So, the refs are back. Yay. The NFL and the referees union struck an eight-year deal last night, which you can read about right here. Reaction has been pouring in all morning, both from Twitter and online. Finally, we can stop discussing lockouts for a while.
Commissioner Roger Goodell chimed in here. Now that it’s over, let’s begin the process of looking back. Most importantly, what did we learn from this surprisingly lengthy labor issue? Well…
1. As much as it seemed we ridicule the referees, we really like them deep down: That was obvious. It was a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. Who knew anyone missed the same refs who they boo constantly on Sundays? Who realized how much respect the players have for this group who so often is the object of their objections? We know now. It was sincere.
2. Being a ref is hard: Sounds like we should’ve known this, but I’m not sure I realized how insanely difficult it is to make the right call in the most pressure-packed circumstances until you see people dressed like refs bungle it. If you ever wondered why those referees made the equivalent of full-time salaries for part-time work, the answer is because they are great at doing that part-time job. Those fast decisions with everyone watching are the result of being an expert in what you do. It is not for the faint-hearted.
3. We don’t know the rules well enough: How many times did the replacements pause during a stoppage of play to conference about a strange rule, only to spot the ball in the wrong place? A bunch. And each time, we only realized it until they were forced to correct themselves. I gotta think I watch as a many NFL games as anyone, and I still was left wondered stuff like, “If there’s a defensive penalty on an interception that is run back 25 yards, where the heck is the ball?” Glad the real dudes are back to walk it off for me.
4. The game moves fast: It was hard not to feel for no-huddle teams like the Patriots, Broncos, and now Ravens during the first three games. The replacements just didn’t spot the ball fast enough, and maybe that’s one reason they struggled. Is it a coincidence that fast-moving offensive teams have limped a little early? We’ll find out, as the real refs will be able to process things faster and be in better shape to keep it movin’.
5. The offseason focus is important: Every year, the referees hear a point of emphasis for the coming year, then show players the new focus in videos, and then share it with fans. Coming in every season, we know what they’re looking for. And so, in the first few weeks, you see an increase in helmet-to-helmet penalties, flags on QB hits, whatever, and then over the course of those season, the offenses diminish. With the replacements, there was no focus. It was tough to know what they were looking for, so a bunch of dangerous hits went unflagged.
6. The quality of the game benefitted from fewer pass-interference calls: This is a personal opinion, and some may disagree. But I really liked how the replacements turned back the clock on penalties between receivers and CBs. Defensive pass-interference was down. There weren’t as many calls, and that led to increased physicality. There was some bump-and-run coverage, and guys who could really cover were allowed to do so. In turn, the anecdotal evidence shows that more teams focused on running the ball. Love old-school football.
7. The first time we downplay a labor dispute should be the last: I cringe thinking of a response I gave on a radio interview this August, one asking me about the impending referee labor issue. The host asked if they should be worried about a possible referee lockout, and I said something to the effect of, “They always get settled in time.” Uh, not really. Never underestimate the passion of people fighting for their livelihood. Never again. Until further notice, every possible labor deal has the potential to result in what we just saw.
8. It took a lockout to appreciate the refs: You know all those days we have aimed at a people appreciating those we usually ignore? Like secretaries day (though I think they call it something else now). And grandparents day (which there shouldn’t be the need for). Well, these last three weeks have been like referee apprecation weeks. No longer will they be taken for granted. Ripped, yes. But appreciated.