Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Traditional and Modern Methods of Football Signal Jamming

Those of you that are football fans probably watched the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots play last Sunday. On the first play of the fourth quarter, New England Quarterback Tom Brady threw a successful 14 yard pass to receiver Randy Moss. What was interesting about this play was the crowd noise. If you watched the game on CBS you heard A LOT of noise before and during the play and a noticeable lack of noise immediately after Moss had caught the ball. Here's a clip on YouTube of the play and the catch.

In no way am I implying that the Colts cheated in any way! Crowd noise is one of the home field advantages and is an old-fashioned attempt at lowering the audio signal to noise ratio (SNR). I covered signal to noise ratio in another blog on Monday.

Here's how crowd noise reduces the audio SNR - the visiting team quarterback is calling signals and the crowd is making noise. If the signal (quarterback) strength is weak compared to the noise (crowd) the rest of the offensive team has trouble hearing the signals. The more noise the better as far as home teams are concerned - It's perfectly legal this year in the NFL with a rule change this past spring eliminating a five yard defensive penalty (rarely called in the past) for excessive crowd noise.

Let's get back to the Colts/Patriots game - was the crowd noise amplified or enhanced in some way at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis on Sunday? It appears not - the enhancement was done by CBS for the television viewers. The NFL quickly released a statement on their website, here's a piece of that release:

CBS has informed us that the unusual audio moment heard by fans during the Patriots-Colts game was the result of tape feedback in the CBS production truck and was isolated to the CBS broadcast. It was in no way related to any sound within the stadium and could not be heard in the stadium.

That takes care of the crowd noise - now let's consider the wireless communications systems used at the game. In his press conference after the game, New England coach Bill Belichick said the wireless communications system between the coaches and quarterback Tom Brady was "basically useless". Here's a quote from an AP piece published on Yahoo News:

..... Belichick said he was more concerned with communication problems he said existed between Patriots coaches and Brady.

"Basically, we didn't have a coach-to-quarterback operation, so we had to signal in all of the plays, which is unusual, but that's the way it was," he said. "What all was going on, I can't tell you, but I can tell you that, from a functional standpoint, the coach-to-quarterback was basically useless."

Here's where my mind is going...... I've written about wireless jammers over the past couple of days here and have discussed devices that are small enough to fit inside a pack of cigarettes to ones that are large enough to kill cell phones in large banquet halls. Could a fan smuggle in a jammer with some kind of directional antenna that could be aimed at the sidelines of the opposing team? I'm not accusing anyone of any kind of crime but I believe it may be theoretically possible. I also know nothing about security at NFL games and have not attended one in the past couple of years.

But...... Would a stadium security person have any idea what a jammer was?

And..... Could one be disguised and built into something like a portable TV set that I've seen fans bring to games in the past?

I do think if I was an NFL coach I'd go back to wired headsets and hand signals to my quarterback until these issues get resolved.

1 comment:

Mark Viquesney said...

Just because your Patriots forgot to put batteries in their headsets...

The truth is stranger than fiction - you bring up some good possibilities and I would not put it past some of the rabid NFL fans to help their team. Unless teams start bringing out monitoring devices of signals, they will only be able to speculate.