In a scene that could have been an episode of the “Twilight Zone”, the real referees returned to pro football on Thursday night.
And got a standing ovation.
They actually looked embarrassed with the crowd's reaction in Baltimore for the Ravens-Browns game. Stoic images of professionalism at first, they eventually smiled sheepishly and tipped their hats to the crowd.
Then, like the true professionals they are ... they disappeared.
Well, that’s other than when head referee Gene Steratore made the first call.
Was it my imagination, or did he seem to have a pronounced swagger to the middle of the field, like the proverbial cat that ate the canary, when he announced the first penalty of the 2012 season called by an actual referee?
From that point on in the game, the refs were largely invisible.
I’m waiting to see how long the love lasts.
Mark my words, it won’t be long.
One questionable call and it will be back to the status quo, with upset fans calling sports talk shows to complain about this call and that call, and questioning whether certain refs don‘t need glasses.
The deal was finally signed on Wednesday night, after a three-month long holdout.
The NFL and referees union said that the talks had been going on for a couple of weeks, but the obvious tipping point came after the Monday night craziness in Seattle.
One horrendous call in a nationally televised game, and suddenly the owners weren’t so hard to negotiate with, were they?
Maybe it had something to do with the reported 70,000 phone calls to NFL headquarters on Tuesday.
Whatever the reasons, the game Thursday night had a totally different feel than games in the first three weeks of the season.
There would be no extracurricular activity after every play, with players minding their Ps and Qs with the real refs back on the field.
When calls were made, no screaming coaches were shown on the sideline questioning everything.
A scary hit to Browns’ wide receiver Joshua Cribbs early in the game was dealt with in the proper fashion by players, coaches and the referees.
No coach ran out onto the field after the game, trying to grab a referee for an explanation of a late game call.
It was a little freaky when on the second to last play of the game, Cleveland’s quarterback Brandon Weeden lofted a pass for the potential game-tying score to the exact same spot in the end zone where the play was on Monday night.
But the ball was batted harmlessly to the turf, ending any hopes of another controversy to fill up the airways on Friday.
I’m sure many radio announcers where soon scrambling to figure out what they were going to talk about the day after.
No endless hours of “What exactly did the signal mean when the ref raised and waved his arms over his head?”
Really, there were people who thought he was giving a contradictory call to the touchdown?
It’s a time out, or end of the play. Not an interception, not a touchback ... the play is dead.
How long have you been watching this game anyway?
However long it’s been, take comfort in knowing our game has been restored and the officials won’t be the major topic of conversation.
At least until that first bad call.