The Top 5 Blown Calls That Technology Could’ve Stopped

New technology should make flubbed calls a thing of the past.



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?

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.