It’s a tradition that goes back more than a half-century, and probably even longer: Minnesota teams being on the wrong end of questionable (or flat-out wrong) officiating calls in the biggest games at the worst possible times.
With Thursday’s Lynx loss in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals as a launching point, let’s circle back on some of those moments (in chronological order):
*Nov. 24, 1962, Gophers football at Wisconsin: In a regular-season finale pitting two top-five ranked teams, the Minnesota faithful thought the Gophers were headed back to the Rose Bowl for the third consecutive season when a late interception in Madison seemingly sealed the victory. But Bobby Bell was called for a questionable roughing the passer penalty on the play and head coach Murray Warmath got an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for arguing on top of it.
The Badgers went on to score the winning touchdown on that drive in a 14-9 victory. Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl that year (where the Badgers lost). The Gophers haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since then, and esteemed colleague Patrick Reusse deems this loss as the moment Minnesota fans decided to be suspicious of the motives of referees.
*Dec. 28, 1975, Cowboys at Vikings. If Minnesota fans weren’t properly skeptical after the Gophers-Badgers game, they were forever scarred by Drew Pearson. While video review might not be as conclusive as some might think, roughly 99.9 percent of all Minnesotans now firmly believe that Pearson pushed off when he caught the late, long TD that gave the Cowboys a 17-14 playoff win.
After watching the final drive multiple times several years ago, I came away convinced the more egregious play happened just before it: Dallas faced a 4th-and-17 from its own 24 yard line with 44 seconds left on the clock. Roger Staubach threw a deep out to Pearson on the sideline. There is absolutely no way he was in bounds. Not a chance. It was ruled a catch.
*(A brief pause for Oct. 20, 1991 in the World Series, when a handful of Minnesota fans might concede the Twins got a break when Kent Hrbek dragged Ron Gant off of first base).
*Oct. 9, 2009, Twins at Yankees. Umpire Phil Cuzzi stared at Joe Mauer’s line drive down the left field line and somehow ruled it was foul. Mauer ended up singling and the Twins loaded the bases with no outs (before not scoring and losing), but it doesn’t matter.
*Jan. 24, 2010, Vikings at Saints: New Orleans pummeled QB Brett Favre late and often, hits that would later be included as part of the NFL’s bounty investigation into the Saints. Add in two key defensive penalties in overtime against the Vikings that sustained the Saints’ game-winning field goal drive in the NFC title game, and a new generation of Vikings’ conspiracy theorists was born.
*Oct. 20, 2016: WNBA officials missed a critical shot clock violation with the Lynx and Sparks tied 71-71 late in the deciding Game 5, giving Los Angeles two points it shouldn’t have had in an eventual one-point victory. The league apologized Friday — just as it did after a bad call in Game 4 went in favor of the Lynx.