Bernard Pollard might just give Gene Steratore a bear-hug. (Getty Images)Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens will be the first game of the 2012 regular season to be officiated by the league's regular on-field officials. With bye weeks beginning this week — the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers are off -- each team will have played three games with the replacement officials and will have 13 games with the regular officials this season.
A quick scan around the league shows that everyone is happy that the NFL and NFLRA have reached agreement on an eight-year labor deal, with the exception the players/coaches who enjoyed how easily the replacement officials could be manipulated into making favorable calls. (We're even willing to bet that some of these replacement officials aren't crestfallen over Wednesday night's agreement and are happy to get back to their regular, non-controversial jobs.)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 for making contact with an official after his team's 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. According to BaltimoreRavens.com, safety Bernard Pollard will be so happy to see the regular officials, he could risk a fine.
"I might bear-hug one of them. When I do see them, I'm pretty sure we're going to let them have it a little bit," Pollard said. "We understand more of what the refs are going through. As far as the time they've spent in the league, the hours they've put in watching film, understanding what they need to do and how they need to do it. The crews that they have, these guys work together for a reason. I think we appreciate it that much more."
When Ed Hochuli, whose bulging biceps and lengthy explanations of calls on the field make him the most recognizable official working in the NFL today, works a Washington Redskins game, he could also be on the receiving end of a bear hug.
"I'm excited to finally get our real refs back," Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen said via Rich Tandler of CSNWashington.com. "I'm going to bear hug him [Hochuli] and tell him I love him."
Houston Texans left tackle Duane Brown wasn't willing to disclose any planned public displays of affection he had in store for the regular officials, but he is expecting them to be greeted warmly.
"They'll get a standing ovation when they come out," Brown said according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, adding that he's relieved the stalemate is over. "There's a certain comfort level when you have the real officials who are so knowledgeable at this level. The way it's been, we weren't comfortable because we didn't know which way calls were going to go. I'm just glad it's over."
The difference between the regular and replacement officials was also noticed by veteran San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner, Matthew Barrows of The Sacramento Bee reports.
"I do believe defense has been getting away with some things that you normally don't see. Not just our team — I think every team on defense has been stretching it to the limit..You just knew that you were going to be able to get away with a little more."
One of the bigger concerns the players, including the NFLPA, had about playing games with the regular officials was the issue of player safety. New England Patriots wide receiver Matt Slater, who was voted the team's player rep this season, touched upon that aspect of the situation in his comments to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
"I think there's a little bit of confidence that will come along with having these guys with experience out there. There's not knock on those guys (the replacements), they were put in such a tough position. It's a tough job to do, the game moves very fast and they did the best they could do. These guys have the experience and you take a little bit more confidence in guys that have experience and hopefully cleanly and fairly on all sides of the ball."
Though there's all this love in the air for the regular officials, it will be interesting to see when the first complaint about the officiating will be. I'm setting the over/under at five minutes into Thursday night's game.