Officials, umpires and referees are essential in competitive sports.
They are often criticized, but there would not be much of a contest without them.
Of course, they should be competent, attentive and fair. They should know the rules and apply sound judgment. They should control the games, earning respect by how they do their jobs.
The NFL found out just how important competent officials are when the league locked out their referees during a labor dispute and hired replacements this fall.
Many of the replacements had officiated football at other levels Division III college, Arena Football League and the like. But when it came to the fast-moving pro game with its complex rules, the replacement refs were in over their heads. They missed many calls and failed to control the games.
Matters came to a head Monday night when the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Green Bay Packers on a controversial last-second touchdown that determined the game. Many observers felt the officials mishandled the play, although the Seahawks seemed OK with it.
The replacement referees struggled throughout that game and others. The thought that the officiating may have cost the Packers a game moved the NFL to strike a tentative deal with the officials union over salaries and retirement benefits.
The first-string referees took the field Thursday in Baltimore to officiate a game between the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. They received a standing ovation, reflecting the relief of players, coaches and fans. The last three weeks have shown how important the leagues officials are to the game.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to the fans Thursday about the labor dispute that caused the league to rely on replacement refs. Yet he did not criticize them: They kept the game going, they worked hard, they trained hard, he said.