Originally written on This Given Sunday  |  Last updated 11/19/14

It's never a good thing when the focus of a sports game is on the officials rather than the players and/or the teams, and that's been the case far too often three weeks into the 2012 NFL season.

It'll likely be the case again Thursday night, when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals, but for a very different reason. That's because the replacement officials are finally biting the dust, baby! Or, put more positively, the real officials are back, baby!

The NFL has confirmed that it has reached an eight-year deal with the referees union that will return regular officiating crews to a stadium near you immediately. The new pact has to be ratified Friday, but that's expected to be a formality. In the meantime, commissioner Roger Goodell has temporarily lifted the lockout so that the Browns and Ravens can benefit Thursday. 

Directly from the league's middle-of-the-night press release, here's a breakdown of what the two sides ultimately agreed on:

  • Eight-year term covering the 2012-2019 seasons.
  • The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.
  • Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements:  an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
  • Apart from their benefit package, the game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
  • Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field.
  • The NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.

The league actually got a lot more from the NFLRA than I expected based on the lack of leverage they had as a result of the replacement officials defining incompetence. They found a middle ground on the pension point and gave them some hefty raises, but they got their full-timers and their additional officials for what will essentially be a bullpen.

That, of course, is frustrating as hell, because with no obvious winner here, it appears this deal could have been done three weeks ago and poor Green Bay wouldn't have a city-wide hernia right now. But whatever, at least it's over.

No word on who's going to work Thursday night's game, but the Twitter world is asking for Ed Hochuli's gun show. Frankly, I'd be happy with any of them at this point -- which feels odd saying considering how many times I've wanted to personally waterboard each and every one of them for screwing my real-life team, my fantasy team, or both.  

Right now, I'm just excited to have Walt Anderson, Clete Blakeman, Jerome Boger, Mike Carey, Carl Cheffers, Walt Coleman, Tony Corrente, Scott Green, Ed Hochuli, Bill Leavy, Terry McAulay, Pete Morelli, John Parry, Alberto Riveron, Gene Steratore, Jeff Triplette and Ron Winter back. Yeah, even Triplette and Winter....

More importantly, we'll soon be able to return our focus to the actual game and the players who make it so great. In other words, Tebow Time is back, too!

Ed Hochuli needs to do the Ray Lewis dance coming through the tunnel in Baltimore tomorrow night.

— Chris Pika (@BlogAndTackle) September 27, 2012

And the crowd would surely go as wild for Hoch as they would for Lewis. Because the lockout is finally over and the official officials are back.

All it took was a string of comically terrible calls followed by a game being awarded to the wrong team based on a colossal botch.

On the bright side, no one died.

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