A series of controversial calls

Tony Stravnicki is an old school, life is black and white, assistant coach who lives for the game, often to the detriment of his family. After a difficult loss, he is fed up and suspicious about the number of controversial calls against his players which change the outcomes of games. Is it his coaching, bad luck or something else? He intends to find out whether “We’re being played”.

An unknown adversary

What he doesn’t know is that he’s up against a sinister group manipulating the sport, where blackmail, physical violence and murder are tools…and No One will get int their way.

A high stakes gamble

As he searches for the truth, his family’s safety, his values and his job are all under siege. How much is he willing to risk and how will this change him?

THE HIDDEN GAME explores the contentious relationship between a sport as a game about hard work, discipline and team effort as opposed to a massive entertainment business, carefully orchestrated for maximum ratings and profit.

Reader Views

"…THE HIDDEN GAME by Richard Donald Groves is a thriller about modern pro football….He has a unique gift to see “the big picture” of a situation and to deliver an intricate plot with a lot of moving parts.”

Reader Views

Nelson R. Gomm

"…THE HIDDEN GAME presents the reader with a complex story of one man’s quest to solve a problem while facing continued resistance. The interleaved events woven into the story are so realistic you feel as though you’re there.”

Nelson R. Gomm

Samuel G. Tooma author THE SOOF

"…THE HIDDEN GAME grabbed my attention on page one, had me hooked by page three, and kept me enthralled to the last page.”

Samuel G. Tooma


Sunday October 13, 2018 3:15 PM

AS SIDE JUDGE FRANK OHLENDORF walked over to the meeting of the other officials, a deep, gnawing pain gripped his stomach and an icy shudder ran down his body. I have to maintain control. I didn’t think I would feel this way.

As an NAFL official with thirteen years experience, he had received many accolades for his cool decisions in pressure situations when much was at stake. His mind had tried to tell him that today would be no different, that his calls would be just like all the other ones he had ever made and would not cause suspicion. How wrong he had been in thinking it wouldn’t bother him to compromise his integrity this way.

I’m in control. This is just another game. No different.
The officials were waiting for him, impassive looks but questioning eyes.
“Number 32, pass interference. No question about it.”

As he had done two other times today, he stated this decisively and looked into the eyes of each official after he said it, daring them to challenge him. None did. The head official simply said, “Okay, Frank. You were the only one in position to see it.”

Frank jogged back to where the flag lay, its yellow cloth in vivid contrast to the dark green turf. He ignored the hostile, glaring looks from the defensive team.

His heart rate slowed as the wave of emotion passed. Focused again, he allowed himself a slight sigh of relief. I got away with it again. He picked up the flag as the referee keyed his mike and said authoritatively:

“Pass interference, number 32, the ball will be placed at the spot of the foul. First down.”

The disapproval of the home crowd was instantaneous and the crescendo of the noise reached an almost unbearable level. Houston scored on the next play, taking the lead, which they never relinquished.

After the game Frank quickly left the field, down the narrow but brightly lit corridor lined past impassive security guards, to the referee’s locker room. He exchanged nods with one he recognized. Thank God for NAFL security, so I don’t have to worry about problems from teams, aggressive media or upset fans. He changed, not bothering to shower, avoiding contact with other referees, and took the exit used exclusively by VIPs, this one guarded by police, where his limo with tinted glass waited to take him to the airport. As a senior official, he was awarded this highly prized perk and it was very useful today.

His head was spinning as the driver pulled away from the stadium and the first thing he tried to do was to pour himself a stiff Johnny Walker Black from the well stocked bar. This was no easy task as his shaking hands were almost uncontrollable. He pounded down the first one, not bothering with ice, wincing at the burn in his throat but grateful for the anticipated effect.

The second one, over rocks, he savored more leisurely. The thirty five minute ride to the airport could not go by fast enough, but he slowly began to relax with relief that his covert job for today was done. There would be other “jobs”; he would be contacted soon enough.

Four minutes later his burner phone rang. That was fast. Ignoring it was not an option.

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Meet the Author

Richard “Dick” Groves is retired from a thirty-eight-year career in Navy and private practice dentistry.

A lifelong football fan, his debut novel combines his love of the sport and his passion for writing crime suspense and mystery. THE HIDDEN GAME explores an ongoing controversy with the sport and how one man must decide how much he is willing to risk and how this will change him.