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Published: Sept. 26, 2012 at 10:12 p.m.
Updated: April 29, 2014 at 01:36 p.m.

Top 10 NFL controversial plays

The replacement official apocalypse from the Seattle Seahawks' improbable “Monday Night Football” win over the Green Bay Packers ... a decision so wrong that the whole scene at CenturyLink Field became surreal. Massive controversy predictably followed, and we're left debating where the Seahawks' Hail Mary pass ranks among the most controversial plays in league history. Just a word of warning, as was the case with the Seahawks-Packers Hail Mary play, things can get very convoluted. So pay close attention.

10 Photos Total

  • 10. 1998 Thanksgiving Day coin flip 10

    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    10. 1998 Thanksgiving Day coin flip

    Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis called "tails." Referee Phil Luckett said Bettis called "heads-tails." The overtime coin flip landed as tails. The Detroit Lions took possession of the ball and kicked the winning field goal 2:52 into sudden-death overtime to claim a 19-16 victory over the Steelers. What probably didn't help was that the game was played during one of the great American holidays -- Thanksgiving -- giving Luckett's coin-flip moment a national-television audience. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

  • 9. 1999 NFC Championship Game 9

    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    9. 1999 NFC Championship Game

    Trailing 11-6 with less than a minute left in the game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were driving down the field with sights set on upsetting the St. Louis Rams to advance to the Super Bowl. Bert Emanuel appeared to make a 13-yard reception, but a replay determined that the nose of the ball touched the ground and -- despite Emanuel completely controlling the ball during the process of the catch -- the pass was ruled incomplete. In the aftermath, debate about the play resulted in a rule change that clarified what was considered a valid reception. (Morry Gash/Associated Press)

  • 8. Snow plow game of 1982 8

    Mike Kullen/Associated Press

    8. Snow plow game of 1982

    A classic nor'easter blasted New England with a heaping helping of snow for a showdown with the division-rival Miami Dolphins on Dec. 12, 1982. The result was one of the more comical of the controversial moments in NFL history. Deadlocked at 0-0 with less than five minutes to play, the Patriots drove into position for a 33-yard field goal attempt. Patriots coach Ron Meyer ordered snowplow operator Mark Henderson (a convicted burglar on a work release program) to clear away the snow-covered turf so John Smith could kick off a clean spot. Smith made the kick, the Patriots won 3-0 and an infuriated Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula was left to sulk in the snow. (Mike Kullen/Associated Press)

  • 7. Hochuli blows play dead in 2008 7

    Greg Trott/Associated Press

    7. Hochuli blows play dead in 2008

    The Denver Broncos had a second-and-1 at the San Diego Chargers' 1-yard line in the final minute of their AFC West showdown. Jay Cutler dropped back to pass, the ball slipped from his hand and a Chargers player recovered. However, referee Ed Hochuli ruled it an incomplete pass. Instant replay showed a fumble call should have been made, but Denver retained the ball at the 10 because under the rules, the ball could not go to San Diego because the whistle had blown when the play was ruled a pass. The Broncos went on to score, converted a two-point conversion, and won, 39-38. (Greg Trott/Associated Press)

  • 6. 2002 NFC wild-card game 6

    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    6. 2002 NFC wild-card game

    The New York Giants squandered a 24-point lead as the San Francisco 49ers mounted the second-greatest playoff comeback in NFL history. The Giants were in position to redeem themselves and claim victory with a last-second field goal until a botched snap on the attempt resulted in a chaotic final play. Holder/punter Matt Allen threw a wobbling pass down toward the 49ers' goal line. The intended receiver, guard Rich Seubert, was pulled down by the 49ers' Chike Okeafor on the play, but a penalty was called on the Giants for an ineligible receiver (Seubert). Instead, the guard had reported as eligible before the play. That detail wasn't revealed until the following day. By then, the 49ers were celebrating a crazy, 39-38 win. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)

  • 5. The Holy Roller 5

    National Football League

    5. The Holy Roller

    The Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers -- AFC West powerhouses in the late 1970s -- met for an early season showdown on Sept. 10, 1978, in San Diego. The Raiders trailed 20-14 with the ball at the Chargers' 14-yard line and just 10 seconds remaining. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler appeared to be getting sacked on the play, but instead the ball flew forward and was punched ahead by running back Pete Banaszak before tight end Dave Casper clumsily fell on the ball in the end zone for the winning score. The Raiders won, and one of the NFL's most famous controversial plays spawned arguably the greatest radio call in league history. Let Bill King, calling the action for the Bay Area's KGO-AM, take it home for this "most zany, unbelievable, absolutely impossible dream of a play." (National Football League)

  • 4. Music City Miracle 4

    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    4. Music City Miracle

    The Tennessee Titans were hosting a 1999 AFC wild-card game against a perennial (at the time) playoff participant, the Buffalo Bills. The Bills, holding a 16-15 lead with 16 seconds left, kicked off. The Titans' Lorenzo Neal received, handed the ball off to Frank Wycheck, who threw a lateral across the field to Kevin Dyson, who ran down the sideline for a thrilling, 75-yard winning touchdown. A booth review of the lateral from Wycheck to Dyson was dissected carefully. In the end, referee Phil Luckett (there's that name again) determined that the play was legal. The Titans ultimately advanced to the Super Bowl, while the Bills began a long playoff drought (they haven't been back since). During Week 3 of the 2012 season, the Titans revisited that play to much less fanfare. (Wade Payne/Associated Press)

  • 3. Golden Tate's winning Hail Mary play 3

    Ric Tapia/NFL

    3. Golden Tate's winning Hail Mary play

    With eight seconds left, the Seahawks were trailing the Packers, 12-7. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson heaved a pass into the end zone, where a host of Packers players and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate leapt to make a play. The Packers’ M.D. Jennings appeared to have made an interception, but after players fell to the turf, Tate wrestled for possession. A referee signaled that it was a touchdown. Even after a booth review, the score stood and Seattle claimed a 14-12 win. The result set off a mad Twitter barrage by Packers players, no apologies for the gift by the Seahawks and intense calls for the NFL to end its dispute with the regular referees. (Ric Tapia/NFL)

  • 2. The Tuck Rule 2

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    2. The Tuck Rule

    A rule not many knew even existed was thrust into the spotlight during a 2001 AFC divisional playoff game between the host Patriots and Raiders, which took place in a heavy snowfall. The Patriots were trailing, 13-10, with less than two minutes left to play and driving down the field. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady dropped the ball after being hit by the Raiders' Charles Woodson, and the loose ball was recovered by Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert. However, a new rule introduced in 1999 was called into action after referee Walt Coleman ruled Brady made an incomplete forward pass. The ball went back to the Patriots, who drove into position for a tying field goal by Adam Vinatieri. The Patriots won in overtime on another Vinatieri kick. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl and the Raiders went on to rue NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2; also known as the "tuck rule." (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

  • 1. The Immaculate Reception 1

    National Football League

    1. The Immaculate Reception

    The most amazing, and controversial play, in NFL history concluded a hotly contested 1972 AFC divisional playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers trailed the Raiders, 7-6, with 22 seconds left and had a fourth-and-10 situation at their own 40. Terry Bradshaw's pass, intended for Frenchy Fuqua, was knocked away in a collision with the Raiders' Jack Tatum, and Franco Harris was in the right place to retrieve the flailing football and run for the wildly improbable winning score. The Tatum-Fuqua collision is at the center of the controversy, which (for the sake of space) we'll just mention had to do with a double offensive touch, which was illegal at the time. (National Football League)

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