The Top 5 Blown Calls That Technology Could've Stopped


Blown calls should be a thing of the past by now. New technology is helping refs avoid big flubs, catching fouls when they turn a blind eye or zeroing in on too-close-to-call plays through Matrix-style instant replay. We've already seen how successful these innovations have been deployed in tennis with its "Hawk-Eye" officiating; soon, this tech could be coming to football and also ... football.

A report out this week claims the NFL is in discussions with Cairos Technologies about possible "chip-in-ball technology." The German-based firm would be implanting microchips in footballs to help referees more accurately determine whether the pigskin had indeed passed first-down or touchdown lines. Cairos is also said to be bidding to bring the same technology to the soccer pitch. Both sports have been plagued with blown calls for years, and while the NFL currently uses instant replay for contentious calls, soccer has been especially tech-agnostic.

Chip-in-ball technology could end referee errors once and for all. Here, we present the top 5 plays in football, soccer, and tennis that technology could've changed, if only it had come sooner.

5. Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 2008. With the AFC North crown on the line and only 45 seconds to go, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger tossed one up to Santonio Holmes, who was stuffed at the goal line just inches away. Or was he? The refs went upstairs for a replay, and soon overturned the initial ruling on the field, calling it a touchdown and giving the Steelers the win. Clearly the receiver's legs were past the goal line, but was the ball?

4. Germany vs. England, 2010. South Africa's World Cup wasn't too long ago, but this play will haunt English fans for years to come. A hard kick from England sent the ball flying off the high goal post, crashing down behind the line. Not according to the refs, though, who must've seen a different angle than every camera, coach, fan, and player. What do you think?

3. New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts, 2009. Worst. Call. Ever. (Yes, I'm a big Pats fan.) In a risky 4th-down play, coach Bill Belichick chose to go for it rather than punt the ball away, even though the team held a 6-point lead. Tom Brady's pass to Kevin Faulk clearly crossed the line, but a slight bobble had refs second guessing the play. It was called a catch, but not a first down. (FYI, the picture below shows where Faulk landed—yards past the line. UPDATE: A commenter points out that the red line is actually the line of scrimmage. Blast!) Check out the video here. The Colts took advantage, coming back to win the game in the final seconds.

2. West Germany vs. England, 1966. Three words: World Cup Final. With the score tied 2-2 in extra time, Englander Geoff Hurst shot a ball crashing off the crossbar, which bounced down near the line before being kicked away. Gooooooaaaallll? The West Germans protested, but the referees counted it. The moment has since become known infamously as the "Phantom Goal." England went on to win the finals 4-2.

1. John McEnroe vs. John McEnroe, ad nauseam. YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! No, we're not referring to McEnroe's National Car Rental commercials, which are actually self-parodies. For years, the tennis superstar took down umpire after umpire over blown line calls, madly berating them for their alleged errors in judgment. While tennis certainly has many other too-close-to call moments, McEnroe's rants and ravings best encapsulate how much we could've benefited from this new sports technology.


Certainly we can't cover all the worst blown calls in just 5 plays—there are likely too many to list. What are your favorites? We just focused on football, tennis, and soccer, but can you think of more plays from other sports where chip-in-ball technology would've changed history?

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  • Randy Simmons

    Please understand, I am all for the appropriate level of tech into sports. I agree with the tennis comment, however I do think it is a knife edge we walk when the degree of tech impacts the natural flow of a game. I am an old soccer player ( many moons ago) and the beauty of soccer is the ebb and flow not a stop and start time out for a lot of tech. Goal mouth - OK, offsides NO...

  • Randy Simmons

    two comments - first I agree that tech is great and it would have avoided most of this classic missed calls but does it de-humanize the games? Do we just play the games with robots to avoid all the dropped balls, bad fakes, dropped punts, yips on the green and tipped balls? I kinda like the fallible nature of sports. that is why they play the games is it not?

    Point two - lets put the chips on the bumpers of cars so we can once and for all stop the argument of who really ran a stop light or sign.

  • Bruce Bensetler

    I disagree. To take your point to the extreme, why not let the players make the calls. In many amateur sporting events, I have actually seen this to be rather effective. However, at a higher competitive level you need an unbiased and objective judgement. The use of referees, unpires, linesman, etc. dates back to when no technology existed including video recording. Now that video playback is available instantly, I see no reason to not use it to more fairly enforce the rules of the game. Each sport can determine how to do it without distracting from the game, but I think everyone will agree that it has been a real blessing for tennis, especially as the speed of the game has increased past the ability of many linesmen to accurately call every shot.

    Regarding your second point; in Massachusetts, it is a known law of Physics that you cannot be the last person through a red light.

  • Steve Sheeran

    I seem to recall a Rose Bowl in the late '80's or early 90's, USC vs. Michigan, when Charles White vaulted over the UM defensive line, landed well short of the goal line, and the play was called a touchdown. USC won, with the White TD being the difference. Last year the Big 12 championship was another. Colt McCoy's last pass looked as though it had used up the remaining time. Texas kicked a field goal on the next play for the win.

  • Christopher Fitzgerald

    Enjoyed your piece. While I know you were disappointed by the New England-Indy call, the red line visible in the photo is the line of scrimmage. The more faint yellow line is the first down marker. Faulk's possession of the ball was questionable. If he makes the catch cleanly, he gets forward progress and the Pats likely go on to win. But he didn't. I was disappointed too as I hate the Colts.

    Check out Don Denkinger 1985 World Series call. I'm not even a Cardinals fan and it was one of the worst calls in the history of sports. It wasn't even close. It cost the Cards the series.

    But thanks for also reminding me how little I enjoy Al Michaels' voice.

  • acarr

    Arrgggh, Chris, you're right. I guess me mistaking the line of scrimmage for the first down marker was just wishful thinking.

    Thanks for the comment -- I'll update the post.

  • Shane Deichman

    You have got to be kidding?!? How can you make a list like this an NOT include the June 2nd, 2010 Cleveland Indians-Detroit Tigers baseball game? Not only would a correct call have given Major League Baseball their 21st perfect game ever (in nearly 200,000 games played), it would have been the first-ever for the Detroit Tigers franchise (which has been around a heck of a lot longer than the NFL, the Patriots, and even Bill Belichick).

  • acarr

    Shane, we were only focusing on tennis, football, and soccer, which have either adopted the technology or have hinted at implementing it.

    But OF COURSE I agree with you! Such a bad call.

    Then again, is there anyone on this planet who hasn't heard of Jim Joyce's error? Do we really need another reminder?