UPDATED 09/27/12 6:43 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Bears fans are expressing relief in the wake of a tentative deal between the NFL and the union that will get the real referees back on the gridiron.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the NFL referees have been locked out since June. But now, after two days of marathon negotiations, they will return, starting Thursday night, when the Cleveland Browns face the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore.
Bears fans at a local diner were thrilled to hear the news.
“I’m so happy, and now I’m a football fan again. I was going to stop watching,” said Bears fan Dion Turner. “I watched, but after the Green Bay game, I was going to stop. But now that they’re back, I’m going to watch. But now, everybody’s going to pay attention to regular officials and see what happens.”
Bears fan Josh Ramirez said with the tentative deal in place, the NFL season officially starts now.
“The seasoned refs that are in the game for many years, and, you know, part of their expertise is being part of the game for many years,” he said.
When asked if he was excited for the rest of the season, Ramirez said, “Of course, of course. I mean, the game needs to go on with the experienced refs, and that’s part of the game. It’s been part of the game for many years, and it’s what we need.”
The NFL owners had to do something quickly after the game-deciding call between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks Monday night. There was heavy public pressure to get a deal done.
The league had used replacement officials for the first three weeks of the regular season, and a series of their bad referee decisions had infuriated fans.
The most infamous of those decisions was the one on Monday, when Seattle beat Green Bay 14-12 on a desperation pass into the end zone on the final play. Packers safety M.D. Jennings had both hands on the ball in the end zone, and when he fell to the ground in a scrum, both Jennings and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had their arms on the ball.
The closest official to the play, at the back of the end zone, signaled for the clock to stop, while another official at the sideline ran in and then signaled touchdown.
The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that the touchdown pass should not have been overturned — but acknowledged Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch. The league also said there was no indisputable evidence to reverse the call made on the field.
The decision drew howls of outrage.
Meanwhile, two coaches became so angry with the replacement referees that they ended up being slapped with fines for incidents on the field.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was docked $50,000 Wednesday for trying to grab an official’s arm Sunday to ask for an explanation of a call after his team lost at Baltimore. And Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was tagged for $25,000 for what the league called “abuse of officials” in the Redskins’ loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Two other coaches, Denver’s John Fox and assistant Jack Del Rio, were fined Monday for incidents involving the replacements the previous week.
But now with the tentative 8-year deal, the real referees will get a pay raise from $149,000 a year to $173,000 in 2013. The pay will rise to $205,000 in 2019.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement saying, “We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement.”
The tentative agreement must be ratified by 51 percent of the union members.
The Bears play next in Dallas Monday night.
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