BALTIMORE — For a change, the NFL uniform at the center of attention contained three digits.
Referee Gene Steratore, a 10-year NFL veteran, donned his No. 114 and strode onto the field to cheers Thursday night for the game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, signaling the real officials are back.
“You know we always pride ourselves in being a face without a name,” Steratore told The Associated Press about an hour before kickoff. “This will be a little different, but I don’t expect it to last too long. … It’s happy to be back, it’s happy to be appreciated. But then as soon as the game starts, it’s happy to disappear again and let the entertainers entertain.”
Steratore and a veteran seven-man crew worked the first game of Week 4 after three weeks of replacement officials. For a change, everyone on all sides was happy to see the familiar faces in stripes.
A lockout of the league’s regular officials ended late Wednesday, two days after a disputed touchdown catch on the last play of “Monday Night Football” brought debate over the use of the replacements to a fevered pitch nationwide.
“We are sorry to have to put our fans through that,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “but it is something that in the short term you sometimes have to do to make sure you get the right kind of deal for the long term and make sure you continue to grow the game.”
The deal must be ratified by at least 51 percent of the union’s 121 members in a vote scheduled for Friday and Saturday in Dallas.
1/2-hour drive Thursday morning from his home in the Pittsburgh area. Usually he is in place the day before a game, but none of his regular pregame meetings had to be changed because the Browns-Ravens game was at night.