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Owners admit Monday night fiasco
'accelerated' deal with refs
John Mara had conflicting emotions Thursday as he weighed the eight-year labor deal the NFL struck with its game officials to end the lockout. Sure, the New York Giants co-owner was relieved. After three regular-season weeks of chaos, underscored by the bungled calls of replacement officials, NFL order has been restored.
But Mara felt terrible, too -- for the Green Bay Packers, who suffered a loss because of the blown call with Monday night's fiasco finish at Seattle. One loss, or one victory, has enormous value in the NFL. Had the Giants won one fewer game last season, they wouldn't have had a chance to win a second Super Bowl crown in five seasons. The previous season, one more loss would have prevented the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers from making the playoffs as a sixth seed.
"There's no way to reconcile it," Mara told USA TODAY Sports. "I feel terrible about that. But there are always a number of games that are determined by controversial calls. That happens with the permanent officials. I know how I would have felt. In the long run, maybe that helped move (negotiations) along."
Mara was one of four owners -- along with Arthur Blank, Robert McNair and Clark Hunt -- who advised NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash. Even without the controversy and backlash from Monday night, Mara believes the NFL and the NFLRA would have reached an agreement this week. Still, Mara shoots straight on the breaking point.
"I think the events of Monday night may have accelerated the process," he said.
That's surely a widespread sentiment, supported by the 17-hour negotiating session on Tuesday and more than 15 hours of talks on Wednesday. As Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson suspected, after the Monday night flub, "Somebody got a phone call at about 3 in the morning and said, 'We've got to meet tomorrow.' "
With the NFL essentially trapped by the widespread disgust with the officiating blunders, the league made a key concession in its offer to switch the officials' retirement plan from a defined-benefit pension to a 401 (k) that may have ultimately resulted in the deal. A person with knowledge of the negotiations told USA TODAY Sports that before Monday night, the NFL wanted to make the switch in two years. After the Monday night drama, the officials were able to secure five years of their existing plan before the switch to a 401(k).
Apparently, the NFL was willing to move on the pension issue with the compromise of a longer deal. Mara hailed the stability in the longer pact. He wasn't alone.
"A deal that's long-term, you want to do what's right," New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told USA TODAY Sports. "You can't regret it."
Kraft was reminded of the last labor deal struck by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and late player's union chief Gene Upshaw, which so unsettled owners that they opted out two years later -- which set up the labor battle last year, punctuated by a lockout of players and an antitrust lawsuit.
Goodell, who had the authority to strike a deal without needing votes of approval from owners, didn't need to be reminded of the ramifications of a bad deal. It was a difficult balancing act, especially when some owners expressing a harder line than others.
"He did an outstanding job,"Mara said. "He was getting criticized very harshly."
When talks with players broke down, the owners shut down the sport. This time, they kept playing the games, but risked a tremendous cost in credibility -- although strong TV ratings demonstrated that fans had not tuned out.
Kraft said his stomach turned when he watched the end of Monday night's game -- the night after Patriots coach Bill Belichick chased and grabbed with an official following a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Did Kraft pick up the phone and call Goodell to urge a settlement?
"I'm not going to get into my private conversations with the commissioner," Kraft said. "But we had our own game down in Baltimore. I think we all knew that we just had to get it done.
"This is not a game of perfection. It's hard calling a game. We'll see how it goes with the regular officials."
No doubt, it will be better than the alternative.