Digital DNA - Chapter 5: The Interception

(This is Chapter 5 of a seven-part short story by David Grant) 

After three weeks of playoff games, the teams that would meet for the IFL title were set. The Surfers would play the Ranchers for the big trophy. Chip would finally get his chance to bring an IFL championship to Texas, or so he hoped. He just had to figure out if Bev would play strategy mind games with him the week prior, just to fluster him up.

It hardly seemed like it had been a year since the last State of the League address. Roger was getting ready backstage when his PDA buzzed with an incoming email: “contact Zebra1 at once," was the message. Roger stepped outside and called the number for Zebra1. Someone answered on the other end. “Hello?” “RB?” “Yes, what is it?” “Just wanted you to know that a call came in after a playoff game from Mindy at DTN.” “What did she want?” Roger asked. “She said she and her staff saw time-code on what they believed to be the raw video feed and wondered how that could be.” “What did you tell them?” Roger asked. “Mindy was told that footage is sent to the Hall before they get it, so it’s not really the actual live game footage, although it is from the live game.” “Well, that’s as clear as mud,” Roger said. “Well, hopefully they won’t ask any more questions,” Roger said, and hung up.

As Roger made his way to the podium with the usual applause from the crowd, he noticed the DTN crew in the back covering the event. The lighting needed for the high definition television cameras coming from the portable DTN studio was flooding the area around the stage, and there were huge boxes, monitors, cables and cords all around. As he got to the podium, he was sensing the knot from his tie, and it felt like a noose around his neck. His expertly tailored suit suddenly felt like a coat of amour from the middle ages. He could feel perspiration on his back, from the lights he thought, and he was beginning to feel a bit nauseous. For the first time in his 11-year tenure as commissioner, Roger felt tired and wondered how long he could stay on the job. He even momentarily thought of announcing his retirement right there, but decided against it and continued to address the audience.

“Good morning, everyone, and thank you for attending another State of the League address.  Once again I can assure you that the league is in good health financially, and that we have plans to expand overseas. The data center that was mentioned last year has opened at the Hall of Fame to rave reviews by the fans. Certainly, television revenue, merchandising sales, as well as our charitable partnerships, are all strong and viable.” Without finishing the rest of his speech, Roger simply stopped and said, “Thank you all for coming today, and we’ll see you at the game on Sunday.” Roger then left the podium. Shouts for questions went unacknowledged as he retired backstage, escorted by security. The explanation from league sources for the commissioner’s quick exit was that he wasn’t feeling well.

As reporters wrapped up for the day, Molly, back on the beat after missing last year’s address, moved toward the door. “Hi, Molly!” “Rich! What are you doing here?” “I work with DTN now, and we are covering the meeting today, what about you?” “I work for the Bulletin as a sports reporter, just covering the beat, you know.” “Wow, that is fantastic. How long has it been?” Rich asked. “You mean since you dumped me?” Molly laughed. “I didn’t really dump you, Molly; you fell in love with that vacuum sales guy.” “He’s a doctor, thank you very much, and I’d say I did alright.” The two laughed. “So, who is this with you, is it the good doctor?” “Oh gosh no, this is Bill Stimes, he is helping me today carry all this equipment, since I don’t have all my strength back from having quintuplets,” Molly said.

“Seriously? Quintuplets, wow, I had no idea,” Rich lamented. “No, not really,” Molly added. “Just baby number two!” Determined to end the chit-chat, Bill took the conversation in another direction. “Say Rich, I have a question for you, just an observation, I guess.” “Sure, what is it, Bill?” “I was watching a playoff game, and I thought it was odd that at the beginning of the game, one of the linebackers standing on the sideline, well, his pants were dirty, and the teams hadn’t even played a down yet. What do you make of that?” “Could be he got some dirt during warm-ups. You know how nutty linebackers are, who knows what they think or do.” “Yeah, probably so. Well Rich, nice to meet you.” “You too, Bill, and Molly, nice to see you again.” “Bye, Rich.”

“Hey, Rich!” Keith barbed out. “Yeah Keith, what is it?” “News reports are coming in about some of the video that we broadcast.” “Cool, the critics like us, huh?” “No, that’s not it,” replied Keith. “They think some game clips you edited are out of place.” “Keith, I know I am a rookie in the booth, but I know how to edit digital video now.” “Yeah, but come here, look at this.” Rich and Keith went to the monitors as the network re-broadcast Football Today to fill airtime. “Mindy first mentioned this too, check it out.” “Look at the linebacker, he has dirt on his pants.” “Yeah, I see it, so what is your point?” Rich asked. “If you look here 16 seconds later, the same player who has not been in the game yet: look, no dirt.” Rich began to wonder if Bill’s comments had some value. Something didn’t seem to add up, he thought. He arranged for Bill to meet him at the booth to take another look at the video.

“What do you think, Bill?” Rich asked. “Odd, very odd,” Bill mussed. “Could it be some sort of broadcast time delay, like they use now to filter out unacceptable content?” Bill asked. “What unacceptable content is there about a linebacker standing on the sidelines?” asked Rich. “Good point,” Bill stated. “You know, several things don’t add up,” Bill said. “What do you mean?” Rich asked. “Well, for starters, the weird way in which last year’s announcement about the new Hall of Fame data center came out. Odd, really odd. Usually the IFL can’t wait to make an announcement, and they do so with cake and balloons and ridiculous broo-ha-ha, but not this time.”

“I’ve been doing some research for a story the Bulletin is working on about how the casinos in the Valley seem to be losing a lot of money on IFL games this season. That’s a real coincidence, don’t you think?” Bill asked. “And there is one other thing, too,” Bill said. “What’s that?” Rich asked. “Those funny numbers under your video there. They exist where the linebackers pants are dirty and not where his pants are clean.” “Time-code!” Rich gasped. “Time-code?” Bill asked. “Bill, give me your business card, and I’ll be in touch.” Then Rich hurried off to make a call.
The phone rang early in Bev Lawson’s office. “Hello, this is Beverly.” “Bev, this is Rich Hamilton.” “Rich, how are you? How are things going at the network?” “Just fine, thank you. Hey, I need to talk to you about something, can we meet?” “Um, yeah sure, I guess. When is good for you?” “How about tomorrow?” Rich asked. “Wow, do you want to suit up for Sunday’s game and make a comeback? Chip would love me for that!” “No, actually I need to talk to you about something private.” “Well, ok, I’ll have Medina pick you up at the airport tomorrow.” “Thanks Bev, see you then."

David Grant is a former NCAA official and currently resides in southern California. He is the site's NFL Briefs writer.

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