NFL Calls: Controversial, Contentious and Costly

After watching the Panthers beat the Patriots, there was only one topic I could write about – controversial calls. I decided to have a look back at a variety of five controversial decisions in the NFL archives.

Doesn’t matter what era you look back, or whether technology is now available that previously wasn’t – there will always be mistakes; but just how much of a bigger effect did these wrong calls have?

THE IMMACULATE RECEPTION: Steelers Raiders 1972 AFC Wildcard Playoff

With five seconds left to play the Steelers steal a 13-7 win against the Raiders. The pass has gone down in history and is known as “The Immaculate Reception”. Why? Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw launched the ball towards John Fuqua. As Fuqua went to take the ball he was hit to the ground by the Raiders safety Jack Tatum – the ball rebounded back and into the arms of the oncoming Steelers running back Franco Harris who went on for the score. The question mark comes over who the ball rebounded from; if it had come from Fuqua it was illegal, from Tatum then no problem. The call from the referees eventually came and it was given as a touchdown, much to the Raiders discontent. The call is still one of the most debated in NFL history, rumour was that a video replay assisted the referees decision (the benefit of a replay wasn’t officially available then) – but even that isn’t clear. Would the decision be different today? What call would you have made?

MIRACLE AT MUSIC CITY: Bills Titans 2000 AFC Wildcard Playoff

There seems to be something about controversial calls and the AFC playoffs. In 1999, with 16 seconds on the clock the Bills lead the Titans 16-15. After scoring a field goal, Bills player Steve Christie kicks off with a high kick towards the Titans. Lorenzo Neal pulls the ball out of the air before handing off to Frank Wycheck. The tight end runs forward and makes a spin before passing the ball to Kevin Dyson. Dyson scoops the ball up and bounds down the field, hovering up the 75 yards worth of grass ahead of him. Touchdown. The Bills collapse, Titans celebrate and the referees huddle to communicate. Was the Wycheck to Dyson pass forward? The world waited for what seemed an eternity whilst the replays were viewed by the head referee. They were watched again and again and again. Eventually he took to the field.

“The ruling on the field stands. After reviewing the play on the field, it was a lateral.”

Once again the Bills collapse and the Titans celebrate.

SUPER BOWL XL: Seahawks Steelers 2006

As a soccer fan I’ve become more than accustomed to referee decisions being more memorable than the game itself. A week doesn’t go by without calls for a referee to be sacked for one poor decision or another. The NFL? Not so much. Of course there’s always decisions made that people questions but not at the rate in soccer. So step forward referee Bill Leavy and Co. One mistake by an official is frustrating. But several mistakes, in a Super Bowl final all against the one team? Unforgivable. First there was an offensive pass interference which cancelled out a touchdown and a potential seven point lead for the Seahawks. In the second quarter Leavy rejected a challenge by the Seahawks on Steelers quarterback Roethlisberger. Leavy’s errors failed to end there with an offensive holding penalty then a low block penalty finishing his horrendous day. With such a catalogue of errors – all against the Seahawks – we will never be able to establish just how much the outcome was affected.

SB XL

The Bert Emanuel Rule: Bucs Rams 1999 NFC Championship

As the title suggests, if a rule’s named after you it’s got to be something pretty big! In the 1999 NFC championship game Bucs player Bert Emanuel made a 13 yard reception with 47 seconds remaining. The Bucs would have started on the Rams’ 22-yard line. Despite being behind 11-6 the chance to win. Although Emanuel clearly controlled the ball at every point during the catch, booth replay official Jerry Markbreit ordered a review of the call. Referee Bill Carollo determined that the nose of the ball had touched the ground whilst he was bringing the ball in to his body, and so the referees overturned the decision. The NFL came out to clarify what a valid pass reception is; thus becoming known as the Bert Emanuel rule.

Emanuel rule

Oilers Steelers 1979 AFC Championship

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So I’ll just say the catch below by Oiler Mike Renfro was ruled out of bounds. The Steelers won the game.

Renfro catch


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