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Everything is right in the NFL World

Everything is right with NFL world — but for how long?

Perhaps “chaos” is too strong a word to describe the atmosphere prevailing when replacement officials were on the field for 65 pre-season and 48 regular-season games in the National Football League at the start of this season.

But with indecision running rampant in many of those contests, games taking longer to complete and referees with their heads buried in the re-play system for inordinate amounts of time, those early games were sometimes painful to watch, especially when officials made such dramatic mistakes that it cost Green Bay a win over Seattle on a Monday night match-up.

Players, coaches, league administrators and fans alike were disgruntled with the replacement officials, who came from arena football, the NAIA, Division III, high schools — and, maybe — the sandlots of Philadelphia. In many of the games worked by the substitutes, more penalties were called, players were chippier with each other on the field and more fines were issued by the league.

Now, with the lockout ended by the NFL, regular officials returned to the field Thursday in Baltimore’s win over Cleveland, with the fans cheering their return. How many times do you see fans cheering game officials, especially in a context such as the more sophisticated NFL where it’s commonplace to direct a chorus of “boos” at the guys in striped shirts for any perceived call that goes against the home team? There was another game where all the referees were introduced like the starting lineups of the two teams.

But, now that the “good guys” are back on the job, how long will the honeymoon last? Remember, it’s the nature of the game to blame the officials for a perceived bad call here and there, and there’s no perfect game as far as referees are concerned; the game’s just too fast for that, and missed calls and bad calls are bound to happen, even with the “experts” on the field.

As the Green Bay-New Orleans game showed, it lasted until the second half when a blown call on a Darren Sproles fumble firmly put the refs again in the bad graces of the Cheesehead Faithful.

However, it was good to see the regulars back on the field for the first time this season on Thursday night, and now the replacements can return to their respective levels, hopefully a little better at what they do even though coaches, players and fans were happy to see them go. It’s not easy being a football official at any level — or NBA referee or MLB umpire, for that matter.

While officiating in the NBA and Major Leagues is a full-time job, NFL officials’ positions are considered part-time, with an average salary of $149,000 keeping them coming back for more action. With the recent settlement, officials will receive raises that will increase pay to $205,000 by 2019 although this year’s lockout was based on differences on retirement income. It’s not just the on-the-field time that officials are being paid for — it’s also the hours of preparation required for each game, watching films for correctible errors, discussing rules with colleagues and the travel factor. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it, and it’s much better that the highly-competent regulars are back on the field.

For one, I was glad to see the lockout end because the competency level just wasn’t there with the replacement officials, who obviously weren’t used to the speed of the NFL game and often hesitated to make a call, taking minutes to sort out the proper rule or application — or didn’t quite know the rulebook, which is different than college and high school rulebooks.

But now, with the lockout ended, all is right with the NFL world. At least until the next game, the next “bad” call or the next time a coach grabs an official, a player goes into a tantrum or the replay system breaks down. In the NFL, there’s never a dull moment, and if I were an NFL official, I’d demand a little higher pay to be on the same field with those running backs and DBs who run the 40 in 4.2 and linemen who weight over 300 pounds. Imagine the high-speed collision possibilities.

On second thought, maybe I’d give up a little extra salary for a Lloyd’s of London insurance policy for a couple million.

If you have an idea for a column or feature story or a comment, please contact me by e-mail at jwalker@newsregister.com or by phone at 503-687-1274.

Everything is right in the NFL World

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