NEW YORK - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is apologizing to fans for having to use replacement officials during a lockout of regular refs. The impasse led to three weeks of questionable calls -- and one that cost the Green Bay Packers a win.
Goodell made his comments Thursday during a conference call about 12 hours after the referees' union and league agreed on a tentative deal that will allow the regular officials to return beginning with Thursday night's Browns-Ravens game.
Goodell says: "Something like this, it's painful for everybody. Most importantly, it's painful for fans. We're sorry to have to put fans through that."
"Never thought I would be excited for the refs to come back to work but it's about time it was definitely necessary!" Cleveland return specialist Josh Cribbs tweeted Thursday morning.
Added Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe: "It was a noble experiment, but I think ultimately a failed experiment, from what we've seen. It'll be good not to have to worry about that when we're on the field. It's good that it won't be a distraction anymore."
Shortly after the news broke, Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller tweeted, "Welcome back REFS."
"Sometimes you have to go through something like that in the short term for the right agreement for the long term," Goodell said.
The deal was struck two days after Seattle's chaotic last-second win over Green Bay in which the replacements missed a call.
During the lockout, the NFL fined Denver Broncos head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio for the way they publicly criticized officials, according to a tweet sent by ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Schefter said Fox was fined $30,000 and Del Rio was fined $25,000.
"We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games," referees' union president Scott Green said.
The union was seeking improved salaries, retirement benefits and other logistical issues for the part-time officials. The NFL has proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match, and it wants to hire 21 more officials to improve the quality of officiating. The union has fought that, fearing it could lead to a loss of jobs for some of the current officials, as well as a reduction in overall compensation.