Of The Decade: Worst Calls Comment Count

Brian August 9th, 2010 at 12:44 PM

Editor's note: I moved this weekend and am currently on the floor two feet from the modem; I'll be out the rest of the day assembling the new place.

Previously in this series: ESPN Images, Michigan's offense, Michigan's defense, Worst Plays of The Decade Part 1, Worst Plays Part 2, Best Plays Part I, Best Plays Part II.

In two sections for balance: calls that went in favor of Michigan and calls against Michigan. Importance is somewhat… uh… important, but here we're looking for the biggest ref boners of the decade. Games that finish 60-7 don't make the cut but a terrible call in a game that's competitive does even if that call doesn't swing the game.

Spartan Bob is excluded since that was not an error.

In Which Michigan Is Bailed Out

5. Braylon's catch-like-substance against Washington

This set up the #2 play of the decade, in which Phil Brabbs nailed a 44-yard field goal to give Michigan a last-second win against top-ten Washington:

Despite its huge importance, this play checks in last because you can make a case that Edwards did bring the ball in and move upfield before it popped loose. It's at least close.

4. Armageddon bailout

This is not on the 'tubes, unfortunately, so you'll just have to take my word for it. From that game's UFR:

Herbstreit immediately bursts into a spiel about how that's obvious interference and I'm like 'no it isn't.' This ball is well underthrown -- Mario had burned O'Neal crispy -- allowing the S to get back into the play. He doesn't look, the ball hits him in the back or arm or something, and Manningham's progress is never impeded. This is the same kind of crappy call we've been getting on our DBs all year, and it's still crappy when it happens in our favor. (IN, 1, protection 2/2)

That was fourth and sixteen on Michigan's 44 with time running out in Football Armageddon and Michigan down ten; given the gift of new life on a pass interference call that didn't even see the defensive back touch the receiver, Michigan would score and get the opportunity to attempt an onside kick.

3. Bryant Johnson's inexplicable non-catch

The clip below contains back-to-back plays in the 2004 Penn State game; this entry deals with the second, when Bryant Johnson came up with a patented Zack Mills Hopeful Downfield Jump Ball, got not one but two feet in-bounds, and was somehow ruled out of bounds:

If Bryant was correctly ruled in-bounds Penn State would have been in game-winning field goal range with almost a minute left on the clock to set up a chip shot.

2. Illinois double fumble mishap

Fumbles are hard. But even so you these plays late in the fourth quarter of a game Michigan was trailing by three caused outrage in Champaign, then outrage in Ann Arbor after the Big Ten took the unprecedented step of apologizing for them:

Harvey was down. If your helmet hits the ground, you are down. (If anything other than your foot or hand hits the ground, you're down) Thomas was not. The two plays were separated by just one six-yard Askew run, and to this day whenever you're pretending you care about the Illini to an Illini fan they will bring this up. Unlike Penn State, they've got beef.

1. Pylongate

Michigan ended up losing this game but other than the dadaist Oregon-Oklahoma onside kick there has probably never been a worse call in college football. It's the 2008 Michigan State game and Michigan has a third and goal from around the ten. Steven Threet tosses a wheel route to Minor that's juuust a bit outside, Minor catches it but lands well out of bounds, field goal team comes on, and then the ref gets buzzed.

In the stands people are trying to figure out why. Multiple theories are passed around, none of which stick. As best we can figure there's a confusing television angle in which it looks like Minor managed to get a foot down that will be quickly shown false and we can get on with our lives. The call does not come. We are waiting too long for something not to be amiss. At this point, the replay official should be calling someone to double-check his insane rule interpretation, but he's not. He's just calling it down: Brandon Minor is in the endzone because his foot touched the pylon, which is "part of the endzone" in one part of the rulebook. Problem: in another part of the rulebook it is specifically declared not something that can make a catch in-bounds.

As the ref raises his hands sheepishly, 105,700 people in Michigan Stadium know that something has just gone wrong—everyone but the replay official. The Big Ten later admits error and promotes Jim Augustine to praetor.

This is number one because it's a perfect storm of ineptness: the call was right on the field and was overturned to be incorrect by the replay official

Specifically Omitted Non-Errors

Two seconds of whining lasts a lifetime. For the last time, Penn State fans: asking for time on the clock because the clock operator did not stop the thing after the ref called timeout is not a bad call. You know who thinks that? Joe Paterno, who called timeout on Penn State's last drive and then badgered the refs for two extra seconds on the clock and got them.

Heel-toe. In that same game, Jason Avant picked up a key first down on a pass on the sideline where his toe came down in-bounds an instant before his heel struck out of bounds. The NCAA rulebook is very generous when it comes to getting in bounds: if any bit of you hits in bounds, you are in bounds.

Correct. In last year's Notre Dame game, Armando Allen stepped out of bounds on a screen that looked like it went for a touchdown. Replay overturned the call and ND eventually settled for a field goal. Notre Dame fans complain about this.

Outrages(!) In Which Michigan Is Screwed

5. Bryant Johnson inexplicable catch

This should look familiar:

This is the first Bryant Johnson catch-type substance where Johnson hits the ground and the ball immediately flies out as he hits the ground. The ground can't cause a fumble but it certainly can cause you to not catch the ball, and Johnson never had control. On third and forever, this would have forced a Penn State punt and allowed Michigan a chance to win in regulation.

4. Sure, his entire body is in the endzone but maybe the ball isn't

This wouldn't have been an issue if Chad Henne hadn't fumbled the ball on the ensuing snap from the one-inch line, but he did so holy hell:

It is impossible for someone to be in that position after the play is over and to have not scored a touchdown. As a bonus, Notre Dame had twelve guys on the field and was not called, not that that would have prevented Henne from fumbling on the next play.

3. That's not even a phantom touchdown, it's a phantom run to the one

In the 2002 Notre Dame game, all manner of infuriating stuff happened as Michigan blew the momentum from their win over Washington in a 25-23 loss to the Notre Dame team that inaugurated the jokes about Field Goal Jesus. One of the non-field-goals was a touchdown-type substance by Carlyle Holiday in which the guy fumbled at the two (the two!) and still managed to convince the refs that he had entered the endzone ball-in-hand. Since Michigan lost and Notre Dame's version of Wolverine Historian is a slacker, there is no video of the dread event. It did make it into the game recaps

Michigan committed another costly error when receiver Tyrece Butler fumbled at his own 24 and Holiday scored on a three-yard run with 23 seconds left in the half. Holiday appeared to fumble before reaching the end zone, but the officials still signaled a touchdown.

...in case anyone thinks I'm insane.

2. Domata Peko fumble rumble

I was at this game and after the replay official upheld the call on the field we complained so loud and long that an elderly Michigan State fan threatened us. But if any college fanbase was familiar with the intricacies of the tuck rule, it was that of the school which produced both Tom Brady and Charles Woodson. We had a righteous cause:

In the aftermath, rule books were delved into, laws specifically addressing the situation unearthed, and slack-jawed gaping disbelief retroactively justified:

When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward toward the neutral zone, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts the forward pass. If a Team B player contacts the passer or ball after forward movement begins and the ball leaves the passer's hand, a forward pass is ruled regardless of where the ball strikes the ground or a player (A.R. 2-19-2-I).

Michigan ended up with the win but it took overtime; without the error Michigan likely wins by somewhere in the range of seven to ten points in regulation.

1. If your elbow hits the ground and you're not Antonio Bass, you're down

This takes the cake because, like the Minor touchdown, it was a correct call on the field overturned by an inept or possibly insane replay official. It should be noted that it was karmically justified, as the refs had missed an ultra-rare Mike Hart fumble in the first half and the replay official then failed to buzz; there were also a couple of comically bad pass interference calls, one of which was seven yards downfield and saw Iowa inexplicably penalized fifteen yards. Iowa had a ridiculous call in their favor coming.

They got it. Antonio Bass came in for another of his Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draws. Though intermittently effective on the day, Iowa stoned this one, getting Bass in the backfield and flipping him almost head-over-heels. As Bass crashed to the ground his elbow hit first, causing the ball to pop loose. Iowa recovered, the refs on the field ruled him down, and then the buzz came. After five minutes of looking at Bass's elbow touch the ground first, the replay official awarded Iowa the ball:

Unfortunately, the clip does not show the many copious replays that showed Bass was down but the reaction of announcers normally loathe to criticize officials should suffice.

(Odd side note: all of these plays are from 2002 or 2005.)

Special Lifetime Total Lack Of Achievement Award

The 2005 Alamo Bowl, in its entirety.


His Dudeness

August 9th, 2010 at 12:50 PM ^

In Which Michigan Is Bailed Out

1a. Herbstreit blows the call in which he states "Les Miles will be the next head coach at Michigan."

and there was much rejoicing.


August 9th, 2010 at 12:59 PM ^

Is it worth pointing out that the interference call helped extend a drive that Michigan scored on, but also got them the back door cover on the +7 line.

Woo-Hoo, celebrate good times?


August 9th, 2010 at 7:34 PM ^

Bo was also ticked off at Illinois for firing Gary Moeller in 1979.  But Bo REALLY hated Mike White and called him a cheater for his recruiting tactics.  He took great delight running up the score on Illinois whenever he could (70-21 in 1981, 69-13 in 1986).  Although I never heard of Bo actually reporting them to the NCAA.  I know they ended up going on probation because of White's recruiting.

Illinois' players in the 80's were a bunch of thugs.  They were easy to hate. 

And Illini fans already had a reputation for being a bunch of jackasses when we were in town by then.  You couldn't pay me to watch a football game in Champaign.


August 9th, 2010 at 1:07 PM ^

I was at the '02 PSU OT game as well as the '00 Illinois game.  I'll have to admit that I was happy to be on the side opposite of the students.  While we were surrounded by Illini fans, they were very polite and a fun time was had by all.  The A-Train fumble occurred directly in front of us and it was pretty obvious that the call was a gift.  After having an Illinois fan scream "I hate your f-ing guts" directly in my mothers face, before the game, I felt karma paid UM back for that student's rude behavior.


August 9th, 2010 at 1:50 PM ^

i was at that game too.  w/o benefit of replay, i remember a few terrible calls against UM. there was a terrible unsportsmanlike call against larry foote where it kept an illini drive alive.  i believe they scored a TD.  there were also at least 2 terrible pass interference calls.

people also forgot that the harvey play was on 3rd down and they would have to punt anyway, iirc.  the illini could not stop henson once he got into the game.  illini was not going to make a 1st down in the 4Q.  the wind was a HUGE factor.  UM would win that game anyway.  I believe we were also taking a knee at about the illini 10 as time expired.

to me, the bad calls evened-out in the 2nd half and the right team won.  obviously no bias on my end though.


August 9th, 2010 at 4:53 PM ^

Yeah, I was about to mention that - Harvey was stopped on 3rd down, so we were getting the ball back regardless.  The bad call just gave us the ball in better field position than we otherwise would have (assuming no big punt return or punt block).


August 9th, 2010 at 2:08 PM ^

I was at the '00 Illinois game, dressed in Michigan colors and screaming my head off in the back of their student section.  There was a lot of general bitching after the game, but no one said a word to me.  There was even a lot of respectful oohing and aahing when Henson came in and threw his first frozen-rope pass, and a few "oh shit" comments.  There's no comparison to MSU or OSU fans.  



Other Andrew

August 9th, 2010 at 1:13 PM ^

I was wondering how you were going to handle the Sun Belt Debacle, Brian. Well played beacuse as glaringly bad as the calls were against MIchigan in that game, there were a handful of atrocities levied at Nebraska as well. I look forward to other opportunities to dole out the Special Lifetime Total Lack of Achievement Award, when its truly merited...

Yinka Double Dare

August 9th, 2010 at 7:12 PM ^

I watched the game at a bar with a friend who is a Nebraska fan and by the second quarter we were already joking that the refs were actually all connected to a guy in the press box who spun a Wheel of Penalties and whatever it landed on ("Pass Interference!"  "No call!" "Holding!") was what was called regardless of its relation to on-field action.

At least that would have explained what was going on.  It was truly hard to believe that refs could be that incompetent on their own.  And they were calling bizarre crap on both teams.


August 9th, 2010 at 1:26 PM ^

There is one real screw-job missing, and that is the terrible officiating in the 2000 UCLA game.  They stole a very obvious interception from Julius Curry, and then they allowed a big completion to UCLA where the receiver had stepped out of bounds.  That was worse than the ones that occurred in a game that we ended up winning.

You could compile an entire top 10 list of bad calls against Michigan just from games that have been played in that stadium.  We get screwed every time we play there it seems.

I viewed the Illinois game as karma paying us back for tha UCLA disaster. 


August 9th, 2010 at 1:23 PM ^

Jeff Smoker throws a TD pass to TJ Duckett on 4th and goal with 1 second left to lift the Spartans past the Wolverines 26-24.  Obviously time had run down on the clock.  In all of my maturity, I promptly proclaimed the party at my house to be over and had fits of rage sprinkled in with hours of sulking for the remainder of the day


August 9th, 2010 at 4:26 PM ^

I clearly remember watching side-by-sides of the game and we got screwed on that one.  Time had run out and as I recall coming out of that game, home team guys are no longer in charge of the clock.  In my mind this stick out as one of the worst calls against UM in the last decade and thought I would share.  I have followed the blog for a long time and recently started trying to contribute.  Any insight to the negging would be appreciated.

Greg McMurtry

August 9th, 2010 at 1:38 PM ^

I remember that double fumble game when A-Train clearly wasn't down like it was yesterday.  I remember having the feeling, "well, sometimes the refs get it wrong," (Shrugs shoulders, wipes brow.)


August 9th, 2010 at 1:38 PM ^

Very ugly scene afterwards. My 12-year-old cousin (tall for his age) got pushed around by a bunch of drunken fratboys, we all were spat upon and somebody flipped my M hat off my head from behind. (Like an idiot, I bent down to grab it before I looked for the perpetrator, who was long gone by the time I stood back up.)

Over-the-top a-holes all, but I did understand where the anger was coming from.


August 9th, 2010 at 1:40 PM ^

The tuck rule with Henne was glaringly bad even when it happened live.  I was at MSU on that day, the everyone seemed to be incredibly surprised that they didn't blow the whistle as soon as Peko touched the ball.  UM still won, but still a weird call.

As for the first Bryant catches, I agree that one negated the other, so less of an outrage.  The first catch was harder to justify compared to the other "non-catch", but I could see where a referee might think he brought it down and then the ground caused it to squirt out.  The sideline catches are always tough when two guys are battling, and the referee was out of position. 

Other Andrew

August 9th, 2010 at 5:16 PM ^

In the aftermath, one of my good friends said, "Man if I was John L Smith, I would tell that idiot to cut his fucking rat-tail hanging out of his helmet." I told him, "What's he gonna do, he's Somoan." This made the fucking rat-tail OK for my friend. I don't think either of us realized I was quoting Pulp Fiction, either.

st barth

August 9th, 2010 at 1:50 PM ^

I thought the pylon touchdown was awesome.  MINOR RAGE!!!

Even so, one of the things that amuses me the most about football are the rule interpretations that show up from time to time.  This will probably happen in the NFL first, but I expect that one of these days we'll see a team employ a lawyer on the sidelines to help the coach argue controversial interpretations.


August 9th, 2010 at 1:58 PM ^

1) NW game from 2008 where a Donovan Warren TD was called back because they claimed he stepped OOB?

2) 2005 vs OSU, anthony gonzalez runs out of bounds while troy smith is scrambling, only to come back on the field and catch the ball at the 5 yard line?