KEEPER OF THE NIGHT: Gene Steratore and the 120+ other unionized referees are back in action and the NFL is indescribably better off for it. Photo courtesy Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Browns and Ravens kicked off Week 4 in the NFL last night, and you know what happened? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, I mean, there was 60 minutes worth of a decent football game, sure, but it was all controversy-free.

You see, in the three tumultuous weeks that we had the replacement officials, this is all we, the football fans, had been asking for.

The demand itself was a bit of an oxymoron. We wanted the FATE of the game taken out of the hands of the officials and CONTROL of the game put in them. And, on Thursday night, as Gene Steratore and crew took the field, that’s exactly what we got.

Were there some blown calls? Absolutely. But we were never in disillusion that there wouldn’t be. The difference between the replacement officials and unionized ones wasn’t about impeccable refereeing, it was about institutional control.

We saw it throughout the entire game. The crew walked that fine line of keeping order in the game while allowing the two teams to decide the outcomes for themselves. If you were writing a dictionary, THAT would be your definition of refereeing right there.

More to the point, though, the two sides were assertively kept in check. You saw it time and time again: John Harbaugh and Pat Shurmur had their fair share of gripes with the zebras. But once they got their point across, that was the end of it.

In one night when NFL football wasn’t always played, we finally saw something we had failed to see at any point during the first three weeks of this season: respect. It was the one thing the replacement officials could never and WOULD never achieve. Because the respect these “regular” refs command isn’t just about how they conduct the game, it’s how they conduct themselves.

Like a police officer or a serviceman in the armed forces, these refs carry themselves with that subtle hint of authoritative swagger. They don’t need to beat their chests or flex their pipes to let everyone know they’re the “big dog” on the field. They go about their business in a calm but deliberate way. To put it all into one word, these refs are professionals.

Now I know you’re saying “no duh”, but it’s the one difference between this orderly game of football and the outright debacles from the first fifth or so of the regular season. These refs under the NFLRA have years of experience, experience that you simply couldn’t instill in the replacement officials even if, miraculously, they had achieved a working comprehension of the NFL rulebook.

That’s why, when Brandon Weeden threw a hail mary pass not once but twice to the same corner of the endzone fellow rookie quarterback Russell Wilson had to spark a storm of controversy just four days before, I wasn’t the least bit worried. Because, thanks to the end of the referee lockout of 2012, the “regular” guys, the PROFESSIONALS, were back at work.

And though we may jeer them and make snide, tongue-in-cheek remarks at them for our stadium seats, we’ll secretly realize, after spending September having things put horribly into perspective, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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NOTE: This story was originally posted on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure you give him a follow @bclienesch for NFL updates and other shenanigans!