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NFL referee Gene Steratore and his crew “were treated like conquering heroes” Thursday night during the Browns-Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore SUN. Steratore was “greeted by fans with a standing ovation prior” to the game, and he “tipped his cap to the crowd in recognition of the applause.” Ravens LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed, RB Ray Rice and coach John Harbaugh one by one “hugged Steratore before kickoff.” The game “seemed to flow better with fewer interruptions and more confidence from the players, coaches and fans in the officials' judgment.” Ravens QB Joe Flacco said, "The biggest thing is I think the game probably went a little bit smoother and a little bit more seamless and things like that, moved along a little bit. Calls were made and everything went a little bit smoother." Wilson writes the regular referees after the end of the lockout are “experiencing a popularity that is momentarily off the charts” (Baltimore SUN, 9/28). In N.Y., Adam Himmelsbach writes the refs generally "were not a factor in the game.” There were “no egregious errors, and there was little of the post-whistle pushing and shoving by players that had escalated under the watch of the replacements” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/28). In Cleveland, Tom Reed writes the refs in the first half “appeared sharper than either team's offense,” although fans “booed several calls.” Still, Browns coach Pat Shurmur “thought the game was well officiated” (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 9/28). Shurmur: "I thought they handled (the game) great. I had all the confidence in the world that this was going to [be] officiated in the right way" (AP, 9/27). Harbaugh said, “Good to have them back. These guys are really good. The communication was good. I didn't agree with every call, but they were excellent" (AP, 9/28).
WELCOME BACK! NFL Network's Rich Eisen said prior to the start of the game, “We here at NFL Network and ‘Thursday Night Football’ are thrilled to bring you television history tonight, for this will be the first time ever in any sport at any level that a crowd will give a standing ovation to a referee." NFL Network's Alex Flanagan noted there was a "really great energy" on the field between the players and the refs, as they were "giving each other a lot of hugs.” Flanagan: “The expectation tonight here is that there’s going to be a return to normalcy. ... They have gotten a lot of applause already and I’ve talked to a number of the officials who said that’s the first time that’s ever happened. They’re used to being booed” ("Browns-Ravens," NFL Network, 9/27). Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s Jim Kozimor said, “That will be the last standing ovation those referees get” ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 9/27). Steratore said prior to the game, "It's happy to be back, it's happy to be appreciated. But then as soon as the game starts, it's happy to disappear again and let the entertainers entertain" (AP, 9/27).
PLAYERS, COACHES WELCOME REFS BACK: Giants LB Mathias Kiwanuka said, "Say what you want about the NFL and their front-office policies; they recognized an issue and did what they had to do to get it done. We all know they're good negotiators, and the timing is better late than never.” Giants coach Tom Coughlin: "There isn't any question that it's good for the game to get our officials back. Hopefully, they'll have enough time so they feel like they're up to speed” (NEWSDAY, 9/28). Bears QB Jay Cutler: “Getting those guys back is going to clean up the game. The games are going to move along. The indecision is going to go away” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/28). Eagles S Kurt Coleman: "It's good to have them back. I think this game is going to be a lot better with them back and run a lot smoother” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/28). Patriots WR Matthew Slater: "That’s big for us as players, to know that we’re out there with guys that are going to do their best to keep us safe by making the right calls” (BOSTON HERALD, 9/28). Giants S Antrel Rolle: “It’s time we have our officials back. It’s time that everyone in the NFL needs to be on the same page at the same time and hopefully it limits the arguing and the frustration” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/28). Titans WR Nate Washington: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard officials get applause, but I think there might be applause all over the league this weekend. I may have to go ahead and hug them” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 9/28). Bills TE Scott Chandler: "This might be their one week of glory, because next week everybody's going to be on them again" (BUFFALO NEWS, 9/28).
SO LONG TO THE REPLACEMENTS: In N.Y., Sam Borden writes the experience for the replacement officials of “working at the heart of the NFL’s most recent controversy was more nuanced: refereeing football’s highest level of games will never be forgotten.” But neither will the “frustration that came with becoming a punching bag for bloggers and broadcasters, players and coaches, television animators and late-night talk show hosts.” Replacement official Jeff Sadorus said, “Sometimes during this whole thing it felt like the national pastime in this country had changed from football to bashing replacement officials.” Still, Borden writes the NFL “defended the replacements vigorously.” Sadorus said that they were “treated like the regular officials,” as they spent “hours on weekly video review.” Sadorus: “We worked very, very hard. As demonized as we were, I hope people remember that we are people, too” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/28). Replacement official Mike Peek said, “We were hired knowing that the probability of a long-term situation wasn’t there. We were hired to be fired, as you might say” (WASHINGTON POST, 9/28). In Illinois, Mike North writes, “I watched almost every game on Sunday and I saw 10 to 12 games being well officiated. The glaring problem was with the three or four games each week that had worse-than-bad officiating. We’re talking horrible, and the NFL cannot afford so many games to have subpar officiating” (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 9/28).
Following the controversial ending to the Packers-Seahawks game Monday night, NFL owners told high-ranking league officials “to stay the course in negotiations" with the NFL Referees Association, urging them "not to overreact to one bad call and make a bad deal” to end the lockout, according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. However, while “no owners wanted the negotiators to cave, there were differences among them.” Sources said that several owners, including the Panthers’ Jerry Richardson and the Jets’ Woody Johnson, "initially dug in on Tuesday, reluctant to make any deal under such public pressure.” Others, including the Patriots’ Robert Kraft and the Giants’ John Mara, were "concerned that damage was being done to the league by the subpar officiating and the focus on it.” Battista reports when the league and the union “returned to the negotiating table Tuesday, each side was more conciliatory.” The league “probably moved more than the officials to complete the deal.” Falcons Owner Arthur Blank said, “There was a sense of urgency on both sides to get it done. The integrity of the brand is incredibly important. The officiating was creating more controversy and focus on it than on play, and that’s something you never want to happen.” Battista notes with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “leaning on the advice of four owners who worked closely on the negotiations -- Mara, Blank, the Texans’ Robert McNair and the Chiefs’ Clark Hunt -- the league moved most significantly during the final two days of talks on the pension plan.” Goodell during negotiations also “relied on some of the same owners who were critical to getting a collective bargaining agreement with players last year -- Kraft and Mara among them -- and gauged their support for negotiating points, and they in turn helped unite the other owners.” Kraft: “Fans were frustrated the same way we as owners were. I hope they understand it takes two sides to do a deal” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/28).
AGREEMENT WAS COMING: In Boston, Greg Bedard cites sources as saying that both sides were “dug in until they realized the breaking point was coming in Week 4 -- because of competitive-balance issues when bye weeks start -- and then the tipping point of the Monday night fiasco in Seattle.” Kraft said, “This isn’t a perfect business. It’s a bit imperfect, in a sense.” He added, “These replacement refs had a great deal of scrutiny on them. We just wish it had never come to that” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/28). USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell notes even “without the Seattle mess, Mara thinks the sides would have reached an agreement this week.” Mara: “The events of Monday night may have accelerated the process.” When asked if he called Goodell to urge him to reach a deal, Kraft said, “I’m not going to get into my private conversations. But we had our own game in Baltimore” (USA TODAY, 9/28). Kraft added, “Both sides came away with what they want.” But he said, “We’ve come away with an agreement that will allow us to do the best job long term, rather than do a quick fix. We had to be very careful we didn’t damage the brand. If we didn’t get a resolution very soon, that would start to happen" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/28). More Kraft: "We could have done an agreement quickly, but Roger really did a great job here and people think it's about money and the money part of this was really this small (part). ... This is a win/win. They did a tremendous financial deal. They have long-term security. They have an eight-year deal. We've done the same thing. We now know that we have the highest-quality refs doing our games just like doing a long-term deal with the players, with the TV contracts, now we have a long-term deal with the refs" ("The Kudlow Report," CNBC, 9/27). He added, “This is a minor blip and now we move on and we have a great long-term setup here" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 9/27).
LEAGUE HAD NO CHOICE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported it was “hard to imagine the NFL would ever have allowed these replacement officials to ever step on the field again" following the Packers-Seahawks controversy. Schefter: "The league had no choice but to get that deal done this week as quickly as possible, which explains the marathon meeting sessions" (“NFL Live,” ESPN, 9/27). Falcons Owner Arthur Blank said, "The game on Monday night was just kind of a feather in the cap. I think there’s been an ongoing amount of pressure really on both sides to get a deal done and it was just a matter of trying to work out something that was fair to both." He added, "It's not like a week’s gone by where there were no discussions. I think everybody felt it needed to get done ... and some of the issues that were pretty clear to everybody with the replacement officials just kind of accelerated the process” ("NFL AM," NFL Network, 9/27). NFL outside legal counsel Bob Batterman said, “I think the deal would’ve gotten done in a couple of days anyway, (but) would I deny that this expedited it? I think both parties felt that continuing it was causing damage in the public perception and it wasn’t in either side’s interest for that to happen.” He added, “Did it have some effect on the intensity of the bargaining acts? I think so. But we had ramped the bargaining by then in any event” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/28).
SURVEY SAYS: A USA TODAY/Gallup poll of 422 sports fans found that Goodell was “picked as the most disliked commissioner” of the four major pro team sports leagues. Goodell was selected as the most disliked among 38% of those surveyed, followed by the NBA’s David Stern (21%), NHL’s Gary Bettman (20%), MLB’s Bug Selig (16%) and all equally (5%). USA TODAY’s Erik Brady notes the poll was “conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, in the heat of the replacement controversy and before the NFL reached agreement with its locked-out regular refs” (USA TODAY, 9/28). Packers TE Jermichael Finley said, "At this point, everybody knows Roger Goodell. They know what type of guy, what type of businessperson he is. Roger Goodell's name speaks for itself" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/28). Meanwhile, ESPN and Global Strategy conducted a survey of 1,443 fans before the lockout ended Wednesday and found that “more than 76 percent gave the officiating poor marks.” Also, more than 50% of the fans believe calls "made by the replacements during the first three weeks of the season were ‘a complete embarrassment’ and at least half of the fans said they would have watched less NFL football because of the officiating” (ESPN.com, 9/27).
HOW MUCH DAMAGE WAS DONE? In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch writes the NFL shield is “lying in tatters today, thanks to the hypocritical actions of the commissioner and the people who write the checks for its 32 teams.” For Goodell to “emerge from his bunker yesterday and offer what amounted to a halfhearted apology while hilariously trying to claim The Debacle in Seattle didn’t prompt a sudden settlement only makes it look and feel worse” (N.Y. POST, 9/28). Also in N.Y., Gary Myers writes Goodell’s “sacred shield” is now “dented and scratched and looks like it’s been in a five-car pileup on the West Side Highway.” The NFL “will not suffer irreparable damage to its $9.5 billion-a-year business,” but it is going to “take a while to wash away the image of the side judge and back judge, standing nearly shoulder to shoulder Monday night in the end zone in Seattle, one signaling touchdown, the other signaling touchback, on a game-deciding play.” However, Mara indicated he did not think the league's image was tarnished by the replacement refs. Mara: "In a few weeks, this will be forgotten and we’ll be back to criticizing the regular referees” (N. Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/28). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said the “losers” in the deal are the NFL office and owners because as the owners "didn’t step up throughout any of this situation.” Goodell also "comes out of this as a major loser," as he was “put out in the front and look how his reputation has been tarnished." ESPN’s J.A. Adande said, “The popularity of the game won’t take a hit, but the credibility of the NFL and Goodell and the owners has taken a major blow because they are supposed to uphold the integrity of the game and they failed to do so.” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/27). FoxSports.com's Billy Witz said Goodell and the owners "are the big losers," while the "winners are NFL fans and the referees." Witz: "I don’t think anybody thought that the referees were going to be able to have the NFL coming to them on their knees” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 9/27). In Sacramento, Joe Davidson writes under the header, “Give Goodell A Penalty For NFL Referee Mess” (SACRAMENTO BEE, 9/28). In Chicago, Steve Rosenbloom wrote Goodell’s “tough-guy stance was idiotic from the start.” The NFL is “full of it when it comes to yammering on about integrity and credibility,” and the league is “shoveling big-time when it comes to player safety.” Rosenbloom: “The NFL cares about one thing: money. Period. Any questions?” (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 9/27).
THE BLAME GAME: In Boston, Brian McGrory asks, “Why is it surprising that the NFL owners thought they could get away with a collection of second-raters as officials when society basically stopped honoring expertise a long time ago?” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/28). But in Orlando, George Diaz wrote, “Give Goodell credit for this: He knew that the NFL was tarnishing it’s brand and image as the most dominant player in the landscape of the sports in the United States” (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 9/27). The BOSTON GLOBE’s Bedard writes the officials “had just as much to do with the game being held hostage for the first three weeks as NFL owners or commissioner Roger Goodell.” But “don’t let the officials skate on this.” Fans and the game “were collateral damage,” and the owners and officials “were fine with that.” Goodell also “deserves criticism.” Since being named commissioner in '06, Goodell has “alienated his two largest constituencies: fans and players” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/28).
To the "surprise of no one, the NHL cancelled the second half of the 2012 preseason schedule Thursday, citing the fact there is no collective bargaining agreement currently in place between the league and the players," according to Eric Duhatschek of the GLOBE & MAIL. Talks between the two sides "on non-core economic issues are supposed to begin Friday in New York and theoretically are scheduled to last for three days." But since the "pivitol difference between the two sides is largely financial, it is unclear what, if any, traction they might find in this new round of negotiations while focusing on matters such as contract terms, arbitration and free agency." The regular season is scheduled to start Oct. 11 and "leverage in the negotiations may shift at that point, because that's when players start to draw their salaries" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/28). In Toronto, Kevin McGran notes neither side "will say they're coming armed with a new proposal and the prospects of a new deal by Sunday are grim." The "popular thinking -- as framed by the NHL -- is that it is up to the players to come with a new proposal." A source on the players' side said that concessions "are the theme of their proposals and they're still waiting to see if the NHL makes an offer with concessions included." If talks "end badly by Sunday, some players surmise that an exodus to Europe will follow" (TORONTO STAR, 9/28). Also in Toronto, Lance Hornby notes the NHL has "insisted it's waiting for the union to come back with something substantive, but nothing major is in the cards just yet" (TORONTO SUN, 9/28). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli reports the league is "expected to formally begin canceling regular-season games next week" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 9/28). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo noted former NHLer and current NHLPA rep Joe Reekie Wednesday night "provided a dinner update for the locked-out players" in the city. After talking to many of the Wild players on Thursday, Russo noted their "hope is once regular-season games are inevitably canceled that owners will start to cave once revenue is lost." Players said that if talks this weekend "go nowhere, they can see a flood of guys going overseas around Oct. 11-13, the scheduled time the regular season is supposed to begin" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 9/27).
FANS WANT AN EXPLANATION: In Detroit, Gregg Krupa writes what "encourages" the owners and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is "the players have little power." Wisdom would "dictate that amid their undeniable strength the owners and Bettman ought to reach a deal that provides for a future free of lockouts." Instead, "outright confrontation is the serial negotiating tactic of the Bettman era, the only tactic he apparently learned in his long employment by both the NHL and the NBA." Bettman and a "core of obstinate NHL owners, remain in the dark ages, utterly disrespectful of the players and fans, whom Bettman cravenly calls 'the best'" (DETROIT NEWS, 9/28). In N.Y., Pat Leonard writes fans "want an explanation for this onslaught of lockouts." Bob Batterman, a partner at the law firm Proskauer Rose who serves as labor counsel for the NFL and NHL and advised the NFL in its bargaining with officials, said, "When you get into a situation where you’ve got a salary-cap system in these leagues, where the salary cap guarantees the players a percentage of revenue, at the time you do (the deal), you’re doing it based upon your current economics and what your projections are for the future. And then over time, to the extent that those projections (may) prove wrong ... the employer is looking for a change. And the employee doesn’t want to change, they’re happy with the percentage they’re getting. So ... it’s the employer who’s got to pull the trigger to force a change downward" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/28).
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: The CP's Sean Farrell noted 20 NHLers took part in the "first game of the Tournee des Joueurs," a series of games between players from Montreal and Quebec City, at the Complex Multisports de Chateauguay Thursday night. First-come, first-serve tickets sold at the door for C$20 "drew a standing-room-only crowd of 1,250 to the multi-rink arena." Flyers C Max Talbot and D Bruno Gervais "organized the tour, which will see more games played next week in Saint-Hyacinthe and Sherbrooke" (CP, 9/27). Talbot said, "We partnered with Les Petits Tresors which provides support for autistic children, the Canadian Tire Good Start program and we'll also make a donation to the minor hockey organization or some other charity in the community we play in." He added, "We have some support from McDonald's and CCM-Reebok and we're open to anyone else who wants to help." In Montreal, Pat Hickey notes fans began arriving "more than two hours before" the 7:00pm ET start, and the demand for tickets "outstripped the supply as the crowd, which included a large number of youngsters, filled every nook and cranny of the building" (Montreal GAZETTE, 9/28). Blues LW David Perron, who also is participating in the tour, said, "We tried to come up with something that would be interesting for the fans. ... The players are going to be available after games for pictures and autographs and whatever." In St. Louis, Jeremy Rutherford notes the games all will be played in rinks which "range from 1,300- to 3,500-seat capacity." Perron said, "We're going to try and focus on staying in the junior rinks" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/28).
TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT: In Toronto, Mike Zeisberger writes the "ripple down effect of the NHL work stoppage trickles down" not just to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), but "throughout the sport." And that is "not necessarily a good thing." CHL President David Branch "held brainstorming sessions with CHL officials and team executives about the negative public perception" the NHL lockout might have on the junior leagues in Canada. Branch said, "We've had discussions for the need to put a positive spin on the sport of hockey. We've already talked about this with all our teams. This is about the image of hockey. One of our major concerns is that people have a negative attitude toward the game. That means we have to work that much harder." However, Branch "does acknowledge that, moving forward, the NHL lockout has resulted in an infusion of talent for the CHL" (TORONTO SUN, 9/28).
BRACING FOR THE STORM: In Raleigh, Chip Alexander notes the Hurricanes on Thursday "announced some information for season-ticket holders who plan to keep their money on account with the team." The team said that if a CBA is not reached in time to play a full regular season, there would be "5% simple interest on money kept in ticket accounts, which can be used toward additional 2012-13 regular season or playoff tickets, or toward 2013-14 season ticket renewals." Other options include a "10% discount off the season-ticket price for the 2013-14 season" and a "5% discount off the season-ticket price for the 2014-15 season" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 9/28).