You work for a game, a season, a career all for one moment, a chance at a championship. And then, all of a sudden, that chance vanishes … not because of the other team, but because of the officials. The New Orleans Saints are the latest to see a shot at glory fall short because of a terrible official call. But was the missed pass interference call that would have sent New Orleans to the Super Bowl the most crucial bad call ever? Let’s discuss.
5. Jim Joyce ruins Armando Galarraga’s perfect game
The scenario: On June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga – then a middling starter a month removed from the minors – was one out away from the 21st perfect game in major league baseball history. His 83rd pitch of the afternoon coaxed a routine ground ball out of Cleveland Indians infielder Jason Donald. First baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded it and threw to Galarraga, who was covering first, and who beat Donald to the bag by a half-step. But umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe, effectively removing Galarraga from MLB record books.
The result: Galarraga got the the next batter to ground out, and wrapped up what has come to be known as the “28-out perfect game” or the “Imperfect Game.” Both pitcher and umpire handled the blown call’s aftermath with class. Joyce fought back tears after realizing his mistake. The near-perfect game was the highlight of Galarraga’s career, which lasted only two more nondescript seasons.
4. Missed pass interference call, NFC championship, 2019
The scenario: With less than two minutes remaining in the NFC championship, New Orleans held the ball tied with Los Angeles, with a Super Bowl berth at stake. Drew Brees fired a pass in the direction of Tommylee Lewis, but before Lewis could make a play on the ball, the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman blew up Lewis in what should have been Exhibit A on what “pass interference” looks like.
The result: New Orleans would have almost surely been able to run down the clock and kick a game-winning field goal and stroll into the Super Bowl. Instead, a Rams overtime field goal later sent the Saints into the offseason a game early.
3. Diego Maradona’s Hand of God
The scenario: In a 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, Argentina and England had played 50 scoreless minutes. In the 51st, Argentine superstar Diego Maradona sped onto a miscued England clearance that was looping toward goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Maradona, at 5-foot-5, couldn’t reach the ball with his head. Instead, in an act of desperation, he leapt and punched it past Shilton, taking it right off the ‘keeper’s fingertips. He then wheeled away in celebration, while incensed England players turned to the referee, who had missed the handball.
The result: Four minutes later, Maradona scored a genuinely magical (and legal) goal. Argentina went on to win 2-1. Maradona would later dub his decisive left fist the “Hand of God” – and Argentina would go on to beat Belgium and Germany to claim its second World Cup crown. The sport of soccer, however, wouldn’t adopt video review for another three decades.
2. Blown first-base call, 1985 World Series
The scenario: Game 6 of the World Series, with St. Louis ahead of Kansas City 1-0 in the game and 3-2 in the series, bottom of the ninth. The Royals’ Jorge Orta led off the inning a slow roller up the line and was clearly out by half a step, but umpire Dan Denkinger called him safe. Denkinger said he was focused on Orta’s foot and the base, and couldn’t hear the ball hit the glove because of crowd noise.
The result: Kansas City would score two runs in the ninth to win the game and, after a Game 7 win, the World Series. If called correctly, the play would have left St. Louis just two outs from a World Series championship.
1. Multiple blown calls, 1972 Olympic men’s basketball
The scenario: With the score tied and three seconds remaining on the clock in the gold medal game between the United States and the Soviet Union, Doug Collins sank the second of two free throws to put the USA up by one. But utter official chaos followed, with the Soviets insisting they had called timeout prior to Collins’ shot.
The result: Officials dithered over the proper call, permitting the Soviets not one, not two, but three separate attempts at an inbounds pass. On the third attempt, the Soviets were able to get free for an easy layup as time expired, costing the United States the gold medal.
Henry Bushnell contributed to this list.
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