The NFL and its referees union reached an agreement Wednesday night to end a three-month lockout and return its officials to the playing field, a spokesman for the league announced.
The agreement remains to be ratified by the union but will return the officials to the field beginning with tonight's game in Baltimore between the Cleveland Browns and the Ravens, Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
NFL official Ed Hochuli told USA TODAY Sports that the deal was struck, but he didn't know the details, which still hadn't trickled out.
"Everybody is glad that this is hopefully behind us and that we can move on and get back to officiating, because one of the reasons we do it is we enjoy the challenge. I enjoy the challenge," he said.
"There are a lot of e-mails flying. We're like a bunch of old women."
The agreement ends a chaotic opening three weeks to the NFL season, which saw replacement referees -- recruited from lower-level college divisions -- blow calls, lose control of games, misapply rules and generally prove that they were in over their heads in the big leagues.
The incompetence led to flare-ups by coaches, who were then hit with huge fines by the league for their misbehavior.
Criticism of the replacements by news media, players and coaches reached its peak when the Seattle Seahawks were awarded a game-winning touchdown Monday night on a last-gasp play that appeared to be an obvious interception by the Green Bay Packers.
The NFL insisted the latest round of talks had been scheduled before the blown call and weren't sparked by the public outcry that followed.
But players, who heard rumors of a possible deal Wednesday, were skeptical. When told about the ramped-up talks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson chuckled.
"Wonder what brought that about?" he said. "Somebody got a phone call at about 3 in the morning and said, 'OK, we've got to meet tomorrow.'"
Bucs defensive back Ronde Barber warned the refs that the love probably wouldn't last:
"They'll mess up a call, and it'll be, 'They had too much downtime.'"
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