Nobody has had anything good to say about the replacement referees who have been cast in the role of incompetent villains since a disputed touchdown call on the final play gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over the Green Bay Packers on national television Monday night.
Reaction to the call was fast and furious.
"It was awful, just look at the replay," said Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.
"I've never seen anything like this in all my years of football," echoed Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.
But now - one of those replacement referees says they saved the whole NFL season.
Mike Peek, a community college teacher in Texas, has more experience than most of his fellow fill-ins - 13 years of Division I college refereeing. He was at Monday night's Seahawks-Packers game, but he didn't make the controversial call and won't second-guess those who did.
Now he's speaking out for the first time.
"To see the game fall apart at the end, it was really one of those things - it'd make you want to go back in the back room and cry a few tears," says Peek. "Somebody asked me if it's a good call or bad call - it depends on where you live. You know, the replacement refs, we were at the mercy of the crowd."
And at the mercy of the nation - even earning a skit on Saturday Night Live.
Despite the outrage and ridicule, Peek says the replacement refs have plenty to be proud of.
"We did what we had to do. We kept the league afloat during the pre-season and during the first few weeks of the regular season," he says.
As for the standing ovation when the real refs returned Thursday, he says, "You know, they're the heroes now. They are the stars, they are the saviors
of the game. I wish them well, I hope they have a great season."
The NFL's referees union agreed to an eight-year labor contract that ended the three-month lockout.