It started with a DM.
"Is this photo legit bro?"
And so landed one of the most confusing photos I've seen in all my years of WhatsApp group chats and Hotmail chains.
A cropped photo showing two Dallas Cowboys, one apparently holding a football, and in the background a headsetted middle-aged man, wearing what looked like an orange glove, and donning the classic 1994-95 Australia A green-and-gold cricket jersey. Shooting stars and all. Under the picture, a caption: I want this guy's autograph. This is the 1996 Super Bowl by the way.
Painfully aware of the Cowboys' tragic trophy drought since the 1995 season, the next move was to check their Super Bowl roster. No. 92 was clear enough to spot, Tony Tolbert. But the player with the ball was either No. 24 or No. 34.
The Cowboys didn't roster the latter that season, leaving us with No. 24: Larry Brown, MVP of Super Bowl XXX.
A Super Bowl MVP? That meant there'd be pictures in the archives.
A quick search in Getty Images for "Larry Brown Super Bowl XXX", a short scroll, and there it was.
Confirmation in all its verified glory.
The original photo.
The first step was ticked off. The photo was real, and someone really had worn that iconic Australia A jersey on the sidelines as Brown raced away with his dynasty-crowning interception for the Cowboys.
But who was this man?
With Ask Jeeves long since retired, there was only one move to make. Ask Twitter.
Alright Twitter we have a legitimate NFL x Cricket mystery to solve:— Laurie Horesh (@LaurieHoresh) January 21, 2020
Who is this absolute hero wearing a 1994/95 Australia A cricket jersey on the sideline of Super Bowl 30, as MVP Larry Brown runs back an interception for the Cowboys?
(Photo: Peter Brouillet/Getty) pic.twitter.com/LBzG4htCjq
The retweets and comments steadily grew, many celebrating this bastion of sporting attire for the pioneer he truly is.
But then came a link to a 2012 ESPN Front Row article about the man in "orange sleeves" seen on Monday Night Football: Dick Shafter, "Timeout Producer" or commercial coordinator, the ad break liaison between the TV truck and the officials.
Now we had the man's job. But was Shafter working the sideline for the 1995 season finale?
After checking with multiple sources, sliding into DMs, calling across the globe, and hearing from Shafter himself, the answer:
So, where to next? Calls to the NFL and emails to NBC provided hope but no firm response.
And then, out of the blue, Twitter came through once again. A sports broadcaster named Paul Merca and a woman named Robin Hadder reached out stating that it was her husband Jimmy, a veteran of eight Super Bowls and current Timeout Producer for CBS, donning the shirt. With that came a phone number, and a text message from across the Pacific. This time the answer was:
Jimmy Hadder, based in Idaho, confirmed that it was him wearing the classic jersey, having spent two years in Australia decades ago.
"I worked in Oz for 2 years and got into the game, BIG TIME!!! Watched International ODIs at every oval except Hobart. Ready for the IPL season.
"BTW, Alan Border [sic] was an overrated player."
Other than affinity for his time on Australia, why that jersey though?
"Both the colors AND the pattern... I have to be seen on the sidelines by the referee.
"I did wear a different Australia ODI shirt for the Super Bowl in Tampa."
And with that, one of the most unique Super Bowl mysteries in Australian sporting culture had been solved, unveiling a fashion hero in Jimmy Hadder, sideline veteran of more than 500 NFL games, and now forever a cult hero on the other side of the world.