|One NFL owner said the league was becoming a national laughingstock. (Getty Images)|
The real officials are back. The fake officials will now return to their Facebook pages and lingerie leagues.
The deal was officially finalized around 11:30 p.m. ET with one source saying that much of the framework had been agreed upon earlier in the day.
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One owner gave CBSSports.com a window into the final 24-48 hours of the negotiations. Contrary to what league officials have said publicly and privately, the owner said the debacle in Seattle figured greatly in the final hours of the negotiations.
"That game reshaped everything," said the owner, who asked not to be identified. "I can't remember the last time our league was a laughingstock nationally. It shook me. I think it shook a lot of people."
"We were prepared to go longer," the owner said. "We couldn't after that."
The owner said one of the main concerns became the replacement officials inability to control the game. There were fears that there would be an all-out brawl between teams. The owner said the NFL didn't want a fight similar to what happened between the Pacers and Pistons in Michigan in 2004. That's the example the owner gave.
The owner remarked that friends who normally aren't hardcore football fans were asking him about the replacement officials. The owner also became concerned how the NFL was becoming a national punch line. He's right. They were.
Before Seattle-Green Bay, the NFL was far more hardened. The league denies this but it's true. The NFL began to bend on the pension issue post Fail Mary. Because after that game, the real officials had all of the power, and the NFL could no longer wait out the real refs. The league denies this, but it's true.
The owner was asked who won this fight. His response: "The fan. The referees are back."
The complete answer? There is no winner. This will go down as one of the ugliest periods in recent NFL history. It damaged the NFL brand and embarrassed a highly proud league. It caused the Green Bay Packers to lose a game they should have won. Winners? No winners. Just survivors.
This was a process that didn't need to be done. NFL owners attempted to break the referee union for a few extra bucks and came close to wrecking a season.
You will hear about heroes and saviors who swooped in last minute to save the day. You will hear about caped crusaders with fountain pens. You will hear various people try to take credit, but no one deserves credit except the fans who didn't swear off football for the monstrous product that was put on the field.
Now the NFL must work to reestablish its credibility with both the general public and the dedicated footballer. As the lingerie refs depart, the real ones step in, and they will make mistakes. But there will no longer be questions about player safety or the league's integrity. Those issues are dead.
Now it's about earning that trust with the fan again -- a trust that has rarely been tested like this. Oh, there have been issues and lockouts and strikes and ugliness, but this was different. Professional football has survived the Depression, World Wars, and terrorist attacks, but fake officials who had Facebook fan pages and other questionable backgrounds were arguably one of the greater threats to the sport.
So the officials are back. They will be met with almost a hero's welcome because they are the pros. We know what they're about. We know that while mistakes will happen with these refs, the real ones are the best at what they do.
No, there were no winners. Not a single one. If someone says there were, give them a slap upside the head.
Now, back to real football.