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The Readers' List:
Worst calls in history

From the Page2 mailbag

Poll Results

Here's how the Page 2 staff ranked the worst officiating calls in history:

1. Denkinger calls Royals' Orta safe at first
2. Colorado's fifth down
3. Soviets get extra time in 1972 Olympic hoops
4. Jeffrey Maier assists Jeter home run
5. Brett Hull's skate in the crease
6. Maradona's "Hand of God"
7. Thanksgiving Day coin flip flap
8. Mike Renfro ruled out of bounds
9. Eric Gregg's wide strike zone
10. Charles White's TD and fumble in 1979 Rose Bowl

On Monday, Page 2 ran its list of the worst calls in sports history. We asked for your take, and you filled our mailbag with plenty of disgruntled opinions about the worst rulings.

After going through more than 1,300 letters, we've listed a rundown of the Top 10 vote-getters, along with some of the best letters about each atrocious judgment. Be sure to cast your vote in the poll at left to choose the worst calls of all time.

1. Chuck Knoblauch's phantom tag (135 letters)
I live in Lawrence, Mass., which is about 30 miles north of Fenway Park, the home of my beloved Red Sox. For the record ... I am closer to that ballpark than the horrific tag perpetrated by Yankees second basmen Chuck Knoblauch on Jose Offerman during the 1999 ALCS.

From every angle of every replay, including the point of view of the moronic umpire making the call, Knoblauch wiffed and only got the force out at first. This would have brought up All-World shortstop Nomar Garciaparra with a runner in scoring position and two outs. Instead this botched call resulted in an inning-ending double play. That call not only cost momentum and killed a potential winning rally, but was indicative of the horrific umpiring throughout the whole series.

Chuck Knoblauch
Gotcha, sort of! Umpire Tim Tschida missed this call, just like Chuck Knoblauch missed Jose Offerman.
Major League Baseball is doing the right thing by cracking down on bad officiating and enforcing the rules. Still this horrible call sticks out in memory not only for its heinousness but for the fact that the umpire admitted to the media right after the game that it was the wrong call.
Mark Mesiti
Lawrence, Mass.

Chuck Knoblauch's supposed tag on Jose Offerman in the ALCS in '99 ... That wasn't the only botched call of the series. It made Red Sox Nation wonder if the Yankees' bloated payroll included the four men in blue.
Joe M
Randolph, Mass.

2. Vinny Testaverde's TD (121 letters)
I am a lifelong Jets fan with many remembrances of officiating gone awry (Keyshawn no-TD call vs. Redskins in '96, anyone?), but it is one that was in their favor that I will remember as the worst I have seen.

Against the Seattle Seahawks in the 1998-99 season, Vinny Testaverde was ruled in the end zone after running a quarterback sneak on the last play of the game to give the J-E-T-S the win, but clearly he was down more than a foot from the goal line before he stretched out his arms to get the TD call. The Jets go on to win their division and get to the AFC championship, while the loss keeps the Seaducks out of the playoffs.

After the season, the Jets then vote forinstant replay ... go figure.
Phil Bieber
Eagan, Minn.

Vinny dived for the end zone and fell far short. Phil Luckett ruled it a touchdown. Said the officials afterward, "We mistook his helmet for the football."
Drew Zahn
Sandwich, Ill.

3. Colorado's fifth down (118 letters)
The majority of the other options can be blamed on the "too quick for the naked eye" factor. Five downs for Colorado was mere stupidity. Four of five refs not watching or counting the number of plays? No excuse.
Jim Strickland

Clearly the worst call is the fifth down Colorado received.

Picture a homesick Peace Corps volunteer sweating in southern Africa receiving in the mail his only connection with home ... sports clippings from the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune. The agony!

Not only did that play crush me eight time zones away, but it placed a curse on the Missouri Tigers that was revisited five years later in the instant classic against Nebraska, where another crummy call (the kicked pass) sends Nebraska to the dance. The road to the college football title goes through the referee's whistle in Columbia, Mo.
Nils Headley
San Mateo, Calif.

4. Soviets get extra time in '72 Olympic hoops (114 letters)
Some bad calls are patently obvious, while others are still worth arguing about. Some calls clearly affect the outcome, while others may or may not. Some are the result of honest human mistakes, others are the result of gross umpirical incompetence. And then there's the 1972 game, in which the on-court and off-court officials perpetrated an outright fraud upon the players, the sporting public, and the Olympic record book with larcenous actions so blatant they would make a Chicago ward boss blush.

Fans and players get over even the worst calls, but the undeserved silver medals of the 1972 U.S. men's basketball team remain unclaimed in a Munich bank vault, a testament to the bitterness that remains to this day.
Darren Timothy
Alexandria, Va.

5. Brett Hull's skate in the crease (93 letters)
Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull
Going by the rulebook in 1999, this Brett Hull goal on Dominik Hasek shouldn't have counted.
Brett Hull's skate in the crease was the worst call in the history of sports. No other call has caused such destruction and devastation. It has led the people of Buffalo (and western New York transplants) to question their very existence. We ask ourselves, "If the Sabres team that year could be cheated out of the Cup, what other deep-held tenets will also fall?"

Not only did the no-goal cost the Sabres the Stanley Cup, it has caused property values in Buffalo to decrease, pollution levels on Lake Erie to skyrocket, increased snowfall in the winter months, higher tolls on the New York State Thruway, nearly tasteless chicken wings to promulgate, and a renewed interest in Jim Kelly's car dealerships.

I'm convinced the "no-goal" was the seventh sign from God that the end of civilization is very near.
Joe Parisi
McLean, Va.

6. Jeffrey Maier assists Jeter's HR (89 letters)
The Jeffrey Maier fan interference "noncall" is the worst call in sports history, bar none. Tony Tarasco was in perfect position to make the play on Jeter's routine fly ball -- only one problem, the ball never got to his glove. A young boy named Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence and snared the fly from the field of play, in blatant violation of baseball's fan interference rules.

Despite being in good position to make the call, Umpire Rich Garcia signaled home run. And the rest, as they say, is history. I think we all know why Garcia made the call the way he did because he was afraid of the Yankee Stadium crowd. However, probably for the same reasons, none of the other umpires had the guts to step up and overturn the hideous call.

Had any of the Orioles hit that ball, Garcia probably would have taken the easy way out again and signaled fan interference. Everyone around the country knew the violation that had occurred; the strange part of the whole thing is, rather than be chastised, Maier was made into something of a cult hero for his actions. He even made an appearance on "The Today Show," for God's sake!

The O's won Game 2 to tie the series at 1-1, but had Game 1 not been stolen from them, odds are we're looking at Baltimore in the World Series. If Maier (and Garcia, too, for that matter) knows what's good for him, he'll avoid ever making the short trip down I-95 to Baltimore.
Peter Cline
Baltimore, Md.

Easily that little snot-nosed New York brat reaching over the wall to grab the ball from Tarasco. Only a New York team would get a break like that.

7. Hue Hollins calls foul against Scottie Pippen (62 letters)
Bulls vs. Knicks, Game 5, Eastern Conference finals. No call has ever been nor ever will be more heinous than this travesty of justice.

Hollins calls a phantom foul on Scottie Pippen, who cleanly contested the 3-pointer by Hubert Davis in the waning seconds of the game and the Bulls clinging to a slim lead. Had Hollins done the correct thing, Davis would have missed the shot, and the Bulls would have stolen the pivotal fifth game (without the then-retired Michael Jordan!) in the Garden. Instead, Davis made three free throws to give the Knicks the lead, wresting the game out of the Bulls' clutches.

Chicago would have won the series in Game 6, but instead Hollins gave the Knicks the series in seven.
Aaron K.
Lombard, Ill.

8. Thanksgiving coin toss (54 letters)
How can a ref miss a coin flip? I will never forget the reaction of Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis realizing he was being robbed and the Lions laughing at the obvious mistake. That is the worst call in the history of sports.

9. Drew Pearson's "Hail Mary" catch (41 letters)
How could you not even mention Drew Pearson shoving Vikings cornerback Nate Wright just before catching Roger Staubach's Hail Mary pass in the 1975 NFC playoff game?

Replays show Pearson and Wright running side-by-side, and then as Pearson "adjusts" to the underthrown ball, Wright somehow flies forward at an odd angle. After making the catch, Pearson looked back for a flag and started celebrating only when he realized he'd gotten away with the most obvious offensive pass interference in football history.

The impact of the play was wide-ranging: It knocked arguably the best Viking team ever out of the playoffs and propelled the Cowboys to the Super Bowl; Hail Mary is now a common part of football vocabulary; Staubach rode his mythical Captain Comeback thing all the way to the Hall of Fame (ahead of Tarkenton -- give me a break); and poor referee Armen Terzian -- who wasn't even responsible for the noncall-- caught a whiskey bottle in the side of the head (a better throw than Staubach's).

I've got to believe the Blessed Virgin has better taste than to root for the Cowboys and will eventually settle the score.
Tim Busse
Minneapolis, Minn.

10. Kent Hrbek knocks Ron Gant off first base (39 letters)
Kent Hrbek's WWF audition in the 1991 World Series.

Atlanta's Ron Gant ripped a single in the third and after rounding first retreated back to the bag. Tapani threw the ball to first where Gant had appeared to make it in plenty of time. That was until Hrbek, under the guise of attempting to apply a tag, lifted Gant off the base. Umpire Drew Coble called him out. Guess what, the Twinkies win by one.

This play was a horrible call in what was a great series. I mean, come on, Hrbek clearly used his slight 80-pound weight advantage to lift Gant, who at the time was a quality baserunner, off the bag.

If Cardinals fans weren't so obsessed with Don Denkinger, they'd still be crying about this one.
Brian Hipp
San Diego, Calif.

Dishonorable mention: Denkinger calls Orta safe, Jordan bumps Byron Russell, 1980 Stanley Cup Final offsides no-call, Charles White's TD, the final two seconds of the 1998 Rose Bowl, Roy Jones Jr. gold medal decision, "scoreboard" call from '75 Wake Forest-UNC game.

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