The wait is finally over. When NFL coaches, players, and fans alike thought it could not get any worse, the light at the end of the tunnel finally became visible.

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, the NFL finally reached an agreement to end the referee lockout — and more importantly, send the amateur replacement refs packing. It was a joyous cry heard round the world.

The refs officially returned in time for the Thursday Night Football game between the Ravens and Browns. Referee Gene Steratore and his crew were met with a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at M&T Bank Stadium. Where Steratore met the captains for both teams on the field for the coin toss, he greeted the players by saying, “Good evening, men; it’s good to be back.” At that, the stadium erupted in a roar.

The first three weeks of the regular NFL season introduced us to the (ill-fated, I might say) maiden voyage of the replacement refs, who obviously seemed like they had no idea how the game of football worked.

So infamous was the bumbling officiating of these substitute refs that Facebook even made a page called, “The 2012 NFL replacement officials UNfan page.”

Honestly, that is sad.

There were so many unforgettable moments to capitalize the incompetence of these refs, but none of these moments take the cake like the infamous ending to the Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers last Monday.

Seahawks Russell Wilson scrambled in the final play of the game. As the clock expired, he threw a desperate “Hail Mary” to the corner of the end zone. A sea of Packers and Seahawks players gathered underneath the ball. Seattle’s Golden Tate wrestled Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings for possession of the ball. Two refs gathered at the struggle. They both glanced at each other and made their call — one official signaled a touchdown — while the other signaled a touchback.
While it did look as though Jennings clearly had possession of the ball as it came down, it took the refs nearly 10 minutes to withhold the call, giving the Seahawks the most controversial victory I have seen in a football game.

That was enough. The fans had enough. The coaches and players had enough. Finally, after those torturous three weeks, we can enjoy football once again. So far, the officiating of the regular refs this past weekend was more consistent than their replacement counterparts.

The regular refs agreed to an eight-year deal with the NFL, so it will be quite some time before we have to worry about the replacement refs again, and hopefully, should the time come when we do need them, they will have done their homework on the game of football.