Top 10 Sports Games Decided by the Officials
Congratulations to our Bryan Johnson, 1st place winner in our Top 10 List Writing Contest.
Let me paint a picture for you. It is the biggest game of the year and it’s your team against theirs. Which team will be more prepared, better coached, and mentally ready for the challenge ahead? Whose team worked harder in the gym and spent extra hours pushing themselves for this moment? After all, that is what athletic achievement is all about, right? Well you would think so, but the unfortunate reality is that you have to look over at the refs, officials, and judges and wonder who they’re pushing for today.
It’s no secret that millions of dollars are spent on sports gambling every day. We have had professional NBA refs get indicted by the federal government for cheating and pushing point spreads to make money. But wait, of course this is an isolated incident and nothing like this will ever happen again, right?
Maybe this particular ref or judge is just bad, maybe they have their countries hopes in mind, or maybe they really saw that one crucial play wrong. You know that one play that will be remembered in the fans’ eyes forever. These games happened and the statistics and videos are here to stay. Here is a list of the top 10 sports games and events that were ultimately decided not by the players, but by the officials.
10. Illinois vs. Ohio State, November 10, 2007
Coming into this crucial big ten matchup Ohio State was undefeated and rated number one in the country. Illinois had a strong team and the game was set to be a battle. This contest makes the list not for one particular game changing whistle, but an entire game of calls favoring Illinois. One infamous call was an Illinois fumble on the Ohio State 3-yard-line that was called down by contact and of course not reviewed. The thing of it was, a week earlier in the Purdue vs. Penn St. game there had also been many controversial calls and it just so happened that the same referee crew called both games.
This was noticed by NCAA football officials after Purdue coach Joe Tiller filed an official complaint with the Big Ten. They did some research and discovered that crew chief Stephen Pamon was hiding a few things. Here is what they found. Pamon and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 2002 after they had amassed $429,427 in liabilities. Two of their account creditors were casinos. He allegedly had a bad gambling problem which had led too much of the debt. In 1997 he was charged with beating three of his girlfriend’s sons with an electrical cord.
The list goes on, but the point is this man was in charge of a 7 man NCAA football officiating crew. This was the last game that Stephen Pamon and his crew ever called. They were fired after the investigation by the Big Ten. Ohio State moved down to number 7 in the national rankings, but would still get a chance at the national title against LSU on January 7th.
9. San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos, September 14, 2008
It was an important divisional rivalry between the Chargers and Broncos in Week 2 of the 2008 NFL season. The Broncos were moving the ball down the field and were down by 7 points. They were on the San Diego 2-yard-line with less then minute to go in the game. Jay Cutler dropped back in the pocket and as he was releasing the ball it flew out of his hand and went backwards. In the NFL a backwards pass is a fumble. Head ref Ed Hochuli blew his whistle as soon as the ball hit the ground calling the play dead.
Meanwhile the Chargers jumped on the ball and recovered it. In this situation the worse thing for an official to do is blow the play dead because it negates a possible fumble call while the play is reviewed. Of course the play was reviewed and found to be a fumble, but the ball can’t change possession, so Denver got the ball back on the 10-yard-line. If Hochuli would not have prematurely blown his whistle the game would have been over with a Chargers victory. Of course, two plays later Cutler throws a touchdown pass to Eddie Royal. Mike Shanahan saw his opportunity and went for a two point conversion and the victory. Jay Cutler hit Eddie Royal in the back of the end zone again and the game was over with Denver winning by one point.
The two teams ended up playing for a playoff birth in the last game of the season and San Diego dominated. This game would have been higher on the list if Denver would not have missed the playoffs.
8. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings, May 31, 2002
This was one of the best 7 game playoff series in NBA history. But should it have gone 7 games? On June 10, 2008 Tim Donaghy’s attorney filed a court document alleging that game 6 of the 2002 finals was fixed by two referees. Two unnamed officials had an interest in extending the series to seven games. These were company men who extended the series for financial reasons, basically to make the NBA money and find a way to get those Lakers in the finals.
In this game the Lakers shot 40 free throws with 27 of them coming in the 4th quarter. All of the Kings big men were plagued with foul trouble with Divac, Webber, Scot Pollard, and Lawrence Funderburke combining for 20 fouls in the game. This allowed Shaq to go for 41 points and 17 rebounds. The Los Angeles Lakers went nearly six minutes down the stretch without a field goal, but managed to shoot 18 free throws over the final 6 minutes and 21 seconds of the game. Of course the Lakers won game 7 and went on to another championship win against the Nets.
Sports gambling expert R.J. Bell was the one who discovered discrepancies with Donaghy’s games. He tracked all of his games for four years and found that teams scored more points then expected by the Las Vegas sports book 57% of the time, as compared to only 44% of the time in the previous years. The odds of this are 1 in 1,000 and there was a 99.9% chance that there was some sort of outside influence, oops.
7. New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles, 1996 ALCS Game 1
It was October 9, 1996 and it was game one of the American League Championship Series featuring the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankee’s struck first and held an early advantage, but Baltimore soon pounded across some runs and took the lead. Heading into the bottom of the 8th inning Baltimore was leading by one run and All-Star Derek Jeter stepped to the dish. He swung and hit a high fly ball to deep right field Tony Tarasco went back on the ball and as he was preparing to make an attempt at catching it, 12-year-old fan Jeffrey Maier reached a foot over the wall and pulled the ball over the fence.
Right field umpire Rich Garcia, yes he was only in charge of right field, immediately called the play a home run for Jeter – tying the game. Tarasco lost it and got right in the face of Garcia insisting that he had a chance to catch the ball. As baseball rules go, if a fan reaches out of the stands or jumps on the field and touches the ball then spectator interference is to be ruled and Jeter would have been called out or given a ground rule double. The Baltimore Orioles protested the game with the league, but it was ruled a judgment call and nothing was done.
The Yankees would win the game in the 12th inning on a walk off home run by Bernie Williams and eventually take the series 4-1. After the game, Garcia watched the replay and admitted that there was spectator interference on the play and the home run should not have been allowed. Although he insisted that the ball would not have been caught by Tarasco. After the game Jeffrey Maier became a New York celebrity appearing on numerous national talk shows.
6. Dallas Stars vs. Buffalo Sabres, 1999 Stanley Cup Finals Game 6
This was the first appearance for the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup finals and the Buffalo Sabres hadn’t been there in twenty five years. The Dallas Stars led the series 3-2 going into game 6 on June 19, 1999. Buffalo scored the opening goal of the game in the first period and Dallas tied the game 1-1 in the second. The game remained tied through regulation and two extra periods.
In the third overtime Brett Hull scored on a rebound from the edge of the crease to win the Stanley Cup or was he in the crease. “No goal” was the instant chant by the Buffalo Sabres faithful. At this time in the NHL the crease rule stated that no player could be in the crease, which is the goalie box, unless the puck was already there. Brett Hulls skate us undoubtedly in the crease before the puck. It is clear as day in video and pictures. NHL supervisor of officials Bryan Lewis reviewed the video and let the goal stand giving the Stanley Cup to the Dallas Stars.
This play led to the changing of the crease rule in the National Hockey League. It truly goes down as the most controversial goal in Stanley Cup Finals history. It was just another kick in the face for Buffalo fans during the 1990’s.
5. 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Figure Skating Pairs Finals
If you want to talk about dynasties in athletic achievement then you have to mention Russia’s Figure Skating Pairs dominance. Russia has won gold in figure skating pairs in every Olympic Games since 1964. That is 12 in a row. This streak is still going, but not without some serious controversy. In the 2002 Winter Olympics the favorite Russian pair was Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze and there biggest competition was the group from Canada Jamie Salé and David Pelletier.
Things started out good for the Russians by winning the short program over Canada, but in the free skating portion the Russian pair made a minor but obvious technical error when Sikharulidze stepped out of a double axle. Sale and Pelletier finished their program perfectly with no errors. At that point Scott Hamilton who was announcing the competition proclaimed the Canadians as the winners. The judges saw it different giving the Russians seven 5.9’s on presentation compared to the Canadians four. With presentation being weighed more heavily then technical merit at the time the Russians were given gold. There was immediate talk of cheating. Suspicion quickly fell on French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne when she had an emotional breakdown where she said that she had been pressured by the French Skating Organization to vote for the Russians no matter what.
There has also been an indictment against Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov who was said to conspire to fix the figure skating pairs championship. Toktakhounov has ties to the Russian mob and was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bribery, sports bribery, and violation of the Travel Act. After the fall out, the Canadian pair was awarded the gold medal as were the Russians. This is only instance in Olympic Games history where two gold medals were given for one event.
4. Argentina vs. England, 1986 World Cup Semi-Finals
Soccer is one of the most watched and valued sports in the world. Every four years countries compete for The World Cup championships. Now let’s set the stage, this game took place four years after the Falklands Wars between the two countries and England vs. Argentina has become one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports.
At half time it was 0-0 tie and both defenses were playing well. Six minutes into the second half Argentinean star Diego Maradona was making a run on a ball that looked to be going directly into the hands of England’s goal keeper Peter Shilton when the 5 ft. 5 in. Maradona stuck his left fist out and hit the ball into the net. Maradona’s teammates did not celebrate the goal at first waiting for the hand ball whistle. It never came from referee Ali Bin Nasser or the side judge. Argentina was ahead 1-0 on what later came to be called the “hand of god” goal. The entire country of England and fans everywhere were shocked. In this sport going from a tie game to being down one goal greatly shifts your offensive and defensive game plans. Four minutes later Maradona sealed England’s fate with the infamous “goal of the century.”
Argentina won the game 2-1 and went on to win their second World Cup title. England hasn’t been to a World Cup final since 1966.
3. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Kansas City Royals, 1985 World Series Game 6
This match up featured the nine-time World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals versus the Kansas City Royals who were looking for their first title. The Cardinals stormed out to a three games to one lead in the series and Kansas City answered winning game 5 by the score 6-1.
Game 6 was played on October 26, 1985 and the contest quickly became a pitchers duel. The cardinals Danny Cox and the Royals Charlie Leibrandt threw 7 scoreless innings until in the 8th Brian Harper singled home Terry Pendleton and St. Louis took the 1-0 lead to the 9th. The Cardinals were 3 outs away from their tenth ring. Rookie Todd Worrell blasts “wild thing” and makes his way to the hill. Jorge Orta steps in and hits a routine ground ball to first baseman Jack Clark who flips the ball to Worrell who is covering. The throw easily beats Orta on his way down the line, one out, but wait umpire Don Denkinger sees it a bit differently and calls Orta safe. All replays from every angle clearly show that the throw beat the runner.
I can’t tell you how important it is to get the first batter out in this situation. With the lead-off batter aboard the Royals took advantage and pushed across two runs to win the game. The following night the Royals took their momentum and pounded the Cardinals 11-0 wining their first and only World Series Title. How things might have been different if Denkinger had his glasses on that night.
2. USA vs. Russia, 1972 Summer Olympics
The 1972 Summer Olympics were held in Munich Germany. Coming into the games the United States basketball team had won seven consecutive gold medals and amassed a 63-0 Olympic record. Each team won their first eight games of the tournament which set the stage for a U.S. vs. Soviet final. It was a well fought battle, but many calls seemed to be going in the Soviet’s favor.
With three seconds left in the game U.S. guard Doug Collins hit two free-throws which gave his team a 50-49 lead. As soon as the second free-throw went in the Soviet coaching staff charged the scores table saying that they called a time out before the second free-throw. The rules state that this was not legal and you can not call a time out between free-throws. All of a sudden the Soviets inbound the ball amongst the chaos on the floor and fail to score, but wait the officials converse and decide to give the Soviets one more chance and allow them to set up an out of bounds play. However, when the ball was put into play by the officials the scores table was not ready and the clock had one second on it from the previous play. The Soviets passed the ball in and threw it off the backboard and the U.S. stormed the court to celebrate an Olympic gold. But wait, on the last play the horn sounded after only one second and not three, so the refs gave the Soviet team another chance to win. Three times is a charm and the Soviets completed the long pass and scored with no time remaining.
Chaos ensued and the Americans appealed the decision to no avail. The United States has refused to accept the silver medal to this day. This game led to numerous rule changes in international basketball.
1. Roy Jones Jr. vs. Park Si Hun, 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics
In 1984 the summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles and the United States boxing team dominated the competition cashing in on nine of the twelve gold medals. A few countries felt that they were cheated and that all the calls were going the Americans way. The most vocal opposition came from the Korean squad. Now let’s move to 4 years later and the Summer Olympic Games were held in Seoul, which is the capital and largest city in South Korea.
Park Si Hun was a decent fighter, but was getting a clear bye from the home town judges in the first four rounds of the tournament. On the other side 19 year old Roy Jones Jr. was dominating the competition winning with ease. The two met in the finals and what pursued was the worst judging in the history of the Olympic Games. As predicted Roy Jones Jr. dominated Park, imposing his will on him, and battering him all over the ring. Throughout the fight Park would be warned for slapping, holding, and was given a standing eight count. A collected tally of punches thrown to punches connected had a whopping 86 hits for Roy and 32 for Park. Roy Jones Jr. landed 54 more punches. Bob Kasule of Uganda, Alberto Duran of Uruguay, and Hiouad Larbi of Morocco came back with the decision that Park Si Hun was the gold medalist.
In a post fight interview Park apologized to Jones saying “I am sorry, I lost the fight.” The boxing scandals in Seoul were so prolific that the sport was on the verge of being discontinued as an Olympic event and a new scoring system was adopted. Roy Jones Jr. took the decision in stride and became the man that we know him as today. Trust me the video says it all.