CANTON, Ohio — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith each grabbed a side of the massive 300-page collective bargaining agreement between the players and league owners and exchanged a relieved handshake while posing for the cameras.
And just like that, 4 ½ months of acrimony, anger and posturing from both sides during the protracted NFL lockout was over.
Smith and Goodell signed the new CBA on a makeshift stage on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Friday morning, a largely ceremonial gesture after the players agreed to ratify the 10-year agreement Thursday night.
Still, there was a sense of relief from both Smith and Goodell, who shook hands three times during the brief signing and even hugged after spending nearly half a year in tense negotiations haggling over a new way to distribute the NFL's massive revenue stream.
"We're all relieved because football is back," Goodell said. "That's what our fans want, and that's what we all want and we're thrilled that we got it done."
One fan shouted "thank you" to Smith as he took his seat, with Smith answering "more than welcome."
Following the signing both men glad-handed their way to the NFL Network's set inside the Hall of Fame Gallery. With the busts of Hall inductees serving as a backdrop, Smith and Goodell detailed the sometimes difficult journey to the new deal.
Neither pointed to a breakthrough moment in the lengthy talks, instead crediting leadership on both sides for being able to find common ground so the 2011 season could be saved.
Goodell said a small group of player representatives and owners did the leg work of putting aside the considerable differences between the two groups and focusing on the future.
"There was a tremendous amount of respect and an attempt to find solutions," Goodell said. "Once we understood each other and we understood that that was what we were there for, we got it done."
Both Goodell and Smith were vague on the possibility of HGH-testing. Smith called it "something to be strived for," with Goodell adding "''we're going to get it done but we want to get it done right."
Testing could begin by the start of the regular season, though the specifics are still being worked on, as are several other details. It didn't stop Smith from celebrating a "joyous" day. The process has turned him into a celebrity of sorts, and he spent several minutes posing for pictures with fans before being whisked away in a van.
Though the players were eager to get back to work, not every team walked in lockstep to ratify the CBA.
The Pittsburgh Steelers voted no, citing the rushed nature of the deal — the Steelers didn't receive a copy until 3 p.m. — and the agreement's inability to address Goodell's role as judge and jury for on-the-field discipline.
"We felt it was shoved down our throats," Pittsburgh defensive tackle Willie Colon said Thursday.
Smith declined to discuss Pittsburgh's vote. NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said simply "we're happy to be back playing football."
Asked if the NFLPA viewed the defending AFC champion's decision to vote against the deal as a protest, Atallah said, "ask (Steelers player representative) Ryan Clark."
Clark said he wouldn't discuss the outcome of the vote, though both he and Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch acknowledged there were some players on the 90-man roster who were not in favor of the deal.
Not that it mattered to Scott Hill and Mike Bond, longtime Denver Bronco fans who made their way to Canton to watch former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe's enshrinement on Saturday.
Neither Hill nor Bond felt the season was in danger, figuring once both sides realized what was at stake they'd come to their senses.
"It cost the Hall of Fame game, it cost nothing more," Hill said. "There was a lot of stuff in the press to try and get us worried, but until it got to the point where it was actually going to matter, there was no reason to get worried. ... This, this was all made up."
Maybe, but the league didn't do quite enough to appease Tony Dearing. The Hall of Fame game's cancellation means Dearing won't be able to throw a little cash into 8-year-old daughter Peyton's college fund.
Dearing spends every Hall of Fame weekend at his father-in-law's house on Blake Ave., which sits across the street from Fawcett Stadium, the site of the Hall of Fame game each year.
The family sells water and lemonade to fans and offers a handful of prime parking spots for $10. Dearing estimates he deposits between $300-$350 into his daughter's college account when the weekend is over.
This weekend, instead of working during the game, the family will hold a reunion of sorts instead.Comment on this story
"What upsets me is not that the game was canceled, it's that they didn't do something else," Dearing said. "You could still put together a concert with some well-known artists and have a good time."
Instead the Hall will offer a tailgate party with several Hall of Famers mingling in the crowd. It's not bad, but it's not a game.
Then again, it could be worse. There could be no football at all. Instead, the nation's most popular sport will have labor peace for a decade. Goodell isn't sure he'll have the job the next time a new CBA
"I think the most important thing is always listen to one another and find solutions," Goodell said. "One of the things I think we understand is that we're better off working together, we can create a better environment for everybody, most specifically the game and our fans."