You did this, America. Your rage and angst and unwillingness to let Roger Goodell and his NFL make a mockery of your game fixed a replacement-referee debacle that had turned football into a national farce.
Call it the Fans’ Rebellion. Credit the players, too, for adding their weight to a push strong enough to nudge a stubborn commissioner and complicit owners toward an overdue deal with the locked-out officials.
The sides Wednesday night announced an eight-year agreement, through the 2019 season. The final sticking point – pensions and other benefits – was ironed out with an agreement for the league to gradually increase contributions to the refs’ retirement plan. A graduated pay increase also was part of the settlement.
The locked-out officials had little reason to come back for anything less than that. The replacement circus, capped by Monday’s night’s madcap absurdity in which the faux refs took a win from the Green Bay Packers and handed it on a last-play call to the Seattle Seahawks, was an absolute vindication for the argument they are essential to the game.
The NFL owners – and the commissioner they’ve chosen, the man who’s made this league his own personal fiefdom – could not be counted on to act of their own accord to put the interests of the game first. There was too much money, arrogance and power for that happy hope to became fact.
Then the fans and the players and media – you, us – rose up.
On Twitter and Facebook, with phone calls and fury, from the famous to the most innocuous fans, this week became sports’ answer to revolution.
First, America lost its mind. Then America demanded it be heard. Then America, usually so divided, united enough to force the NFL into a retreat.
On Monday night, with Roger Goodell’s league sailing further toward some anti-promised land, it began. Twitter went berserk. Reportedly 70,000 voicemails flooded league-office phones after the Monday Night Football game, all that anger and resentment spilling over. Governors, presidential candidates and state senators got involved. Players tweeted out pejorative-laced tirades. A swelling sense of indignation took over.
And the league office? Like most dictatorships, it responded at first with a tin ear. Goodell, in clear view of this iceberg of incompetence, kept things sailing full steam ahead.
There was no apology. No acknowledgment this had gotten out of hand. No nod to the stupidity of the call during Monday night’s game, or how that call fit into the larger context of this season’s officiating horror show. No sign to the fans whose anger – the flip side of a love for football that has made NFL owners, players and league officials barrels of money – was boiling.
There was just a 615-word statement Tuesday explaining the game-ending call that was equal parts spin, lawyer-speak and condescension. It even included this gem: “The result of the game is final.”
Great stuff there, Roger. Thanks for clearing that up.
Only, the fury outside the NFL ivory – no, gold – tower was real. It was deeply felt. And so behind the scenes, obviously, things began to change. As the NFL began to grasp what it had created, more voices chimed in.
Aaron Rodgers, on his radio show this week, stepped up in a big way when he called the league’s explanation for the call “garbage.”
Rodgers dropped more daggers, apologizing to fans and placing the blame squarely at the NFL’s feet. “The game is being tarnished by an NFL that obviously cares more about saving some money than having the integrity of the game diminished a little bit. Let’s remember who we are dealing with.”
This came on the same day NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith released a statement to players that began: “The decision by the NFL owners to lock out the referees jeopardizes your health and safety. This decision to remove over 1,500 years of collective experience has simply made the workplace less safe.
“It is the NFL’s duty to provide a workplace that is as safe as possible. The League will want fans, the media and sponsors to talk only about ‘the product’ on the field. We are not product.”
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.