Despite a weekend that saw them gain ground on the Packers and Lions helped by gaffes by replacement officials, several Vikings expressed relief Wednesday when news surfaced that the NFL and the referees' union were reportedly nearing an end to a lockout -- an agreement reached late Wednesday night -- that had whipped the nation's football-crazed fans into a Twittered frenzy since the start of the regular season.
"I'm sure a lot of people will be happy," running back Adrian Peterson said in a conference call to reporters in Detroit, where the Vikings play the Lions on Sunday. "And I'll be one of those guys, too."
The NFL and the union reached a tentative agreement around 11 p.m. Central after two days of extensive talks. The eight-year labor deal must first be ratified by the union's 121 members, but the NFL said it planned to have a regular officiating crew work the Ravens-Browns game in Baltimore tonight.
With Week 3 being the final one with replacement officials, the Vikings made out quite well, actually. In fact, they elbowed their way past the Packers and Lions into first place in the NFC North with the help of replacement officials that botched late calls in games involving the Vikings, Lions and Packers. The Vikings survived and upset the heavily favored 49ers, while the Lions lost to a winless team in Tennessee and the Packers fell at Seattle on a controversial game-ending play that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
Still, the Vikings were happy as the lockout was drawing to a close.
"I'm glad it's over," punter Chris Kluwe said. "It was a noble experiment but, I think, ultimately a failed experiment. From what we've seen, it will be good to not have to worry about that when we're on the field."
In their victory Sunday, the Vikings saw the replacement officials give the 49ers two officiating challenges and a timeout that referee Ken Roan later said were mistakes on his part. In Tennessee, the Lions saw the Titans kick a field goal late after officials inadvertently spotted the ball 12 yards closer to the goal line.
And in Seattle on Monday night, the debate about replacement officials and their impact on the integrity of the game exploded when multiple blown calls went against the Packers late in the game, including the ruling as time expired that Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had caught a game-winning touchdown when much of the world -- including one of the officials in the end zone -- thought Green Bay's M.D. Jennings had intercepted the ball.
"That was a tough situation," Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "I'm just glad it wasn't us."
That was a popular feeling at Winter Park as a Vikings team that has lost 11 consecutive division games, including four in a row to Green Bay, seemed to revel in the mighty Packers' misfortune.
"It was the Packers," said running back Toby Gerhart, "So I wasn't all that disappointed."
Meanwhile, asked if he felt bad for the Packers, quarterback Christian Ponder smiled and said, "No. No, I don't."
Ponder said earlier in the day he'd be happy for the lockout to end, but also showed rare empathy for the replacement officials, many of whom come from the small college and high school ranks.
"They're doing the best they can, and you can't blame them for anything," Ponder said. "They're busting their butts to do it. Even when the regular guys come back, they're going to make mistakes as well. So I feel bad for them. I appreciate what they're doing."
Ponder also downplayed the impact of replacement officials when asked if the league was taking a public relations hit for putting replacement officials on the field.
"[The NFL] did the best it could," he said. "And it's worked. We're playing games. We're playing on the field. It's something that's out of our control and we can't worry about."
Ponder definitely was in the minority in that regard as open disgust for the replacement officials and hopes for an end to the lockout spread through the league and its massive fan base.
"I think this made a lot of people aware of just how tough the job of being an referee is," Kluwe said. "You can't just plug someone in and expect them to be able to deal with the speed of the game. So I think this shed some light on what is, a lot of times, a very unrewarding profession."
Staff writer Kent Youngblood and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
NFL, officials reach agreement
An eight-year labor deal was made after a weekend of gaffes by replacement referees drew heavy criticism. Page A1