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

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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.



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  1. what about the pass interference call in the miami/ohio state national championship game

  2. Everyone talks about the boxing scandal of 1988 but plays down the boxing scandal of 1984. What nobody wants to discuss is how the US fixed events because of politics.

    In the 1980 Moscow games, with the boycott, the USSR set a record for 80 gold medals. In 1984, the US broke that record with EIGHTY THREE. If there had not been rigged judging in numerous events (boxing, synchronized swimming, gymnastics, among others) the US would have finished with fewer than 80 medals, leaving the Soviets with the record.

    That just couldn’t be allowed to happen, could it? No no no, so in events that were judged and could go the US’s way to win gold, they did. And let’s not forget Carl Lewis’ positive drug test in 1988 which was covered up. He was probably dirty in 1984, too.

    Read the link: Lewis tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.

    Anyone who whines about 1988 should go drink drano. The rigged boxing in Seoul was payback. The US wasn’t an innocent victim.

    • So you’re saying that all the rigged fights vs. the winner was a payback against the US? Even against the French boxer?

  3. Bryan:

    You state that “I canâ??t tell you how important it is to get the first batter out in this situation.” You overplay the importance of the first out.

    Yes, it is to the defense’s advantage to get the first out; however, you still have to get three outs. I have seen many a game where a batter was at a two strike count with two outs, got a hit, and that started a rally that resulted in multiple runs.

    Yes, ti was an awful call. Still they had opportunities to get three outs. The problem was that a team fell apart because of a stupid call. True championship teams put that aside and win.-

  4. Bryan:

    You state that “I canâ??t tell you how important it is to get the first batter out in this situation.” You overplay the importance of the first out.

    Yes, it is to the defense’s advantage to get the first out; however, you still have to get three outs. I have seen many a game where a batter was at a two strike count with two outs, got a hit, and that started a rally that resulted in multiple runs.

    Yes, ti was an awful call. Still they had opportunities to get three outs. The problem was that a team fell apart because of a stupid call. True championship teams put that aside and win.

  5. I know this list was posted before this incident happened but I had to comment on it. Jim Joyce's blown call on the last out of Armando Galarraga's "perfect" game was a crying shame. I know it wasn't for any kind of championship or pennant but seriously, its not often you see a perfect game pitched.

  6. Not surprised a lot of these are the Olympics. It's why I don't watch, which is a shame because it SHOULD be a competition between athletes regardless of nation, but what it actually is, is petty, power-tripping judges from whatever country wants to feel more powerful than they are this year using the little clout given to them to try and impose their will upon the world stage. Judged events in the Olympics are a farce that have far more to do with politics than athleticism.

  7. MichaelofCork on

    every single other sport has some form of knockout series. theres countless soccer leagues, both gaa games, (although they'd never be world sports, just im only able to give examples from sports im familiar with) as well as cricket and rugby. it wouldnt be so bad if the writer didnt put the word "world" in the title.

    • MichaelofCork on

      right, i for some reason i thought i saw world in the title. now i see its not there. thats my argument destroyed. bye guys!

  8. Homorable mention to the no-facemask called against Arizona that capped their win against Greenbay in the playoffs this weekend.

  9. Yeah, the reason why we include mostly our sports is because few if any international sporting leagues have playoff series.

  10. why is Illinois / ohio st # 10 , if u want bad calls look at ohio st's whole 2002 season

    there where terrable calls in the cincinati game , penn st game , a TD in the illinois game taken away from the illini that would have beaten ohio st , then there's that pass interferance at the end of the championship game against miami , all of these calls helped ohio st but yet u say the illinois fumble is #10 please .. if you want to see bad just look at O$u

  11. No mention of the Oklahoma – Oregon onside kick fiasco, as well as a tipped ball non call a few plays later in lieu of a pass interference penalty?

  12. Maryann Johnson on

    #3 was unbelieveable. I watched a show on MLB Network called "Prime 9" the episode was mistakes. It was #6 but it should have been higher because the call was ridiculous.

    • "It was #6…" it wasnt maryann. it was #4. #6 was bruce froeming's call (that i personally think was right) to "take away" the 1977 NL pennant from the Phills. "but it should have been higher" absolutely RIGHT!!!!!!!!! I've seen controversy,but I've actually never seen a pennant saying"St. Louis Cardinals 1985 World Champs" when they actually did not win it!!!!!!!

  13. What about game either six or seven (can't remember which) of the 2001 Eastern conference finals? The Bucks were <cheated> by the refs so much I think that was one of the games bet on.</cheated>

    • hahahahahaha give me a break i was at that game stop whining your Bucks lost to a sixers team with a bunch of nobodys and Allen Iverson

      • Ehh it was Game 6 with the BS flagrant on Jason Williams but the whole series was rigged not just that one game and if there was one game of that series that was rigged the most, it was Game 5. The calls in that game changed the whole series. And the Bucks still almost pulled out a W despite it had Big Dog made that jumper in the final seconds. The only people who don’t think that series was rigged are Sixers fans and Lakers fans. The Lakers got swept by the Bucks that year and I would almost guarantee the Bucks would have beaten them in the Finals.

  14. glasgowjohn on

    typical of americans 99% of all things must include them im sure there are many other games around the world that could be included

  15. how can this list even begin to be complete without the the "tuck rule" being mentioned????

    2001-2002 AFC Divisional Playoff game, without question.

    • AGREED! how can the Snow Ball not make this top 10? It had way more implications than a regular season rival game (Denver vs San Diego) and the ruling was a lot more controversial

  16. What! no Suns vs Spurs game 3 semi finals in 2007!

    The game alone is worth a top 5 mention. The repercussions and following scandal has to make it #1. How does a Stern tell a team that the NBA screwed them out of a championship? …..(Crickets chirping)….

  17. Paul I here what you are saying. It was the biggest moment in the biggest NHL game of the year. Equivelant to bases loaded, two outs, extra innings, in game 7 of the Series. In writing this list, I kind of put the Olympics above all other athletic competition. Just because it involves the entire world's athletes. I put the NHL game down a little bit just because hockey isn't as popular a sport. Don't get me wrong, I love hockey, but soccer is recognized nationally. This was about as high as I would have put a NHL game. Olympic hockey would have been a different story.

  18. A good list. I watched #1, #3, #6 & #7. In my opinion, the Sabres v Stars should be at least #3, maybe #1. Denkinger's blown call was bad, but it was one mistake by one man. The goal against the Sabres could have and should have been reviewed and disallowed. Also, the bad goal was in sudden death and ended the series. For #3 & #4 England and Cardinals still had chances to win; the Sabres didn't.

    The main reason I think Sabres v Stars should be #1 is that the NHL changed the rules for next season as if they could retroactively make it legitimate.

    If anyone is still unsure, yes, Hamburg is a suburb of Buffalo.

    • There is one thing about the Buffalo call that no one ever seems to point out. The rule mentioned states that a player may enter the crease before the puck if he is in control of the puck. Hull clearly controls the rebound and after kicking the puck with his skate to his stick, his skate barely enters the crease before the puck. No controversy, just a bunch of whiny Buffalo fans upset that they can never beat Dallas.

      • Yeah..convenient how they leave that part of the rule out. You used to see a lot of goals get waved off b/c another player had a small part of his skate in the crease, usually off to the side of the goal, and with no effect on the goal itself. After the Hull goal, the NHL changed the rule to allow players in the crease ahead of the puck, provided they didn't interfere with the goaltender's ability to make the save. Didn't they even reduce the size of the crease after that?

    • As a life-time Laker fan I can admit that I was extremely unexcited to watch the Lakers vs. Nets after the Kings series. Whether or not you believe the Lakers deserved to win, you must agree that it was one heck of a series to watch.

  19. As for number 8, it also doesn't help that the comish of the NBA is a self proclaimed Lakers fan. As a person from Sacramento, it hurts even more that we got robbed that year. The Kings were going to win it all …

    As for the first comment posted here, I agree there have been some times that the Stealers got away with stuff (the super bowl against Seattle in particular). Regarding the Imaculate Reception – there was a rule at the time any pass that went off a player (i.e. touched another player) could only be caught by that player. So when the pass went off a Raider, who didn't catch the ball, the play SHOULD have been dead. John Madden still is pissed about it …

  20. No Pittsburgh Steelers? This is an outrage! I’m a life long, die hard Steelers fan, but even I have to admit that 2 of our 6 super bowls depended on calls that are sketchy at best. Of course football fans remember Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception, which, based on video evidence, most likely should have been ruled an incomplete pass and cost the Steelers a bid to a Super Bowl that they went on to win, and in this last Super Bowl, there is pretty strong evidence that James Harrison’s interception return for a touchdown should have been called back (everyone was watching his knee, which landed on Larry Fitzgerald, but his elbow seems to have touched the ground before the ball crossed the goal line). As a fan, I’ll take any break I can get, but either of those plays should have made this list as the officiating staff made controversial calls that, had they gone the other way, would have left Pittsburgh with only four Super Bowl wins in franchise history instead of their league-leading six.

  21. I can't agree with you more Steve. I am actually the writer of this list and a long time Seattle Seahawks fan, remember that Super Bowl. The Seattle vs. Pitt and Arizona vs. Pitt Super Bowl's were originally on the list as one item. Before admitting the list I changed it to the Ed Hochuli debacle. I felt that I didn't have enough concrete evidence to attack the Super Bowl refs and didn't want to piss off Steeler Nation. I should have put it on the list. I do remember the phantom pass interference call on Darrell Jackson, Roethlisberger down on the one, the James Harrison play, and a no call on the Santonio Holmes Lebron James tribute. I did think that using the ball as a prop was a penalty in the NFL. Both games were horribly officiated. My Seahawks will probably never get another chance like that. It is tuff for a sports fan out here on the West Coast.

    • Wrong, and Wrong again. Shame on both of you. The Steelers/Seahawks' game was mired in bad calls that went Both Ways. As for the Immaculate Reception – the rule was that if the ball was touched by an OFFENSIVE PLAYER, the offense couldn't catch it. It could never be determined whether the ball went off a Raider or a Steeler. The rule has NEVER been that the play was dead when tipped. The defense, for instance, could, and still can, catch the ball that goes off an offensive player. Know your rules, folks.

      • While this game was "mired in bad calls" it was the Seahawks that BY FAR suffered the most.

        -fan of neither team

        Go Vikings lol