These Referees Ruined Super Bowls With Their Controversial Calls

Darren - February 16, 2023

These Referees Ruined Super Bowls With Their Controversial Calls

Darren - February 16, 2023

The Super Bowl is an incredible event with some of the most exciting moments ever. But some incidents leave a sour taste. Few things are more annoying than when referees ruined games with controversial calls. They make it about themselves instead of doing their jobs properly.

Let’s look at some of the most notorious and polarizing Super Bowl calls ever. There are terrible decisions that changed results and decided outcomes. But there are also some correct calls on this list from moments that people didn’t understand. Check them out now and remember that the officials have a thankless task.


No Holding

The Rams defeated the Bengals, 23-20 in a tight victory in 2022. This was a heartbreaking defeat for the Bengals in their third Super Bowl appearance and loss. Unfortunately, there was a big conversation about the referees after the game because of their controversial calls. Every bad decision matters in a clash of closely-matched teams.


Bengals fans couldn’t believe it when Jalen Ramsey held Tee Higgins’ jersey. It was a blatant pass interference and prevented him from catching a Joe Burrow pass. He would have probably scored a potentially-decisive touchdown too. Higgins benefited greatly from his own missed call later in the same game, but this shouldn’t happen on the biggest stage (via Fansided).

Bleacher Report

Bradberry’s Jersey Grab

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Eagles in an instant classic in 2023. Super Bowl LVII brought the NFL’s two best teams together in a Clash of the Titans. Patrick Mahomes dueled with Jalen Hurts for the MVP award as the game edged toward overtime. But then the referees ruined everything with one of the most controversial calls ever.

Pro Football Network

They cited Philadelphia cornerback James Bradberry for holding Chiefs receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s jersey. Many viewers, including Fox commentator Greg Olsen, thought it was a bit ticky tacky for that moment of such a big game. It also ended the game as a contest and made the ending anticlimactic. Bradberry admitted that he made a mistake and was hoping the referees would miss it, but it didn’t make fans feel better (via Bleacher Report).

Baltimore Ravens

Official Shove

The 2012 season saw more controversial calls than most because of the referee strike. It was also a story of the Super Bowl even though they had experienced officials. A fracas erupted between the Ravens and the Niners in the second quarter. Ed Reed intercepted Colin Kaepernick’s pass and it all kicked off.

San Francisco Chronicle

But the referees showed incredible weakness after they failed to punish Cary Williams. He put his hands on an official and shoved him. That’s unacceptable at any level and it should have cost the player. This could have been a game-changing moment but they wilted under the pressure (via USA Today Sports).

NBC Sports

Big Ben Falls Short

Ben Roethlisberger has two ghost touchdowns on this list but the referees saw them differently. The first one came against the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. He fell short of the goal line but the Steelers fans thought that he scored. They reacted with delight when the officials awarded the touchdown.


But then they reviewed their decision and changed their minds. This was a no-win situation for them but they did the right thing. In the end, it didn’t affect the game’s result as Pittsburgh won. However, a couple of controversial calls went against Arizona and they continue to hold them against the NFL (via Sports Illustrated).


The Victor Cruz Rule

Everybody expected the referees to call a fumble after Cruz dropped the ball in Super Bowl XLVI. However, he successfully caught the ball so this would have been a big mistake. Luckily, the officials got themselves off the hook because of a flag. But it was almost one of the most controversial calls in Super Bowl history.

Sports Illustrated

This wasn’t the only time that a Cruz ‘fumble’ made headlines after a notorious incident against the Cardinals. The Super Bowl is a momentous occasion with every moment receiving intense analysis. Critics slated the referees for this lousy decision but luckily it didn’t affect the game. Other players on this list weren’t as lucky (via ESPN).


Help Brady Win

Let’s caveat this by saying that the Buccaneers played better than Kansas City at Super Bowl LV in 2021. However, it’s also true that they received an insane number of penalties in the first half. These were big calls including a great Chiefs interception at the end of the second quarter. But the officials intervened and called a defensive holding penalty. This also gave Brady an opportunity.

Sporting News

Former NFL referee Terry McAuley couldn’t believe his eyes. He tweeted: “It’s very unusual to see the Super Bowl called significantly tighter in the passing game than the way it’s been called in the regular season. But there is no question that was true in the first half.” In sum, the Buccaneers received a lot of extra love from the officials (via Sportscasting).

Sporting News

Facemask Grab

Luck was on the officials’ side in 2022 because the Rams won the Super Bowl. This was a tight game as the Bengals narrowly fell against the NFC Champions. However, the referees ruined the game with some controversial calls. One of these saw Tee Higgins grab Jalen Ramsey’s facemask on a 75-yard touchdown reception (via CBS News).


The moment happened very quickly so we can forgive them for missing it. But they continued to deny the significance of the foul after the game. Referee Ron Torbert said:  “If there’s just a rake across the facemask, where there’s not a twist and turn, even if there’s a grab, there is no foul. The officials did not see any contact that rose to the level of a foul for a 15-yard facemask.”

Bleacher Report

No Pass Interference

James Bradberry makes this list for a second time for an incident with Juju Smith-Schuster in 2023. However, this time it’s for the opposite reason as the referees made one of the game’s most controversial calls. This came early in the game when Bradberry hijacked a Kansas City drive by putting his hands all over the wideout.

Sports Illustrated

Everybody thought it was a clear-cut pass interference except for the referees. They evened this out later in the game but it could have proven costly for the Chiefs. Remember, that Super Bowls are games of extremely fine margins. Everything is on the line and nobody wants to see a referee’s error prove decisive (via Fansided).

Super Bowl LV: Questionable Penalties Taint Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Win Over Kansas City Chiefs

Super Bowl LV Pass Interference

The referees made many controversial calls during Super Bowl LV. Indeed, the Chiefs didn’t win the game and Tampa Bay deserved their victory. Nonetheless, the officials must be consistent and fair. However, this wasn’t the case during the showpiece event in Florida. It’s no wonder that the Chiefs Kingdom felt aggrieved later.

Super Bowl 2021: Chiefs fans decry record penalty calls in first half
Fox 4 Kansas City

One crazy pass interference call on then-Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu placed the ball on the Kansas City one-yard line. This effectively ended the game as a contest at the game’s midpoint. Several analysts agreed that it shouldn’t have been a penalty. Unfortunately, the referees bottled it on the biggest stage of them all (via Tampa Bay Times).


Eli’s Forward Progress

It’s easy to forget that one of the most famous Super Bowl plays came from a controversial moment. Head referee Mike Carey almost stopped the game because he thought that Manning stalled. But the quarterback wriggled free and passed to David Tyree who made the helmet catch (via

New York Times

Many bitter Patriots fans thought that the referee blew the call. They said that he allowed this to continue for too long and should have stuck to his original decision. But most NFL fans don’t care and breathed a sigh of relief. Carey prevented the Patriots from going 19-0 and deserves the Medal of Freedom for this.

CBS Sports

Defensive Holding

The Bengals found themselves on the wrong side of a bad call in Super Bowl LVI. This game frustrated everybody because of the officials’ inconsistencies. Nothing is more irritating than when they can’t make up their minds about the rules. Logan Wilson made minor contact with Cooper Kupp inside the two-minute warning.

Fox 19

First, defenders can touch the opposition attacker because this is football, not interpretative dance. Perhaps they could have cited him for pass interference but this would have been harsh. Instead, they ramped up the stupidity with a defensive holding penalty. This proved extremely costly for Cincinnati and they felt cheated after the game (via Saturday Down South).


Catch Inconsistencies

Fans found themselves asking each other the definition of a catch during Super Bowl LVII. That’s because there were a couple of incidents where players appeared to secure the ball. But then the officials intervened with controversial calls. Philly’s Dallas Goedert made a difficult catch along the sideline (via KCRA).

CBS Sports

Yes, the ball bobbled but it looked safe before he went out of bounds. However, the referees disagreed with the chagrin of the partisan Eagles crowd. This was a single moment but these incidents happened a couple of times and it frustrated viewers. They want consistency because there shouldn’t be individual interpretations.


Jimmy’s Non-Call

Here’s another situation where the referees made the right decision. But NFL fanbases don’t care about this if controversial calls go against them. Colin Kaepernick made a late throw to Michael Crabtree in 2013. But Jimmy Smith put Crabtree under pressure and forced a fumble. Then Smith fell on the ball and the officials ruled the pass an incompletion.


The Niners instantly erupted and claimed that the referees made the wrong call. But Crabtree’s reaction said everything because he didn’t complain. If the player doesn’t react then it’s a sign that the officials did something right. It’s not easy to be a referee because it’s impossible to keep everybody happy (via N.Y. Post).

2020 Super Bowl: George Kittle called for interference but not Rudolph

Kittle’s Catch

The referees didn’t get all of the controversial calls on this list wrong. But sometimes the right decision sucks all of the joy out of a franchise. The Niners discovered this the hard way after George Kittle made an incredible catch against the Chiefs. Seconds remained in the first half with the game tied.

New York Times

Jimmy Garoppolo found his tight end with an excellent pass down the sideline. But the referees pulled the play back for pass interference. Replays showed that they made the correct call as Kittle stuck out his arm. Nonetheless, the San Francisco fans cried foul and complained that there was a conspiracy against them (via NBC Sports).

Kickoff… Again

Heads would roll if this happened in the modern game. In 1967, NBC broadcasted the first Super Bowl and took full advantage of their interviewing opportunities. Perhaps the producer was too busy enjoying his chicken wings because they made a massive mistake. They missed the second-half kick-off because they were chatting with TV star Bob Hope.


Then they decided to restart the game and have another kick-off. Unsurprisingly this was a major talking point because it could have been very costly. In the end, it didn’t matter but it’s all about the principle. It’s not shocking that officials made controversial calls since the event’s beginning (via Live About).

L.A. Times

Patriots Favoritism

The Patriots defeated the Rams in 2019 as Jared Goff showed his immaturity. It was a Super Bowl baptism of fire for the young quarterback, but the officials didn’t help him. They nullified one of his best moments with one of the most controversial calls of the game. Goff threw a perfect pass to Brandin Cooks on the one-yard line.

NBC Sports

Cooks fell and dropped the ball after New England’s Stephen Gilmore’s intervention. It appeared to be an obvious case of pass interference but the referees disagreed. They didn’t punish Gilmore as they gave Tom Brady’s team the benefit of the doubt. This was a shocking moment because it was so blatant (via SBNation).

Seattle Seahawks

Offensive Pass Interference

Super Bowl XL is one of the most notorious sports events in history because of the number of controversial calls. The Seahawks found themselves on the wrong side of most of these as Pittsburgh won the game. It’s tough to know where to start because there were so many polarizing moments (via Bleacher Report).

NBC Sports

There was a rare offensive pass interference call in the first quarter. Matt Hasselbeck threw a fine pass to Darrell Jackson who scored the game’s first touchdown. Or that’s what he thought because an official had other ideas. They noticed that he shoved Chris Hope on his way to the end zone and infuriated the Seattle fanbase.


Warner’s Forward Pass

Here’s another time when the referee decided a Super Bowl’s outcome. The Cardinals made a rare appearance in the big game against the Buccaneers. But one moment of controversial officiating ruined their day because there was a huge mistake. Kurt Warner threw a pass downfield but the referee judged that it was a fumble.


Cardinals fans cried that the moment cost them a potential win. It’s possible that the play would have gone nowhere. But this was when Larry Fitzgerald was at his brilliant best. Arizona had a clutch of talent waiting to explode in the final moments. In the end, the officials wrongly took this away from them (via Phoenix New Times).

Sporting News

Holding Call

Ben Roethlisberger put his team in trouble with a horrible throw in Super Bowl XL. The Seahawks returned this and made major gains with the chance to score from the one-yard line. But then a notorious holding call against Seattle rattled their cages. Pittsburgh fans think that the officials made the right decision.

Sporting News

But this was one of the most divisive moments in Super Bowl history. Many people accused the NFL of fixing the game, which isn’t impossible. Remember, the NFL is a registered sports entertainment company so it wouldn’t be illegal. However, it is incredibly unethical and against the spirit of the sport (via ESPN).

CBS Sports

The Ghost Touchdown

Several of Super Bowl XL’s controversial calls found a place on this list. But this one was arguably the least forgivable because there’s no room for interpretation. Ben Roethlisberger scored a touchdown that never was. That’s right, he fell short of the endzone but the officials awarded him the score.

Fox News

It’s not surprising that Seattle fans accused the NFL of fixing the game. Referee Bill Leavy reviewed the play but inexplicably allowed the score to stand. Later, he apologized to the Seahawks fanbase but it was too late. He became a persona non grata in the city and they hate every fiber of his being (via Worthly).