Give the fans a victory for helping spur an agreement on a new contract between the NFL and its regular referees.
The people who pay the freight -- the fans -- by spending their money on game tickets, food, drink, parking fees and merchandise made their voices heard over the shoddy, unprofessional performance of the replacement referees in the first three games of the season.
Those voices, which grew louder and angrier after the officiating debacle in Monday night’s Seahawks-Packers game that was decided in the Seahawks’ favor on a blown call on the last play, helped tip momentum toward ending the league’s lockout of the regular officials.
It was the last straw in a hay-wagon of blunders by the replacements.
Commissioner Roger Goodell referenced the fans in a statement announcing the new contract with the regular officials.
So celebrate, fans, however you do it. Spike the receipt on your season tickets. Honk the horn when you pull into a $50 parking space this Sunday.
It doesn’t seem like much, but you earned it.
Order has been restored to what had become chaos in the form of an eight-year agreement
that was reached late Wednesday night. The regular officials will be back on the field for Thursday night’s Ravens-Browns game, and for the rest of the games Sunday and Monday.
It was a deal that had to be made, and one that should have been made sooner.
I wrote after a preseason game between the Lions and Ravens that the performance by the replacement officials was the worst and least professional I’ve seen at any level.
With time to improve, it got worse. It was like rotten fruit. It never gets better. Ultimately, it has to be thrown away.
Players and coaches had no respect for the replacements, and the replacements did nothing to earn that respect. In many cases, they acted like kids at summer camp.
Before one preseason game, a replacement asked a photographer to take pictures and email them to him.
The NFL had to boot a replacement official off a Saints-Panthers game when a reporter for ESPN reported that the official had posted pictures of himself on his Facebook page wearing Saints apparel.
There was a stunning lack of command and control by the replacements. In many cases, they called plays based on high school and college rules. Plainly, they were overmatched -- and intimidated -- by the speed and power of the NFL game.
In overtime of the Lions-Titans game on Sunday, they marked off a 27-yard penalty against the Lions in overtime that helped the Titans drive to what proved to be the game-winning field goal.
It should have been 15 yards, and Lions Coach Jim Schwartz has said that the coaches were yelling to the officials that they were putting the ball in the wrong spot, but they paid no heed.
Their mistake was putting the ball on the Lions’ 44-yard line instead of the Titans’ 44-yard line.
And that was not an isolated incident. Play in the trenches looked like wrestling matches, with so much holding that wasn’t called. In other areas, there was no consistency in calls.
The NFL shield, which Commissioner Goodell protects so zealously, was dented and cracked to the point where Goodell and the league owners had no choice but to make major concessions to the referees’ union to end the lockout.
The league’s image was taking hit after hit -- and being forced to take it with no way to fight back until the lockout was over.
Thus ends one of the most embarrassing periods in NFL history. It was worse than the three weeks of replacement games in 1987 when the players went on strike.
At least that looked like real football.
There was nothing real about the way the replacement refs performed. It was surreal. They acted like kids who’d never met before and were thrown together for a three-week survivor camp.
Blessedly, for the NFL’s damaged integrity, the replacements were kicked off the island.
For the Green Bay Packers -- and the league’s image, which is more important in the long run -- the replacements got the boot a week too late.
The Packers were victimized by a horrendously bad call on the final play of Monday night’s game. Game officials awarded the Seahawks a touchdown, based on the simultaneous possession rule, on a catch in the end zone on the last play of the game.
Replays clearly showed that Packers safety M.D. Jennings hugged the ball to his chest with both hands for a game-saving interception. However, Seahawks receiver Golden Tate got a hand on the ball. In the scrum that followed, with both players falling to the turf, one official signaled touchdown.
There was mass confusion on the field -- including by game officials, who never held a conference to get the call straight before making a definitive judgment. That is standard procedure on such plays for the regular refs, but the replacements were substandard and so far out of their league that they didn’t follow procedure.
Ultimately, the touchdown was upheld after a replay review. On Tuesday, the NFL issued a statement saying the call should not have been overturned, and that there wasn’t indisputable evidence that it wasn’t a catch.
Newspapers around the country ran pictures and headlines deriding the NFL for the blown call.
Players tweeted their disgust over the way the situation was handled.
Packers quarterback Aaron Brown said “I call bull” on the NFL’s statement.
According to one report, 70,000 voicemail messages were left on the league’s phones from fans venting their displeasure.
It was no coincidence that 48 hours after the game, the lockout ended.
Celebrate. The voices were heard.