IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) – The NFL’s regular referees are in Irving, deciding whether to agree to a proposed contract from the league.
The 121 regular officials have been locked out since June, because of a dispute involving wages, pensions and the status of new hires. But that could all end, if they ratify the agreement Saturday.
The officials were briefed on the fine points Friday evening. As they met at the DFW Marriott, the veteran officials say they are prepared to suit up.
Among them Field Judge Boris Cheek, who claimed, “We just know we’re ready to go. We have our equipment, we have the things we need to be on the field for Sunday.”
The NFL started this season with replacement officials calling the games. But fans, players and coaches were not happy with the officiating. It took a controversial call on the last play of the Monday night game between Green Bay and Seattle to accelerate negotiations between the league and the refs. Three days later, and as a sign of good faith, regular officials called Thursday night’s game and received a rare standing ovation.
Long time NFL referees, like Ed Hochuli, said it was an amazing response to their return. “No, never in my life; it was a standing booing, not a standing ovation that I’m used to.”
“That’s obviously a surprise to us. That never happens in any sport in terms of how officials, umpires, referees are treated,” says 22 year veteran referee Jeff Bergman of Pittsburgh.
“You’re not really beloved by the public, you’re tolerated, and to see the kind of reception our guys got last night was really heartwarming, and I think it may happen at most of the venues this weekend.”
Hochuli says during the lockout, the referees stayed in touch with weekly conference calls. They also did hours of testing on new rules and viewed hours of films every week to stay ready.
Monday’s controversial play is the kind veteran officials anticipate every time, according the Head Linesman Tom Stabile, also of Pittsburgh.
“It’s the last play of the game, in your head you’re processing what can happen; it’s going to be a Hail Mary pass, what’s going to happen? Already in your mind you’re thinking the obvious is going to happen,” he said.
“You’re looking for pass interference, you’re looking for possession, all the things that in your brain in your computer, you check out. And then when you have something and you look for your fellow official, you’d both better be on the same page and what happened turned into a nightmare it’s all history now.”
Bergman added, “The last play of the game was something that was going to happen sooner or later. And it gave us and the league an opportunity to get together and hammer out a deal that was going to get hammered out anyway. We were going to have an agreement and I think it accelerated talks, accelerated the opportunity to get a deal done this week.”
Still, Hochuli insists they’re not happy with controversy. “We haven’t commented on the replacement officials. We stand back. We’ve worked hard to be ready. ”
If all goes well, the officials will ratify the agreement in a secret ballot, get their uniforms and assignments, before heading out to call Sunday’s games.
But they know the honeymoon with fans won’t last long. “I’m thinking the middle of the first quarter,” Hochuli said with a broad smile.
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