Of The Decade: Worst Calls

Submitted by Brian on 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.



August 9th, 2010 at 2:13 PM ^

Regarding the 2005 Iowa game fumble, and a few others, I'm still befuddled as to how the replay can overrule a play that was ruled on the field to not be a fumble, and give the ball to a team that fell on the ball after the play was ruled to be over.  If a play was ruled down with no fumble, then the play ended at that instant.  Anything that happened thereafter would have been incidental.

If I recall, the 2004 Notre Dame Chad Henne fumbe referred to in No. 4 was another example of this.


August 9th, 2010 at 9:20 PM ^

there are some piss-poor Michigan Hockey calls that could have gotten mention here too.  How many times in the last 3 years has Michigan not been credited the tieing goal with less than a minute to go because the referee blew the whistle early?  Notre Dame a couple years ago, I think it was Ohio State last year.  And I remember a terrible call when Michigan played hockey outdoors at Wiscy but can't remember what happened.  Just know I woke up the Mrs. while I was yelling at the TV and ended up in the doghouse.


August 10th, 2010 at 1:54 AM ^

If they let the play continue, then get together and rule that the runner was down, they can look at the fumble. If they blow the whistle, at least in 2005 that was the end of it (I think they've recently changed the rule such that if there's a clear recovery immediately after the whistle, it can be reviewed and given at that spot).


August 9th, 2010 at 2:28 PM ^

This is the play no one talks about.  Maybe because it was on NBC and Tv rights are harder to come by and will never be on classic.


But Holliday TD was a joke, I could tell from the Umich seating that it wasn't a touchdown and wondering how they ruled it a TD.

Ruined my one and only trip to ND until this year 8 years later.


August 9th, 2010 at 7:22 PM ^

God, that was painful.  Holliday literally left the ball behind on the 2 yard line, a UM player falls on it (can't remember who) and it's....touchdown ND? 

Running that play up the middle at that point of the game was a huge risk.  ND had no timeouts left and there was under 20 seconds left in the 2nd QR.  If we come up with a stop, ND has no time to get the field goal unit on the field.  Instead, the Irish get a bogus touchdown and a ton of momentum going into the lockerroom up 16-7 instead of 9-7.  Everyone knew how the script would go in the second half - we would regain the lead, ND would end up with a 3 point or less win and the phantom touchdown would be the difference in the end.  Right on all counts. 

While on the subject of ND, you could add to the list the phantom pass interference on Ty Law that gave the Irish a free touchdown to tie us 17-17 in 1992. 


August 9th, 2010 at 10:03 PM ^

You just made me remember the rest of the game.  Now I feel sick.  You are completely right, the Holiday run would have run out the clock and Michigan would have averted the field goal.  Remember now that the feeling what a mistake they made on running the ball

You have a much better memory than me.  Although it was my senior year of college, and I'm sure I drank heavily on the way back from South Bend.


August 9th, 2010 at 11:49 PM ^

Sorry.  Didn't mean to make you feel sick.  ND has that effect on lots of people. 

When it comes to the Irish, you never forget every phantom touchdown they got, every miracle tipped pass for a 60 yard gain they got, the phantom pass interferences for gift first downs and scores, the ref using an index card to measure for a first down, the wind stopping just in time for them to make a miracle field goal...we've seen it all.  And they are impossible to forget.

El Jeffe

August 9th, 2010 at 2:30 PM ^

Re the Edwards and Bryant catch-type substances: haven't there been various tinkerings with the rules since '02-'05 on this sort of issue? I seem to recall phrases like "make a football move" and "demonstrate possession through touching the ground" that make me wonder whether there was a more liberal interpretation of "catch" back then.



August 9th, 2010 at 2:59 PM ^

I don't know...MSU Spartan Bob deserves more mention, because 1. that game had LOTS of horrible calls BEFORE the clock stop; 2. on the clock stop, they missed a massive holding (though maybe non-calls don't count); 3. Brian, what makes you think any number of others on your list weren't an error, but perhaps done purposefully...? (tinfoil gifs may follow).

5. I don't think this one really belongs, but I understand how it could be hard to find 5 of these to go in Michigan's favor.  As just mentioned, he had two feet down, and made a football move (turning to run upfield), so it was a catch.  It may not have been if done today, but back then, it was the right call.

4.  Ugh.  That whole sequence still makes me a little ill.

3. Bad call.  But on a play that never should have happened, so I don't really feel bad about it.  One of those situations people always talk about but never really happens where "the calls equal out".

2. This is really the only time I've ever really felt like we got away with one, big time.  If someone wants to point to some Michigan breaks, this is the one I won't argue (though Illinois fans think there was ANOTHER fumble/non-fumble call that went against them that game, that was actually correct).  But I really didn't care, because my mom went into the hospital that day, and I would take any ray of light, no matter how tainted.

1. I don't think it should be #1. I feel the outrage when replay screws up a call (why even have it then?), but it was of absolutely no consequence in the game. (Which, if you look at the list...about half the teams that had the plays go against them still won anyway). It didn't even make it unnecessarily tight at the end.

5., again- Goes with the above, but I'll say it should be at least as high as the other one, because this one came first, and the other one doesn't even exist if this was called right. That, and as we all know from Desmond, as Brian stated, "The ground can cause an incompletion".  If we're not going to honor that, I want the 1990 MSU game back as a win.

4. I'm surprised OSU has no video of this one. You'd think they'd have the whole game online.  But maybe the Fischer Price Computer Toy doesn't get internet access.  Eh..I always figured this one was payback for (the non-listed) horrible offensive interference call on Braylon down there that took back a TD.

3. This one maybe have been my #1.  Maybe not in hindsight the most painful...but damn, it was soooo not close...how do you mess that up??

2. MGoBlog: Picking fights with old guys, since 2005. But in all fairness, Brian must have been in the douche section; because I was at that game too, and the MSU fans around me all thought it was going to be called back.  They still cheered when it went their way, but that one was so obvious, even they could see it fairly.

1. I like how the video sllllooowwww downnnnnn and the commmennnntttatttooorrrrr talllllkkkkk during the fumble in the clip.

And I never thought I'd see a worse called game than the MSU Bob game...Alamo Bowl had to prove me wrong.  But I agree with Brian...how do you choose just ONE?


August 9th, 2010 at 3:34 PM ^

actually leads me to a play that I believe should have been on the worst plays list, the attempted murder of a facemask penalty on Charles Rogers on 4th and 65 that led to the remainder of that f#%king drive.  Was that Lesueur?  WTF LESEUER!!!? THEY WEREN'T EVEN LOOKING HIS WAY!!! Just kidding, not that mad about it, but that did suck.

Michigan Arrogance

August 9th, 2010 at 4:56 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.


Did you clear your half day w/ HR?


August 9th, 2010 at 5:40 PM ^

I was too at the Illinois game in 2000.  I was actually there until 2005 getting my PhD.  The fans were, as another poster stated, terrible.  Imagine having to live there for 5 more years.  It was like a prison sentence.  Had I known that this game actually matters (it doesn't), I probably would have chosen a different grad school.  Thankfully, M won all 5 times we played Illinois and I got to state this in the acknowledgement of my thesis: "I would like to thank the Maize and Blue for beating Illinois all 5 times while I was here", right after thanking my mom and brothers for their support.  


Nobody has mentioned the "offensive PI" against Braylon towards the end of the first half of the 2002 tOSU game.  That call was dubious at best and since we lost 14-9, it may have cost us the game and even worse was the second to last stop on tOSU's MNC in '02.


The 54-51 A-Train fumble game was at one point an M blow-out but several terrible calls,many of the 15 yd phantom PI variety got NW in position to help us snatch our defeat from the jaws of victory. 


August 9th, 2010 at 6:43 PM ^

I'll be out the rest of the day assembling the new place.

IKEA is a wonderful thing, isn't? Or did you go with the Sauder option instead?


August 9th, 2010 at 7:33 PM ^

Was it helmet to helmet to helmet or late hit?  I forget but if that incidental contact doesn't get called a penalty then Jim Tressel gets to debate Urban Meyer on television for a title game spot.

931 S State

August 9th, 2010 at 7:46 PM ^

Plylongate is the worst call I've ever seen.  I don't get back to many games in Ann Arbor, but this is one of the handful of games I've been back for since moving.  I was sitting with my brother on the same side of the field at about the opposite 30 yard line, not the greatest view, but it was obvious to everyone around us that Minor was out of bounds.  The entire crowd was in stunned silence that the call went our way.  The refs were probably the only people in the entire stadium who thought that was a catch.  The real unfortunate thing is that the Michigan football hating gods probably count this as retribution for Spartan Bob.  


August 9th, 2010 at 8:53 PM ^

Did I miss any reference to the Henne "fumble" vs Penn State? Side note, in the video of the strip vs MSU, I love Mike Hart's hustle to try and prevent the TD.


August 10th, 2010 at 12:31 AM ^

You could make an argument that there was an unintentional facemask (5 yard penalty then, although now every facemask is 15) on the Illini defender that brought him down, which would negate the fumble.

Tom W

August 10th, 2010 at 9:28 AM ^

Agree with all those that commented on the ugliness of the Illini fans. I can still hear the student, who clearly wasn't in this country when all the Bo/White hatred started, who ran up to me after the game and yelled "Michigan can suck my c***".  Classy sorts, those folks are.

Thankfully Northwestern doesn't have any fans that care, because that 54-51 debacle would have gotten real ugly. Especially since they got some pretty bad calls in their favor, like that offsides onside kick near the end of the first half.