The NFL announced Thursday that the referee lockout that never should have happened in the first place is over. And only three weeks too late.
The final play from scrimmage in Monday night's game between Seattle and Green Bay has been replayed, reviewed and evaluated by every media outlet in America at least four dozen times in the last 60 hours. That clearly was the straw that broke the owners' backs.
We all saw it coming. With the NFL, who answers to the individual team owners, and the referees nowhere near an agreement, it became clear that this lockout would not end pretty. As replacement refs made mistakes and showed their lack of ability to keep up with the professional game's speed and complexity, we all knew the fatal mistake was coming.
It came the only way it could. For the NFL and the referees to come to an agreement, it would take a game-changing call. A call that took a rightfully earned digit out of one team's win column and placed it in the opponent's. Thankfully, it didn't take until the playoffs for it to happen.
There is certainly an argument for the call Monday night. Under NFL rules, it two players have simultaneous possession, the tie goes to the offensive player. The play Monday was close. So close, I am not certain that the real NFL referees would not have called it the same way. Unfortunately for the replacement refs, and fortunately for all the rest of us, it looked like the Green Bay defender had the ball first, and had the superior control of the ball, but didn't get the credit.
That was all the fuel the media needed to create a 48-hour news storm that a Buddhist monk living in a cave on a deserted island couldn't ignore. Thankfully, neither could the NFL. It decided the league couldn't take another debacle like Monday night.
No longer could the owners pretend the replacement refs were a worthy option. No longer could they act like the men who have done such a fantastic job of almost never being in the spotlight were not a vital part of what makes the NFL the smoothest-running show in American sports. No longer could the owners deny the real referees what they have clearly earned.
So the NFL and owners did what they should have done a month ago, and settled with the referees. Thankfully, we can all go back to the NFL we love, starting tonight. The NFL where we watch the greatest football players in the world play the game as it was meant to be played: with referees enforcing the rules, interpreting them correctly and staying the hell out of the spotlight.