BALTIMORE, MD. -- Never have officials from a sports league been so welcome.
Head Referee Gene Steratore and his crew got a standing ovation when they took the field before Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in downtown Baltimore.
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WEB EXTRA: Photo gallery of refs return
After two days of marathon negotiations, and mounting frustration throughout the league, the NFL and the officials' union announced at midnight last night that a tentative eight-year agreement had been reached to end a lockout that began in June.
The deal came on the heels of Seattle's chaotic last-second win over Green Bay on Monday night in which the replacement officials struggled.
At a news conference this afternoon, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to the fans for putting them through this but added it was necessary to get the kind of deal the league needs for the future. Goodell also played down how much the Green Bay-Seattle game played into the final agreement, saying the pressure had been on both sides already.
This article includes reporting from the Associated Press