s had quite a bit of help along the way. The Tuck Rule, Spygate, Steroid-Infused Teammates, Substitution Deception, Deflategate, a full-season suspension reduced to four games… If the Secret Service protected the president like the NFL protects Tom Brady, Abraham Lincoln and JFK would still be alive.

The only reason Brady’s plethora of scandals isn’t #1 on this list, is because our final controversial moment resulted in a literal life or death scenario.

Prichard Colón Rabbit Punches



When Prichard Colón entered the ring against Terrell Williams on October 17, 2015, Colón was hoping to walk away with his undefeated record still intact. Little could anyone have anyone known, Colón wouldn’t be able to walk away at all, and his biggest fight wouldn’t be the bout versus Williams, but the fight for his life. Despite repeated complaints from Colón and his corner, Williams consistently hit Colón with rabbit punches to the back of the head. Colón’s corner didn’t send their man out for the tenth round, claiming he was dizzy and incoherent. When Colón started vomiting after the match, he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with brain bleeding. He slipped into a coma from which he would not come out of for 221 days and remains in a persistent vegetative state to this day.

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Ryan Tofil lived all of his life in Western New York before graduating college and moving to Arizona in 2014 to work for the nonprofit Western Center for Journalism. In 2015, he became the director of Liftable.com, and soon its sister website ThoughtfulWomen.org. Since 2018, Ryan has been involved with PatriotDepot.com, the exclusive provider of The Western Journal merchandise and other essential patriotic products, moving to the site full-time in early 2019.
Ryan Tofil's experience on The Western Journal goes back to 2014 when he was an intern for the non-profit Western Center for Journalism. In 2015, he became the director of Liftable.com, and soon its sister website ThoughtfulWomen.org. These websites eventually combined and became one of the most popular lifestyle websites in the world, at one point being ranked inside the top 200 websites in America by Alexa.com. Liftable.com lives on today as a section of The Western Journal. Since 2018, Ryan has been involved with PatriotDepot.com, the exclusive provider of The Western Journal merchandise and other essential patriotic products, moving to the site full-time in early 2019.

Outside of work, Ryan loves to play chess, sports, and video games; usually while smoking a cigar. He is a proud bird-owner and aquarium aficionado, and always jokes about needing concealed carry permits for his fists, despite only having been in one fight in his life and losing quite badly. His claim to fame is having possibly been the worst NCAA baseball player in the country, riding the bench for a DIII team that went 3-31. He loved every second of it.
Birthplace
Western New York
Education
A.S., Communication, Jamestown Community College
Location
Anthem, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, barely. Even worse at Spanish.
Topics of Expertise
Video Games, Sports, Romance, Chess, E-Commerce, Okay not Romance




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