) -- The National Football League Players Association has unanimously ratified a collective bargaining agreement to end the lockout and start the pro football regular season as scheduled.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who represents team owners, and the players' union chief DeMaurice Smith agreed to terms that were reworked after an owner proposal last week left some issues unresolved that were needed to satisfy players.

"It's been a long time coming, and football's back," Goodell said at a press conference.

Owners and player representatives emphasized the crucial role that New England Patriots' owner Robert Kraft played in bridging the gap to come to an agreement. The gesture struck an unusually personal tone, as Kraft's wife, Myra, died of complications from cancer on July 20.

"We couldn't have done it without you," DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director, said to Kraft.

Kraft apologized to football fans for the fact that negotiations had been about the business of football and not about the people who pay to watch the game.

Smith also addressed NFL fans: "And most of all, I dig our fans who love our game."

Teams could begin signing 2011 draft picks by Tuesday, and training camps could begin as early as Wednesday.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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