With no end in sight to the labor dispute between the NFL and its referees, new replacement officials will now be in place for the foreseeable future and no-one is happy about it.
Let me be clear: the job of an NFL referee is not an easy one. Diminutive men armed with not much more than a whistle stand side by side with modern-day gladiators as they attempt to rip each other to shreds for 3 hours and are asked to uphold the law.
But no-one is perfect; and mistakes are inevitably going to be made. As we wait for the strike to end, lets take a look back at some of the worst calls in NFL history.
Chargers vs. Broncos - Sept. 14, 2008
With 1:14 remaining in regulation, the Broncos are a yard away from the end zone and a game-tying touchdown. Jay Cutler took the snap, faked the handoff, rolled out of the pocket but lost his grip on the football as he wound up to throw and fumbled. San Diego LB Tim Dobbins recovered the loose ball and the Chargers were a few kneel-downs away from a win. But much to the dismay of the Charger faithful, Ed Hochuli blew the play dead before Dobbins could recover the football, believing it was an incomplete pass. Replay proved otherwise but because the play had been whistled dead, Hochuli could not award possession to San Diego. The Broncos went on to win the game a few plays later.
In Hochuli’s defense, he has repeatedly gone on record, admitting that he made the call that cost San Diego the game. The NFL would pass a rule the following offseason allowing such plays to be reviewable under the instant replay rule for the 2009 NFL season.
Packers vs. 49ers - January 3, 1998
In San Francisco 49ers lore, there are two last-second, heroic touchdown receptions simply known as The Catch and The Catch II. The latter, being arguably the greatest moment of Terrell Owens’ career, in which after having a terrible game he became a legend by catching a 25-yard strike from Steve Young to win the game. Just one problem: it should have never happened. Down by four points with less than a minute remaining in the NFC Wild Card game, the 49ers drove their way into Packer territory. On a second-down play, Jerry Rice was tackled after hauling in a pass on a short crossing route and fumbled but the referee whistled the play dead, saying Rice was down by contact. The replay said otherwise. (play is at 3:50 mark)
Steelers vs. Lions - November 26, 1998
Let’s face it: referees are usually old, and with old age comes bad hearing. Still, if your ears are so bad that you can’t understand what the guy right next to you is saying, you probably shouldn’t be an NFL referee. When a thanksgiving game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions went into overtime, reps from both teams met at the midfield for the coin toss to decide who would have the ball first. Referee Phil Luckett asked Steelers running back Jerome Bettis if he wanted heads or tails and Bettis called “tails”. Problem is, Luckett heard “heads”.
The Lions scored a field goal on their first possession of the overtime to win the game.
Raiders vs. Patriots - January 19, 2002
Calls can cost teams a play, a possession, even a game. But rarely do you see a blown call so big, so historic, it changes the direction of the franchises involved FOREVER.
Ladies and gentlemen, the birth of “The Tuck Rule”.
The Patriots would go on to win several Superbowls, becoming one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history, and the Raiders would lose in the Superbowl the following year before beginning a depressing fade into obscurity.