The National Football League playoffs have developed a reputation over the years as the most exciting, riveting, and dramatic playoffs in all of professional sport. The one-game showdowns that usually pit division foes or bitter rivals against one another in a sixty-minute showdown creates an unparalleled entertainment experience that is second to none.
Of course, when watching an NFL playoff game, fans and media members alike are hoping for a well-played tilt between the players - as in, only between the players. Far too often, though, NFL playoff games have been marred by controversial decisions by the men in the zebra-colors: the dreaded (and mostly hated) referees.
It's hard to expect referees to be flawless throughout any game, no matter what sport they officiate - they are human, after all - and even with the increase in video replay across the board, there are still plenty of rules and plays that can't be reviewed, leaving the ruling and judgement solely up to the discretion of the head official. While they get it right for the most part, there have been times where they've gotten it wrong - and at the worst possible times, too.
Some might side with the analogy that the officials are like the guy who gets cast in a play, but is surprised to find out that the lead role was given to someone else, while he is slotted into a meaningless bit part with no line. He feels betrayed, miscast, and undervalued, so to make sure that his true talent shines through he enters stage left when he's not supposed to and starts improvising, capturing all the attention he desperately wanted - but for all the wrong reasons.
It might seem harsh to compare an official to that guy - most officials are excellent and do a fine job - but sometimes, they make calls that leave us perplexed and shocked...or extremely outraged, if they happen to make the call against your team.
10 Cowboys vs. Lions: Face-Guarding (2014)
9 Raiders vs. Patriots: Roughing the Passer (1976)
If you're a Raiders fan, you should probably close this article immediately after reading this part of the article - while this paragraph is one that might bring up good memories of the Raiders glory days, the other Raider entries will make you cry a little (or a lot). The 1976 AFC Divisional Playoff matchup between the Raiders and the New England Patriots was tainted by a controversial roughing the passer call (who knew they even called that a penalty back then?) on the Pats Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton gave the Raiders new life down 21-17 late in the fourth quarter. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler took the second opportunity and capitalized, running the ball into the endzone himself to give Oakland the 24-21 victory.
8 Raiders vs. Broncos: The Rob Lytle Fumble (1977)
I warned you, Raider Nation. I tried. But you didn't listen.
7 Seahawks vs. Steelers: “Super Bowl Ex-Hell” (2006)
This game is not remembered for one particular call that changed the outcome of the game either way - it was actually a collection of calls that make Seahawks fans rue the mention of Super Bowl XL, or as Art Thiel put it in a special to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Super Bowl Ex-Hell".
The referee who worked that Super Bowl, Bill Leavy, seemingly could no longer live with the guilt of that game and four years later proclaimed to the Seattle media that his officiating crew muffed several calls on that fateful night in Detroit.
Some of the calls that were blown included a questionable holding call while the Seahawks were on the verge of scoring, and a low block called against then Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck for a low-block (even though he was actually trying to make a tackle during an interception return), not to mention a few other phantom calls that included a shady pass interference call on Seahawks receiver Darrell Jackson.
6 49ers vs. Packers: The Jerry Rice Non-Fumble (1999)
5 Oilers vs. Steelers: Mike Renfro’s Incomplete Catch (1979)
4 Buccaneers vs. Rams: Bert Emanuel’s Shoelace Grab (2000)
3 Bills vs. Titans: Music City Miracle (2000)
2 Raiders vs. Steelers: The Immaculate Reception (1972)
What is often referred to as the greatest catch in the history of the sport has also been a contentious point of controversy for the past 43 years. Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" is perhaps the single greatest play in Steelers history, but was it a legal play? No one knows - except perhaps those who were in the stadium and close enough to get a good look at it (and maybe Harris himself). The issue at hand is whether or not the ball hit another Steeler before Harris caught it. Back then, a ball that hit a receiver (and was not caught) could not be caught in mid-air by a second receiver from the same team. The camera issue comes into play yet again, as there are few angles of the catch, and none that show what the ball hit off of before Harris caught it.
1 Raiders vs. Patriots: The Tuck-Rule Game (2001)
If you got this far, Raiders fans, well...you've got thick skin. If the Immaculate Reception wasn't enough to make you lose all faith in your team's luck, then the Tuck Rule most certainly did. In case you've forgotten, though...
The Raiders we're up by three with less than two minutes to spare. Tom Brady was looking to lead the Patriots down the field to at least attempt a field-goal (it's often forgotten that the game was played during a massive snowstorm). Brady dropped back to pass, and Charles Woodson came on a corner blitz and got to Brady as he was about to throw. Brady dropped the ball and the Raiders recovered. Game over, right?
The rest is history. The infamous "Tuck Rule" was implemented, the Patriots drove down the field, Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-tying field goal, and New England went on to win the game and eventually the Super Bowl.
The Raiders? They actually bounced back quite nicely, making it to the Super Bowl the following year - but they haven't been in a playoff game since.
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