NFL fans, the biceps of Ed Hochuli and pro football officials everywhere are finally back.
According to the NFL's official website on Thursday:
The NFL and the NFL Referees Association agreed tonight to the terms of a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement that will return the game officials to the field for this weekend's games, beginning with Thursday night's Cleveland at Baltimore game.
Commissioner Goodell temporarily lifted the lockout so that the officials can work Thursday night's Cleveland at Baltimore game prior to their ratification vote. The officials will meet Friday and Saturday to vote on the agreement. If it is approved, a clinic for the officials will be held following the vote.
Now the 2012 season can really take off, and as we get ready for Week 4, here are winners and losers in the aftermath of the agreement.
Could there be anyone else to mention first?
Fans are what make the game great, because as emotional as the players and coaches get on the field, it is the fans who ignite the energy throughout each game.
In a nutshell, the Baltimore Ravens' fans chanting in unison during the Sunday night game versus the New England Patriots says it all. NFL fans are the most passionate, and their emotion on gameday connects perfectly with that of the game of football.
After all, why root for a team if you're not going to cheer or boo, right?
We might as well forget everything that happened.
Not so much the records, but the missed calls and constant interruption of each game's flow were horrendous to say the least.
Far too many flags were thrown for bad calls, and far too many penalties were not called as well. Misplaced spots, consistent fighting and frustration also occurred everywhere in pro football.
On the bright side, fortunately it was only three weeks and not longer.
There's that old saying, "you don't know what you've got until it's gone."
Yes, that's extremely cliche but also undeniably true when it comes to the NFL's 2012 preseason and first three weeks of the regular season.
We weren't entirely sure how the absence of the NFL's real referees was going to pan out, and the preseason only scratched the surface. As the regular season progressed, pro football was just comical to watch at times.
And so the many poorly-officiated games turned the NFL briefly into the laughingstock of the sports world.
The real officials play a major role in keeping the game's integrity intact and no one, not even the NFL, came to that realization until it was actually seen. Now, though, everyone has learned that hard lesson and hopefully another season never begins like it did in 2012.
These guys were in a tough position.
That said, the NFL is certainly more to blame, but one can only imagine how the replacement refs will be received at other levels of football.
Players, coaches and fans at every other level can rightfully be more skeptical of any call, spot or decision. Despite the opportunity to briefly officiate NFL games, that's a big career risk and the exposure certainly put the pressure on.
Unfortunately, the replacement refs couldn't entirely keep up with the NFL's fast pace, and this is how the early stage of the 2012 season will be remembered.
Those competing were the most affected by the NFL's replacement referees.
For one, coaches didn't always get a response from the replacements and it literally proved costly.
As for the players, the slower pace of the game was quite frustrating because the officials simply had trouble keeping up to speed. Whether it was spotting the ball, communicating for the correct call or throwing a ridiculous number of flags, rarely did a team find a rhythm.
This in turn effected the play-calling from the coaches and ultimately resulted in complete frustration across the board. Granted, the real referees aren't perfect either, but the level of experience and confidence in policing a game is still much greater.
Now when watching games we will see a smoother flow, and it's reasonable to expect less penalties.
If there's one thing Roger Goodell will be remembered for, it's the NFL referees' lockout.
With pro football having put so much emphasis on player safety, not getting this lockout to end sooner was damaging.
During these three weeks, we saw more scuffles break out between plays and more questionable hits than we have in quite some time. You include the criticism of penalties and duration of games among other things, and most will remember Goodell for this lockout.
Surely the higher regard for improved player safety is part of his legacy, but it's the properly trained officials who truly enforce what Goodell has preached. And since those qualified refs weren't on the field for Week 1, that falls back on the commissioner.
The summer leading into the 2011 NFL season and the beginning of the 2012 season have a bright spot.
It's a lesson as to what happens when negotiations take too long to complete.
The beginning of last season tested how quickly teams could prepare with limited time. It did have an effect on certain teams, most notably were the Philadelphia Eagles, who were expected Super Bowl contenders and yet started off in disappointing fashion.
This season showed us the worst-case scenario of the NFL: the potential damage of its brand/product.
We all love football for its big plays, hits, star players and tackling. However, the competitive fairness is what kept everything in balance, and that comes from the qualified officials.
Whenever the next slate of negotiations comes around, though, you can bet the sports world will revert back to what happened during the pre-2011 and 2012 seasons. In short, the NFL will hopefully have learned from these years and get deals done much sooner to avoid the worst-case scenario.
The Green Bay Packers literally took one for the team...or league.
Their loss on Monday to the Seattle Seahawks can certainly be argued as the tipping point of this referees' lockout.
It unfortunately cost the Packers a win, but this situation should have never come to that in the first place. Nevertheless, we still had to watch the NFL's most storied franchise lose a game, and then pro football comes to a solution.
If, by some unbelievably ironic progression of events the Packers miss the postseason by one game, we can without a doubt look back at Week 3 in Seattle. For Titletown's sake, at least there are 13 games remaining to get back in the mix.
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