Somewhere deep in our innards we have always loved you, even when we referred to you as various parts of the lower human anatomy. Maybe you detected our love somewhere in our vehemence. We hope you did, because we have been crumbling without you.
You are the first-string officials of the NFL, and now you get your turn as the coolest people in America. The party has sucked without you. The party will regenerate with you.
You guys are so freaking hot. For a bunch of guys who just never seemed all that sexy before, you have become downright hunky, and the mind does reel over our prior neglect. It is an abomination that you have never had your own reality show, titled "The Real Referees of the NFL," where we could grow absorbed with your once-hidden lives, but maybe we can fix that.
Yes, by all means, show your abs.
You guys need a logo, a billboard campaign, a clothing line teeming with caps and a series of refrigerator magnets featuring yourselves making obvious offensive-interference calls. I foresee a world in which you appear on posters in the bedrooms of impressionable children or the walls of women with unusually secure husbands. You deserve paparazzi, groupies, annoying squealing on sidewalks, seats on "The View."
Nervously, I dialed up one of you from among the giants who have sustained American life for so long with such unsung nobility. Joe Larrew answered. Turns out, he's a lawyer and a night-court judge in the St. Louis area, and lately he has watched the Thursday night games at the sports restaurant near the courthouse.
"It's happened to me from people I don't even know," he said. "They walk up and say, 'I understand you're an NFL official.' I say, 'Yes, I am.' They say, 'I can hardly watch the games now.' … The one comment I hear most is, 'We've got to get you guys back on the field.'"
Like many a stalwart, he spoke with plain sense: "We'd like to think we have to earn our right to get there and then perform at a high level to stay there, and the idea that somebody could come off the street and work at the same level would have been hard to accept."
Of the droning, four-hour games, he said, "I think the reason why experience is so important, so valuable to all of us is it helps you to develop an instinct for the game, an instinct for the game at the NFL level, so you don't have to sit around and think about how you're going to enforce penalties, whether you're going to stop or start a clock. All those things are automatic to us."
Of the newfound public appreciation, he said, "It's going to last about as long as until the first flag comes out for pass interference. … I think we've got another 10 hours."
And: "We want to become anonymous again."
We are sorry, but we can't accept that just yet. We have so many reparations, so many atonements, so many amends we gathered during our shipwrecked three weeks. Your names should appear in all box scores, everywhere. The Pro Football Hall of Fame hasn't inducted any officials in all its teary inductions, but now it's time to induct you en masse, perhaps with a series of statues stretching out onto a boulevard and all the way to Cleveland. And there ought to be trading cards: I'll give you a Terry McAulay for your Walt Anderson, as long as you give me a vintage Ben Dreith for your vintage Jerry Markbreit …
Hey everybody, who are John Parry, Carl Paganelli, Tom Stabile, Gary Arthur, Gary Cavaletto, Tony Steratore and Laird Hayes?
They officiated Super Bowl XLVI last February. How could you not know that, you archaic dim bulbs?
We apologize to the officials for all the times we blamed you for life's ills. We apologize for those of us who apparently went to games for the bizarre primary reason of yelling at you. (We've all encountered such people, usually in rows nearby.) We would apologize for the people who berated you from the back rows of in the upper decks of stadiums, but then, they always did look ludicrous anyway.
We apologize for decades of numb-skulled ignorance of your expertise. Your absence has revealed that officiating an NFL game is rather like riding a choleric bull that can run amok if you don't get control of it. We realize that getting control of the beast takes more skill and resolve than any of us figured. We realize that those who did not realize this include the owners and the commissioner, and this brings the rest of us zero consolation, being lumped in with the owners and the commissioner.
Further, we realize your role in protecting our national health. In your commanding presence, we used to spend Sundays becoming one with sofas, eating sour-cream-and-onion potato chips and watching maybe nine hours of football in a dangerous sedentariness. In your aching absence, we did the same but for 12 hours, an even more dangerous sedentariness that could hike already outrageous health-care costs by 33 percent.
Indeed, our need for you might be boundless. We love you so, so much.