It's official now: The real refs are coming back this week, and the deal itself doesn't even matter. All that matters is the funniest controversy of 2012 is now over, and the nation of football fans can return to its regularly scheduled issues of the day, like analyzing Jay Cutler's body language and hating the Patriots.
Wasn't it fun while it lasted though? With good refs, we watch football for touchdowns and sacks and beast mode running backs. With bad refs? You never know! Maybe there'll be a horrible pass interference call that changes the entire game and nearly causes a riot, maybe there'll be Bill Belichick losing on a questionable field goal and accosting a ref. The replacements just kept one-upping themselves, right up until the end, when they botched a call in the most spectacular way possible. We'll think back to this insane month for decades.
"Remember what a disaster it was when the NFL tried to use those scab refs?"
"And everyone at the NFL refused to admit there was even a problem?"
"And the NFL was such a joke that it united pretty much everyone in America?"
"South Park did an episode on it! Remember that?"
Yes, yes, yes. It's been an amazing ride.
But now that we're going back to normal: What did we learn from all this?
1. Officiating is impossible. Nothing makes you appreciate the old officials quite like watching refs call 200 pass interference penalties in one game and STILL somehow missing one or two blatant penalties that change the entire game. God the replacements were bad. Like, cartoon bad. Just a neverending blooper reel. It still seems like it was all an elaborate joke by Roger Goodell. Just to see if America would blink. And we didn't! At least after Week 1. But then ...
2. NFL teams are ruthless. The refs got WORSE as the season unfolded. It was amazing. Once everyone in the NFL realized these guys had no idea what they were doing, coaches and players began harassing them after every single play, which we probably should have expected from the start. The replacements cracked pretty quickly, too--they're human, and NFL players and coaches are terrifying. So, intimidating a bunch of terrified refs became half the battle. It got to the point where in close games, whichever team had the ball last would inevitably win on some bullshit penalty, because by that point the refs were just completely beaten down emotionally. And again, it's not the replacements' fault ...
3. Regular officials are incredible. I don't blame the ref in Seattle Monday. If YOU were in the endzone surrounded 70,000 Seattle fans going nuts, staring at a pile of bodies, seeing a Seahawk who looked like he had his hands on the ball... Wouldn't you panic and call it a touchdown? I would. Most people would. And even though the NFL's officials can be totally incompetent in their own right, they deserve credit for being a thousand times better than replacements, and just as important, ignoring the influence of NFL fans, players, and coaches, all of whom are batshit crazy at all times.
4. We need higher field goal posts. Right?
What's the downside?
5. Roger Goodell is awful. Seriously. First of all, as Bobby Big Wheel pointed out Tuesday, it's baffling that he didn't secure better replacement officials a long time ago--even if most college refs refused to break ranks, the NFL could have been much more proactive about getting decent replacements through this process. Second, a lot of people have blamed this lockout on the owners' greed. BULLSHIT. Owners are owners because they're greedy, and NFL owners are known for fighting unions at every turn. The Commissioner may work for them, but part of his job is balancing their needs with those of the entire NFL. Goodell completely ignores the single biggest challenge facing any Commissioner, and we're supposed to act like it's not his fault? If owners ran pro sports we'd have lockouts across the board every five years. What makes a great commissioner is the ability to satisfy their insufferable greed and yet protect the game at the same time.
6. Steve Young is full of REAL TALK. Yep:
Let's just hope everyone remembers this is all still true of the NFL, even with normal refs.
7. America is addicted to football. We were all watching regardless. Football's so ingrained in all our fall routines that nobody was willing to just stop watching, with or without refs who had any clue what they were doing. Instead of boycotting, we watched in record numbers and then united in our disgust. This is why Goodell and the owners thought the NFL could afford to skate along for a few weeks with a half-assed product.
ON THE OTHER HAND ...
8. America doesn't stand for bullshit. At least not in sports. The second there was a game that definitely swung the wrong direction because of terrible officiating, the outcry was deafening all over the country. The President of the United States even complained. Maybe the NFL could've gone all year with replacement refs without losing any ratings, but that's not the point. The universal disdain for the NFL offices is a dangerous thing, and if they'd gone another few weeks with replacement refs, there only would've been more screwups, and a bigger loss in credibility. Something like "credibility" may seem like a meaningless intangible, but to a league that exists on the strength of an antitrust exemption, with teams that lobby for a new taxpayer-funded stadium every 15 years, all to support a business that is almost certainly hazardous to its employees' health... well, yeah. The NFL is bulletproof, but that wouldn't necessarily last forever if the entire country saw the game turned into a sideshow because NFL teams refused to concede $60,000 to referees. Maybe institutions render fans powerless, but once the NFL became overwhelmingly unpopular among fans, criticizing the NFL became good business for a lot of other powerful institutions--from ESPN to the White House. And that was after three weeks! Imagine how loud the outcry would've been if this continued all year.
Now ... All of these lessons should've been obvious from the start, you say? Well yeah, that's mostly true. The ref lockout just confirmed a lot of what we already should've known about the NFL, Roger Goodell, and America. And Steve Young, too. We all should've known Steve Young was awesome.
So what did we really learn from all this? For real: The NFL needs some higher goalposts (or maybe some kickass infrared lasers blazing into the sky from each goalpost.) (Why not?)