Top 10 Most Controversial NFL Playoffs Calls

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

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)


The play that inspired this list finds a spot here, not only for the aforementioned reason, but because it in itself was so controversial that there was no way to leave it off. Last weekend's NFC Wild-Card matchup between the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys was marred by the defensive pass interference flag that was eventually picked up by the officials. Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens was all over Lions tight-end Brandon Pettigrew, making it impossible for Pettigrew to catch (let alone see) the pass. The NFL has already stated that there should have at the very least been a defensive holding call on the play - alas, that does nothing to console the millions of devastated Lions fans who had to live through that moment, and ultimately, that loss.

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.

OK Raiders fans, end on a high note. Seriously. Or go get a box of Kleenex before we continue.

8 Raiders vs. Broncos: The Rob Lytle Fumble (1977)

via AP

I warned you, Raider Nation. I tried. But you didn't listen.

It's bad enough to be ranked in this list if you're a fan of the teams that got shafted by the officials - it's worse when your team features enough times to almost warrant it's own separate list. One of the several incidents that scarred Raiders fans during the 70's was the Rob Lytle fumble incident - Lytle, a running back for the Broncos, immediately muffed a handoff during the third quarter of the 1977 AFC Championship Game, with the Broncos up 7-3. The ball came out as soon as Lytle was hit, but the referee ruled that his motion had already been stopped (by the officials). The Broncos kept the ball, scored on the very next play, and won the game 20-17.

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.

Overall, it was a debacle - a pain that was only alleviated by the Seahawks Super Bowl victory nearly one year ago.

6 49ers vs. Packers: The Jerry Rice Non-Fumble (1999)


It's hard to picture Jerry Rice doing anything that didn't involve catching a football or scoring a touchdown. During this incident, he did in fact catch a pass - it's what he did after catching it that sparked the controversy in this matchup. Rice was ruled down near the end of the 1999 NFC Wild-Card game between the Niners and Packers, but replay showed that Rice had in fact fumbled and the ball should have belonged to Green Bay. Instead, the 49ers retained possession and the game ended with Steve Young throwing a game-winning touchdown to Terrell Owens with the final seconds ticking off the clock.

5 Oilers vs. Steelers: Mike Renfro’s Incomplete Catch (1979)


Ever wonder when the National Football League - and other sports for that matter - began to start seriously thinking about advancing the technology used in the sport, specifically with regards to the use of instant replay? The wheels may have been put in motion during the third quarter of the 1979 AFC Title Game between the Houston Oilers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Oilers receiver Mike Renfro made a wonderful catch in the back of the endzone in the third quarter, but it was ruled that he did not get both feet in bounds (even though the replay showed he clearly had). Instead of a game-tying score, the Oilers continued to trail, and ended up losing the game 27-13. In today's game, Renfro's catch would have been an easy overturned call - alas, the NFL didn't have replay booths and hundreds of camera angles to review plays back in 1979.

4 Buccaneers vs. Rams: Bert Emanuel’s Shoelace Grab (2000)  


Similar to the Mike Renfro controversy, Bert Emanuel was the focal point of a controversial play thanks to a catch that ultimately was not called a catch - even though it should have been. The Buccaneers had miraculously managed to hold the "Greatest Show on Turf" to 11 points, and were driving with little time left on the clock. Bert Emanuel made a catch that in today's game would have counted without any issues - but the "Bert Emanuel Rule" had yet to be fully implemented that day, of course. Since the ball hit the ground (even though Emanuel had the ball secured throughout the entirety of the catch), the officials called it incomplete. The Rams went on to win, and the rule was clarified to be interpreted as it is today: the ball can hit the ground, but the receiver must have total control of it throughout the catch.

3 Bills vs. Titans: Music City Miracle (2000)


The Music City Miracle play lands on this list not because of a call that was made, but rather for a call that maybe should have been made. To be perfectly blunt about it, we will never know if Frank Wycheck's lateral to Kevin Dyson was a legal lateral or a backwards pass. You can watch the replay ten times, hundred times, even a thousand times, and it never gets any clearer. Again, this was during the era before the NFL had multiple camera angles to look at plays from - in today's game the call would probably be clear as day. Titans fans will forever stand by the call, while Bills fans while always just shake their heads in disbelief the same way they did that awful

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.

Perhaps it's best that it remains a mystery - a good old fashioned argument between Raiders and Steelers fans never hurt anyone, right?

1 Raiders vs. Patriots: The Tuck-Rule Game (2001)

via AP

If you got this far, Raiders fans,'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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Top 10 Most Controversial NFL Playoffs Calls