UPDATED: Saturday, September 29, 2012 --- 4:13p.m.
IRVING, Texas (AP) -- NFL referees have voted and approved a new eight-year deal with the league. Now they all can get back to the business of calling games.
Referees approved the contract by a 112-5 vote Saturday morning, officially ending a lockout that led to a rising chorus of complaints from players, coaches, fans and politicians. The next stop for the refs who voted in Irving, Texas, was the airport, where most were to hop on planes taking them straight to their Sunday game sites.
The deal came quickly after three weeks of escalating difficulties for league-hired replacement refs, culminating in a disputed touchdown call that decided Monday night's Packers-Seahawks game. With a tentative deal in place, league referees returned to cheers at Thursday night's game between Cleveland and Baltimore.
Copyright 2012. The Associated Press.
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer
Two days after a controversial call cost the Green Bay Packers a win, the NFL and the referees' union are reportedly nearing an end to a lockout that put replacement officials on the field since the start of the season.
According to several reports, the NFL and the union are close to a new deal that would allow the league's regular officials to return to work, possibly as early as this weekend.
ESPN reported Wednesday that "an agreement in principle is at hand," and The New York Times reported that the sides "were closing in" on a way to end the impasse. ESPN cited unidentified sources from both sides; the Times cited a person briefed on the negotiations.
A person familiar with the situation tells The Associated Press that the NFL and its locked-out officials were meeting Wednesday. The sides met for about 14 hours starting Tuesday into early Wednesday. They broke for a few hours before reconvening in an attempt to resolve the dispute and end the firestorm over the use of replacement refs.