Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons was reportedly among a handful of owners at the heart of this week's negotiations to help usher in the return of the NFL's 122 officials in time for "Thursday Night Football."
The return of Ed Hochuli and his men avoids the potential ugly scenario of sending a pack of fill-in refs to Lambeau Field for Sunday's meeting between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. Blank, however, told Steve Wyche on "NFL AM" that wasn't the engine that fast-tracked a deal in time for this weekend's games.
"I've never heard of that discussion, and I doubt there was," Blank said. "You know, the fans up at Lambeau ... our team has played there on at least two or three occasions -- three occasions that I can remember as an away team -- and, you know, they're very passionate fans, but they're very respectful fans, they really are. I mean, they appreciate the efforts being made.
"And I'm sure they weren't happy about what happened on Monday night, and I understand that, and I understand from the players' standpoint, coaches' standpoint and certainly the fans' standpoint, but I'm sure the fans would have been respectful. They would have expressed themselves, but they would have been respectful at the same time."
Blank stressed the goal all along was to complete a deal before the regular season. Monday night's debacle put the replacement refs under a national microscope, and Blank acknowledged the response to that mess brought some urgency.
"That's probably reasonable, but there has been a tremendous amount of effort on behalf of the league staff and on the officials to get a deal done," Blank said. "There wasn't a week gone by where there were no discussions and I think everybody felt the deal needed to get done. It was just a matter of when and I think some of the issues that were pretty clear to everybody with the replacement officials accelerated the process."
It's easier for Blank -- and everyone involved -- to comment on replacement referees as a thing of the past. The issue is finally behind us. The Green Bay Packers and their fans might not agree, not yet but after two straight seasons tinged with labor discord, we finally can focus on football again.