'Real' refs get heroes' welcome before Ravens' win

Referee Gene Steratore talks to booth officials before

Referee Gene Steratore talks to booth officials before a game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns in Baltimore. (Sept. 27, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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BALTIMORE -- Referee Gene Steratore turned on his microphone to greet the captains of the Browns and Ravens for the pregame coin toss last night.

"Good evening, men," Steratore said. "It's good to be back."

The stadium erupted in a roar. Yes, the real refs are back.

The Ravens (3-1) held off the 0-4 Browns, 23-16, as Joe Flacco threw for one touchdown and ran for another. Cornerback Cary Williams' 63-yard interception return for a TD made it 23-10 with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.

Rookie Brandon Weeden, who threw for 320 yards, got the ball at his 10-yard line with about a minute to go and drove to the Ravens' 18. His pass sailed out of the end zone as time expired.

Steratore and his seven-man crew donned their familiar stripes for the first game of Week 4 after three weeks of replacement officials created moments of chaos. For a change, everyone on all sides was happy to see the familiar faces they usually love to boo.

"You know we always pride ourselves in being a face without a name," Steratore, a 10-year league veteran, told The Associated Press about an hour before kickoff.

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"This will be a little different, but I don't expect it to last too long. And that's the goal -- is that we can let them get through that portion of this. It's happy to be back, it's happy to be appreciated. But then as soon as the game starts, it's happy to disappear again and let the entertainers entertain."

The welcome-back love began early. About an hour before kickoff, the officials walked on the field and heard cheers from the early arrivals. A few minutes later, Steratore was shaking hands with Browns coach Pat Shurmur near midfield and getting a hug from the Ravens' Ray Lewis at the 30-yard line.

Later, when the crew returned, they walked on the field and received a standing ovation and doffed their caps to the crowd. One fan held a sign that read: "Finally! We get to yell at real refs! Welcome back!"

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