To many, they will be remembered as impostors, a band of striped, whistle-blowing charlatans who crept onto the biggest stage in sports for a few weeks of singular and unabated outrage.

For the replacement officials themselves, though, the experience of working at the heart of the N.F.L.’s most recent controversy was more nuanced: refereeing football’s highest level of games will never be forgotten, of course, but neither will the frustration that came with becoming a punching bag for bloggers and broadcasters, players and coaches, television animators and late-night talk show hosts.

“My daughter found the ‘Call Me Maybe’ video they did of us and showed it to me, and I had to laugh,” said Jeff Sadorus, a former college official who worked as a field judge during the recent lockout of the N.F.L.’s regular officials. “Honestly, sometimes during this whole thing it felt like the national pastime in this country had changed from football to bashing replacement officials.”

He added: “Everyone wanted perfection, but come on: the last guy who was perfect they nailed to a cross. And he wasn’t even an official.”

While employed by the league, the replacements were bound by its standard media policy, meaning they could not do interviews even as consternation over their performance grew. With the regular officials returning to work Thursday night, however, Sadorus — who also returned to his job, at a food services company near Seattle — described the up-and-down nature of his N.F.L. tenure in an interview with The New York Times.

Ultimately, he said, it was a dream — “something I had wanted to do forever and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” — but that does not mean it was without difficulty. Sadorus detailed a drama that played out over about four months and included clinics, camps, exhibitions and games, as well as nearly 25,000 miles of travel and the constant awareness that every decision he and his colleagues made was under “unprecedented scrutiny,” according to Commissioner Roger Goodell.

For his work, Sadorus received a generous stipend — $3,000 per game — but had to take with it an unending barrage of criticism, as replacement-official ripping dominated the news media. The replacements were even satirized on the popular animated show “South Park.”

“It was the only thing on TV; it was everywhere,” Sadorus said, adding that now that the lockout is over, he and his colleagues might not even get to keep their league-issued officials shirts. “I think in the contract we signed, it said we had to return the equipment,” he said. “It’s O.K. — I have a lot of stripes.”

As he watched the controversial conclusion to Monday night’s game between Seattle and Green Bay — a disastrous sequence that many believe pushed the labor dispute toward its ultimate resolution — Sadorus felt for the officials involved because he had been in their situation. The night before, he was the official who ruled that a Ravens field goal that went over the top of an upright was good, giving Baltimore a victory over the New England Patriots.

While that call was ultimately shown to be correct, it nonetheless prompted a visceral reaction from the Patriots, including Coach Bill Belichick, who grabbed one of Sadorus’s crew mates as the official ran off the field. Belichick was fined $50,000 by the league.

“Working these games was something I’d wanted to do forever,” Sadorus said, “and there were some incredible moments. But there were also parts of this that I don’t think anyone could have expected.”

The process began, Sadorus said, near the end of May, when he was sent an e-mail from an area scout who was gauging interest from potential replacements. Sadorus — who worked in the Pacific-10 Conference until 2010, occasionally officiated at Seattle Seahawks practices (which drew some attention when he became a replacement), and still officiates high school games — immediately responded positively.

Not long after, he attended a rules clinic and fitness test in Dallas where replacement hopefuls were put through a rigorous running exam — in searing heat — in an attempt to identify the best candidates. Sadorus, who was one of the more experienced officials, made it through the exams and was notified in a mid-July e-mail that he had been placed on a replacement crew. He also received a letter from Goodell, thanking him for his service.

Jack Begg contributed research.

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For a lifelong fan of officials, getting the assignment was heavenly. Sadorus’s father was a college official, and even as a young boy, Sadorus said, he could flip on the TV and immediately identify whether an American Football League or N.F.L. game was on by the types of shirts the officials were wearing.

Sadorus acknowledged that becoming a replacement was a complex professional choice — doing so probably hurt some officials’ chances at working top college games in the future because many N.F.L. referees are also college supervisors — as well as a difficult ethical decision. Those replacements who were friendly with the regular N.F.L. officials beforehand may now have strained relationships.

“We weren’t there to take anyone’s job; we were there to provide a service,” Sadorus said. “The games were going to get done by someone. It’s the old saying: without officials, it’s just recess.”

After being notified of their selection, most of the replacements then spent time officiating at a team’s preseason training camp (Sadorus was with San Francisco). But despite a crash course of instruction, the disparagement of the replacements began early on. Many of the fill-ins had far less experience than Sadorus — some had never worked higher than Division III college games — and it was clear that they were often overmatched by the speed of the N.F.L.

Still, the league defended the replacements vigorously, and Sadorus said they were treated like the regular officials. They spent hours on weekly video review. They had conference calls with supervisors. They did refresher rules quizzes.

In the end, though, they were still skewered, somewhat souring an experience that should have been something closer to a referee’s pinnacle.

“We worked very, very hard,” Sadorus said. “As demonized as we were, I hope people remember that we are people, too.”

Jack Begg contributed research.