NATIONAL NEWS (CNN) — The real referees were greeted with a standing ovation Thursday night as they returned to the field after a new contract was announced less than a day earlier.
It may be the last time fans will voice their opinion on the recent NFL lockout that brought replacement referees to the football field.
Thursday's 23 to 16 win by the Baltimore Ravens over the Cleveland Browns went on without much controversy, a far cry from the gaffe-filled display that punctuated the first three weeks of the professional football season.
Before Thursday's game NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was sorry the league felt it had to resort to the replacements, few of whom had any previous NFL officiating experience. Many were high school or low-level college officials who hold down myriad other jobs, from schoolteachers to attorneys.
That ended Wednesday night when the NFL stuck a deal with officials.
The eight-year deal, which must be ratified by union members, includes details about officials' pensions and retirement benefits, and adds a pay bump from $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013. The pay will rise to $205,000 by 2
It suspended the lockout that began before the league's preseason, leading to a series of gaffes that climaxed in a furor over a botched call that allowed the Seattle Seahawks to walk away with a victory in Monday night's nationally televised game against Green Bay. The league acknowledged Tuesday that the Packers should have won, but allowed the result of the game to stand.
Goodell declined to criticize the replacements despite weeks of botched calls that raised the ire of fans nationwide.
"Everything they did, every call, was magnified," Goodell said. "They kept the game going. They worked hard. They trained hard. They were incredibly focused and dedicated."
Henry Zaborniak, a fill-in line judge who lives in Ohio, said it was a hard job.
"We worked as hard as we could and we did the best we could," said Zaborniak, who spent 15 years as a Big Ten official,. "None of us felt like we could replace the regular guys. You can't replace that sort of ability en masse."