Football fans were rejoicing Thursday that the NFL's real officials were going to be back on the field for the evening's midweek matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. Replacement officials hired by the NFL during a lockout of the regular officials had endured increasing criticism over a long list of what appeared to be bad calls.
Early arrivals at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium gave a rousing cheer to the game's seven officials, led by referee Gene Steratore, as they took the field before Thursday night's kickoff.
T. C. Moore (@tc_moore) September 27, 2012
Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) September 27, 2012
skip balch (@skipbalch) September 28, 2012
Once news got out that the lockout had been resolved, NFL fans on Twitter let fly with some ref-fueled humor:
1st Ref call tonight should be: "Offensive Pass Interference. #81. Seattle. 3 days ago."—
Scott Hanson (@ScottHanson) September 27, 2012
Glad the regular officials are back. I'm much more comfortable criticizing them. I like knowing they're making more money to be wrong. #NFL—
Chris Carlin (@ChrisCarlinSNY) September 27, 2012
Some were less charitable:
Anyone else hoping for a huge blown call today? #NFL—
Sajid D. (@S_Desai) September 27, 2012
#NFL Now that the lockout is over we can get back to the business at hand...tracking the time between player arrests. FYI: Currently 60 hrs.—
Peyton's Head (@PeytonsHead) September 27, 2012
Even CNN's own Don Lemon got in on the act:
Don Lemon (@DonLemonCNN) September 27, 2012
The opening kickoff and first series of plays by the Browns went off without a hitch or a flag, though the NFL Network's TV broadcast inadvertently indicated a penalty on the first play from scrimmage.
OMG did you see that kick off?!! The officiating was incredibly meticulous and so on point. #NFL—
Anthony Stancampiano (@stancappuccino) September 28, 2012
The first real penalty of the came came at 12:19 of the first quarter, an illegal contact call against Cleveland. The Baltimore crowd roared, and referee Steratore appeared to have a small smirk on his face.
A holding call against Baltimore 59 seconds later was met with almost no reaction from the crowd, and Cleveland declined the penalty to force the Ravens to punt.
Two more penalties on Baltimore's next offensive series drew a few boos, but it was hard to say whether the jeers were directed at the officials or at the sloppy Ravens.
These refs seem as happy to be back as the fans are to have them back #nfl—
Lisa (@Surabufix) September 28, 2012
The first review of a call came with 5:07 remaining in the first, when Cleveland punt returner Joshua Cribbs fumbled and lost his helmet on a hard hit by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. The play was ruled a fumble, but that call could have been reversed if it were determined that the helmet came off before Cribbs dropped the ball. The call was confirmed on review.
And even though the replacement refs are gone, their fake Twitter feed lives on:
Former Replacer Ref (@NFLReplacerRef) September 28, 2012