Refs Cheered at First NFL Game Following Lockout

FE_DA_120928Ravens.jpg

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams celebrates his interception and touchdown during the second half of an NFL game against the Cleveland Browns in Baltimore on Sept. 27, 2012.

Associated Press + More

So Steratore hustled to Baltimore, making the 3½-hour drive Thursday morning from his home in the Pittsburgh area. He's usually in place the day before a game, but none of his regular pregame meetings had to be changed because the Browns-Ravens game was at night.

[Opinion: Are the Replacement Referees Ruining the NFL?]

"We've had a few weeks to actually realize that this was the first September that I was home for multiple Saturdays and Sundays for almost 30 years of my life, continuously. ... It just feels completely different," Steratore said. "To be away from something that is involved with this level of professional sport, just to come back and feel that again, it doesn't take long to realize why you were missing it as much as you were missing it."

Steratore, who is a basketball official in the Big East Conference among others, also was fully aware he would be jeered the first time his crew made a questionable call — just like always.

"Without a question," he said. "I've been yelled at by my own children many times, so this won't be any different."

Sure enough, the same fans that cheered the coin toss let out a full chorus of boos when line judge Jeff Seeman tossed his yellow flag some 20 yards to whistle Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard for a personal foul in the third quarter. Replays showed it was a good call: Pollard led with his helmet to make contact with a defenseless receiver, costing the Ravens 15 yards in a drive that led to a field goal for the Browns.

Steratore's crew nearly made a misstep in the first quarter, incorrectly spotting the ball by 2 yards after a misapplication of the rules following a holding call on the Browns. But two members of the crew caught the mistake and notified the referee before the next snap. A brief huddle ensued, and the ball was moved to its correct spot.

The crew made it clear it wouldn't tolerate the extra shoving and yelling after the whistle that had been frequently permitted by the replacements. Offsetting personal fouls were called on Cleveland's Johnson Bademosi and Baltimore's James Ihedigbo for extracurricular roughness on a punt return in the first quarter.

Then there was Shurmur's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Replays appeared to validate the grounding call he was trying to contest, and the coach took responsibility for his loss of temper.

"I can't do that," Shurmur said. "It's an emotional game, and I got to make sure I keep my emotions in check."

There were 18 penalties called in the game, mostly the familiar calls for holding and false start. There were two rare — and indisputable — whistles for fair catch interference on punt returns, and a hands-to-the-face call on Baltimore's Kelechi Osemele was so obvious that it drew three flags.

The league's new agreement with the officials runs for eight years. Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged the ending of the Seahawks-Packers game "may have pushed the parties further along" in the talks.

"Obviously when you go through something like this it is painful for everybody," Goodell said. "Most importantly, it is painful for our fans. We are sorry to have to put our fans through that, but it is something that in the short term you sometimes have to do to make sure you get the right kind of deal for the long term and make sure you continue to grow the game."

The dispute even made its way to the campaign trail, with President Barack Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, calling Thursday "a great day for America."

"The president's very pleased that the two sides have come together," Carney said.

___

AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen and AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in New York, AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington, and AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.

___

Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

___

Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.