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10 Worst Calls in Sports History


6
Ref Confuses Helmet for Football
New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde (green jersey) lies with his head on the goal line after being tackled by the Seattle Seahawks in 1998. The ref mistook his helmet for a ball and called a touchdown, giving victory to the undeserving Jets. MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images
New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde (green jersey) lies with his head on the goal line after being tackled by the Seattle Seahawks in 1998. The ref mistook his helmet for a ball and called a touchdown, giving victory to the undeserving Jets. MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images

Journeyman quarterback Vinny Testaverde played 21 seasons in the NFL for seven different clubs, but his best years were spent with the New York Jets. In 1998, he set the Jets franchise record for most passing touchdowns in a single season at 29. By contrast, he scored a single rushing touchdown all season. But that lone touchdown, and the lousy call that accompanied it, may have singlehandedly brought instant replay back to the NFL.

The NFL experimented with instant replay from 1986 to 1991, but dropped it after complaints that it slowed down the pace of the game [source: Anderson]. Then came the 1998 game between Testaverde's Jets and the Seattle Seahawks. In the final seconds of the game, the Jets were down by five points with fourth and goal from the five yard line. Instead of passing, Testaverde attempted a quarterback sneak, but was pulled down a foot shy of the end zone.

But what's this? The referee threw his arms into the air signaling a touchdown, giving the game to the exuberant Jets.

Seattle coach Dennis Erickson was decidedly less exuberant. When the league's supervisor of officials called Erickson later to explain, he admitted that the field referee saw Testaverde's helmet cross the goal line and mistook it for the ball [source: Myers]. Easy mistake, since a football helmet is shiny and round and a football is leathery and, well, football-shaped.

Following the Testaverde "incident," the league voted overwhelmingly to bring back instant replay for the 1999 season.