Sports: Ref Ball the Killer of Hopes and Dreams

Whenever you have free time, during a lunch break, after work, or on your day off, sports serves as one of the greatest forms of entertainment. It eases your mind, helping you escape into a world, in which only that matters.

As we enjoy our daily dose of sports ball, our hopes and dreams get crushed, by the beloved and loathed GOATs in sports, like Tom Brady and Cristiano Ronaldo. How many times don’t we see it happen? Was it because our teams are complete trainwrecks, season in-and-out? Did they collapse when it counted the most? Were they trampled on in the final game? Or did the fiend-ish calls of ref-ball screw them over?

See, that’s the thing with sports. Apart from hoping your teams walk out with the win, it feels better when the officiating is fair. Both sides can mutually agree the better team won. Players and fans, hold your heads up, with pride.

When the zebras with the whistles decide they want in on the action, it changes everything. Practically, referees are judges, jurors, and executioners on the field; whether you agree with them or not.

  • Brazil vs Netherlands 2014

Brazil’s 2014 World Cup performance was a complete countrywide humiliation. Germany scored seven easy goals, with a pity goal for Brazil, in their quarter-final match. The five-time World Champions had to settle for a third place match, against the Netherlands. Netherlands’ Argen Robben recently became a meme, after a controversial penalty awarded to the Dutch, eliminating Mexico, two rounds prior. Robben kept it going, against the Brazilians.

Robben’s flops made him the biggest meme of the 2014 World Cup. (Getty Images)

Three minutes in, and Robben was dragged down to the floor by Brazilian defender Thiago Silva. A foul, without question. Instead of a well deserved red card, Alegrian referee Djamel Haimoudi handed Silva a yellow card. It didn’t stop there. Silva committed the foul outside of the penalty box. Haimoudi saw differently, and awarded the Dutch a penalty. Robin Van Persie converted, to increase Brazil’s humiliation, before an additional two goals.

  • Super Bowl 54: Niners vs Refs

The 2019 NFL season was something special. It commemorated 100 years of NFL history. Tom Brady’s Patriots missed the playoffs. So we got new faces in the Super Bowl, Patrick Mahomes leading the Kansas City Chiefs, and Jimmy Garoppolo with his San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs were the favorites heading into the match, and the Niners were fighting an uphill battle against the opposition’s momentum and refs.

With seconds left in the 2nd Quarter, the Niners were poised to take the lead. Garoppolo connected with tight-end Geroge Kittle, for a 42-yard gain, on the Chiefs’ 13-yard line. The light shove by Kittle was sufficient for an offensive pass interference call.

In the 4th Quarter, the game was 20-10, in favor of the Niners. With under 10 minutes left, Jimmy G had the chance to seal the game. On 3rd and 14th, on their own side of the field, with a shot to get into field goal range, before the snap, Chiefs defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, jumped offside. On that same play, cornerback Rashad Fenton was guilty of a helmet-to-helmet hit on Garoppolo. Referee Bill Vinovich waved off both.

Perhaps the moment that shattered the Niners’ confidence. (Via AP Matt York)

These were major calls that could have altered the outcome, or at least narrow the score difference. This is the game where Mahomes and the Chiefs could have become the new evil of the NFL, like Brady and the Patriots.

In an ironic twist of fate, ref ball played a minor role, the Chiefs’ disastrous attempt at a two-peat, against Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Holding and pass interference calls, against the Chiefs, were their undoing.

  • Yankees Phantom Tag

At the peak of the Yankees’ ‘Core Four’ years, featuring Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera, the Bronx Bombers were the envy of the league. It’s Game 4 of the 1999 ALCS, the Boston Red Sox had the opportunity of a lifetime, to halt the growing legacy of the Yankees.

In the eight inning, umpire Tim Tschida blew a call, in Yankees’ Chuck Knoblauch’s failed tag attempt on Red Sox Jose Offerman. This could have easily allowed Boston to begin loading the bases, to potentially defeat the Yanks. But this missed call caused the 2nd out of the inning. Boston never recovered.

Yanks fans must be thankful for Tschida’s officiating. (Getty Images)

The Yankees would win the series, before defeating the Atlanta Braves, for the club’s 25th World Series title. This propelled the egos of The Pins and Stripes, as they won an additional two World Series, for a three-peat. Two decades later, and surely someone in Boston still wants Tischida’s head on a stick.

  • Browns vs Turnover Rule

Who would have thought that out of all teams, known for always being associated with failure, the Cleveland Browns would reach the Divisional Round, against the defending Super Bowl Champions. Much less, who could have pictured the Browns keeping the game close, against a team like the Chiefs.

In the first half, with less than two minutes left on the clock, 1st and 10, the Browns were looking for their first touchdown of the game. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a 30-yarder to Rashard Higgins, in the endzone. But an uncalled helmet-to-helmet, by Daniel Sorensen caused Higgins to fumble the ball, on the endzone. And, there’s more. If a player fumbles in the field of play and the ball crosses the goal line before going out of bounds, this constitutes a turnover, and the opposing team gets the ball at its own 20-yard line. An awful rule and refs’ blind eye for helmet-to-helmets, contributed to the Browns’ loss.

Why did the refs disregard this clear helmet-to-helmet. (FTW.USATODAY.COM)

This raised eyebrows, on how the rest of the game was going to be called. It was better than expected, but the instant classic between Cleveland and Kansas will always have that ref ball stain.

  • Mayweather Jr Blindside KOs Victor Ortiz

It’s not traditional ref-ball, in this context. But the officiating was just as horrible, like how we see things out on fields, this deserves recognition.

Floyd Mayweather Jr was booked to fight against Victor Ortiz, for Ortiz’s WBC Welterweight Title. At that time, it was one of the biggest fights ever. Mayweather had just recently pushed his undefeated record to 41-0, and slowly closing in on Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0. A shot at breaking Mayweather’s streak was a prize itself.

Ortiz was unprepared to fight the veteran, and easily lost three straight rounds. As the end of the fourth rouch approached, frustration kicked in. Ortiz headbutted Mayweather, in the corner. Referee Joe Cortez broke them up, before resuming the fight. A quick hug, by Mayweather and unguarded Ortiz, turned into two strong tags to KO Ortiz. Where was Cortez? He had his back turned. By the time he turned around, Ortiz was floored.

Veteran ref Joe Cortez forgot how to do his job. (via

Rightfully so, boxing fans were livid. This had the potential to be a tale, told for ages to come, only to become a joke. It seemed more like it came out of WWE’s playbook.

  • Hand of God

Diego Maradona reached god-like status amongst Argentine soccer fans, for his heroics in the 1986 FIFA World Cup, winning their 2nd title. It’s not without controversy. 

At the 50th minute mark, in Argentina’s quarter-final match against England, Maradona cut inside from the left and played a low pass to teammate Jorge Valdano. The English defense failed to clear the ball, leaving goalie Peter Shilton alone to punch the ball out. But Maradona got to it first with his hand, to score the now infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal.

Icon and controversial, in one picture. (Getty Images/El Grafico)

There was confusion between referee Ali Bin Nasser and side referee Bogdan Dochev, whether the goal was good. Regardless, Nassar allowed the goal to stand. This one bad call, practically helped build Maradona’s legacy at the World Cup.

It says a lot about Nassar’s officiating, when in 2020 he said, “I am proud and honored as a person and as a referee that I played a part in this legendary goal (referring to Maradona’s 74 yard run to score ‘The Goal of the Century’). If I had whistled, none of this would have happened. My advantage is one of my achievements that I am most proud of.”

The amount of bias is off the charts. It can be argued that Nassar walked onto the field, with the hope of Maradona winning.

The consequences of bad calls, by the zebras with stripes, forge dubious history. It taints the sports individually. Players, teams, and refs, on the wrong side of things, will forever be associated with those moments. Rule books get thrown out the window, because why not. The darkside to sports leaves permanent wounds. Those wounds will reopen, with barrels of salt dumped on top. Why? Because the stories repeat themselves. We’ll see it again, in upcoming Super Bowls, UEFA Champions Leagues, World Series, and FIFA World Cups.

What other dishonor and ghastly ref ball moments deserve a mention?

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