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).