Author's Note: Hello everyone! After almost 2 years, I'm finally back with a story about the team finding out about Tony's basketball and football career at Ohio State. This story is complete and will be 6 chapters long. I will post once or twice a week. A few disclaimers: I have made up Tony's athletic career - I don't know what positions he played or how good he actually was according to the show. I tried to make it believable, but this is fiction, so some details may be off. I am also aware that ESPN does not air the Final Four games and that they have not done a TV special about Anthony DiNozzo, but in my little world, they have ;) I hope you enjoy the story.
When He Bled Scarlet and Gray
"Yes, this is Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, what can I do for you?" Tony's easygoing voice greeted a caller as he relaxed into his desk chair, hoping someone was finally getting back to him with a lead.
There was nothing unusual about the situation. The team was working on cold cases that week—Director Vance's version of a well-deserved rest. The members of Team Gibbs were periodically making and fielding phone calls to and from different parties, trying to find any leads associated with the mountain of cold case files piled away in the archives.
McGee and Ziva barely glanced up as Tony continued his conversation.
"Man, you guys really are persistent." Tony replied to whatever the caller had requested. His tone was still light, his posture still relaxed, nothing visible or audible to alert his teammates to how uncomfortable he actually was.
Damn whatever government policy had mandated that, as a federal agent, his work line had to be listed publicly, he thought. While he supposed the statute had its benefits, it also meant that practically anyone could contact him at work, as long as they knew he was an NCIS agent.
"Well, like I told the last lady," he began, the frustration starting to ring through in his voice, catching the attention of both Ziva and McGee, who were desperately seeking something to focus their attention on other than cold cases. "I'm not interested, and no matter how many times you call, I still won't be interested…"
He paused for a moment as the woman responded, before snapping back, "No, you cannot use that as a quote!"
Tony realized that his statement diverted all attention onto his conversation. He watched as McGee's eyes narrowed in part concern, part curiosity.
Ziva gave a small smirk, but inside she couldn't help a small pang of anxiety for her partner. Tony was quite obviously flustered by whoever was calling. She wondered if it had anything to do with his current cold case, or if it was something more personal. She guessed it was the latter.
"Yeah, I get that. I know what it's for and I thank you, but it's not happening. I'm not interested." Tony reiterated, slamming the phone down.
He took a couple of deep breaths before looking up and realizing that both Ziva and McGee were looking at him.
"Ex-girlfriend." He shrugged, shifting back to his file a little too quickly. Then, as if realizing how weak of an explanation that was, he gave a smug and suggestive smile. "She was apparently very impressed with our last encounter, wanted a little more of the DiNozzo package." He waggled his eyebrows.
"Tony DiNozzo, saying no to a woman who wants more?" Ziva called him out, knowing full well that although Tony had indeed been talking to a woman, she was not just a jaded lover or a desperate girl looking for more.
"She wasn't my type." Tony said quickly, inwardly cringing at how incredibly lame his excuses were becoming.
"Come on, Tony. We weren't born yesterday, who was it really?" McGee pressed, curious about what had made his teammate so disconcerted in such a short time.
"It was Wendy, was it not? Will we be working with her again?" Ziva asked playfully, trying to figure out what was going through Tony's head.
"You won't be working with anyone if I don't start seeing some progress on those case files." Gibbs interrupted their interrogation, sweeping in, in his usual dramatic fashion.
Muttered excuses were silenced with a glare as each of the three agents went back to their respective cases. They all knew the questioning would resume sometime soon, once their boss was out of earshot.
It was Tony's turn to get lunch that day, and so as early afternoon rolled around, the senior field agent grabbed his cell and his keys. "Lunch special at Antonio's today-authentic lasagna directly from the home land!" he announced.
"All the way from Long Island?" McGee quipped, quickly pointing out that no matter how proud Tony was of his Italian heritage, he was still born in America.
"Funny, McGee, funny." Tony said good-naturedly. "Just for that, I'm not bringing you the garlic bread."
"I was just kidding Tony!" McGee scrambled, craning his neck to catch his partner's eye before he disappeared into the elevator. "Seriously! You know I love their garlic bread!" He slumped in his seat. "Do you think he heard me?" He asked Ziva, half joking, half serious.
"I have no doubt he heard you, McGee," Ziva replied with a small, knowing smile.
"But that doesn't mean he won't carry out his threats." McGee almost deflated, unsure of whether his teammate would show him any mercy. He looked up at Ziva. "You'll share yours, won't you?"
"Not a chance, McGee. You know how much I enjoy Antonio's garlic bread," she teased.
They silently worked for a few more minutes before Ziva spoke up. "McGee, did you not think it was odd, the way Tony reacted to that call?"
"You mean this morning?" McGee clarified.
"Yes, this morning! It is not as if–wait, have there been other calls?" Ziva asked.
"Well, yeah. A few, I think. Tony's never been that loud about it though. I figured it was something with his father." McGee said, now thinking back to that morning.
"I am concerned. It is best that there are no secrets among teammates—we have seen what has happened when Tony has kept us out of the hoop before."
"Loop." McGee corrected automatically. "And that's not really fair, Ziva. He was under orders not to tell anyone."
"Not Gibbs' orders." Ziva replied quickly, causing McGee to give her an odd look.
"Look, I just think you're being hard on him. If it's our business, Tony will tell us." McGee calmly stated.
"I do not like it." Ziva said, still uneasy.
Just then, Tony's phone rang, and Ziva's head shot up, her eyes zeroing in on the phone.
"Ziva…" McGee warned. "Ziva…no, no…that's Tony's phone…"
Ziva was already out of her seat. "It is not as if Tony has never dug into our lives, McGee," she hissed, reaching for the phone.
"Agent DiNozzo's desk," she greeted sweetly, ignoring McGee's horrified look.
"Yes, hi. Is this Mr. DiNozzo's publicist speaking?" the voice on the other line asked.
"His publicist?" Ziva repeated, shooting a confused look at McGee. "No, I am his partner. Agent DiNozzo is currently unavailable, but is there any way I can assist you?" McGee recognized right away her attempt to find out exactly who had been calling their partner. His initial horrified reaction was starting to lessen into an insatiable curiosity.
"Oh…I see." The woman on the other line sounded confused. "Well, we have called several times before, and we are approaching our deadline…I was just calling to ask Mr. DiNozzo if he would reconsider our interview request."
"I will pass that onto him," Ziva assured. "May I ask who I am speaking with?"
"Oh, my apologies, Miss-?"
"David," Ziva supplied.
"Miss David. My name is Evelyn. I am calling from ESPN. Could you please have Mr. DiNozzo call me back as soon as possible? He has our number."
"Yes, of course. He will contact you shortly," Ziva said, still no closer to having any idea of who was trying to contact her partner.
"Thank you, have a good day," Evelyn said, hanging up quickly.
McGee raised his eyebrows at his partner in question. "Well, who was it?"
"Her name was Evelyn. She was calling about an interview. She said she was from 'ESPN', but I have never heard of that place. Perhaps Tony was following a lead there…"
"Wait. ESPN? As in, the sports channel?" McGee asked.
"I do not know, McGee. I do not own a television. But I thought…ESP was that thing, you know, when you can communicate with someone without words…"
"Well, you said it was ESPN, Ziva, not ESP. There's quite a difference."
"A difference between what?" a familiar voice interrupted.
Ziva whirled around. "Palmer, hello."
"Hi Ziva; is Tony back from Antonio's yet? He promised me he'd bring me McGee's garlic bread." He turned to McGee. "I can't believe you didn't want yours, it's amazing!"
McGee let out a deep sigh, "I do…" he pathetically tried to protest, before seeing it was useless.
"What do you have for us, Palmer?" Ziva asked, gesturing to the piece of paper Palmer was holding almost reverently.
"Oh, it's my bracket! I've been so busy with our last case and then I had three midterms last week so I completely forgot to update it, but Doctor Mallard gave me the morning off, and I finally had time to look at it, and I just had to show Tony! I got every team in the Final Four right!"
"Seriously?" McGee asked. "Let me see that!" Palmer handed it over, and McGee looked through it in awe.
"I do not understand. What is a 'Final Four'?" Ziva asked.
"Oh Ziva! You're missing out! It's called March Madness. It's a tournament to determine the national champion in college basketball. People all around the country fill out brackets trying to predict who will win each game. It's really hard to pick the Final Four, which are the last four teams left in the tournament. In three more games, we'll have a new national champion."
"My bracket's terrible." McGee muttered, shaking his head. "I'm surprised Tony hasn't asked me about it yet."
"Tony doesn't fill them out. That's why I took his place in his tournament with his frat brothers. Who'd you pick to win it, McGee?"
"Duke," McGee said pathetically. Palmer snickered. "How was I supposed to know they'd lose in the first round?" McGee defended. "Why, who'd you pick?"
"Ohio State, obviously. Though no Ohio State team will ever measure up to Tony's team from 1990. Wow, I still can't believe that ending! Legendary!" Palmer beamed with pride for his friend.
"Tony was in the Final Four?" McGee asked, a little surprised. He knew his partner had played basketball in college, but he'd never heard any stories from Tony's glory days, so he figured there hadn't been much to tell. Either they hadn't been very good, or Tony had been more of a bench warmer than a superstar.
"Tony was a National Champion, McGee!" Palmer exclaimed, before clamming up. "Wait, he didn't ever tell you guys that?"
The two agents shook their heads, clearly taken aback by these new revelations about their friend.
"Why would Tony not tell us this?" Ziva asked.
"Yeah, I would've thought Tony would never stop bragging about it," McGee commented, deep in thought.
Palmer was quiet. He knew the reason Tony never told anyone about it. It brought back painful memories for him. Sports had been Tony's life since he was just four years old. Never feeling very close to his family, he had allowed sports to fill a void. He'd been a star basketball and football player in high school and had received a full ride scholarship to Ohio State to play basketball.
Fall quarter of Tony's freshman year of school, he had realized how much he missed football, and he walked onto the football team as a tight end, showing promise in special teams as well. Between football and basketball, it had been tough to juggle everything, but in the end, he'd settled into the football team as their star kick returner, his speed, agility, and natural instincts making him one of the most dangerous returners in the NCAA.
After football season, he concentrated fully on basketball, where he emerged as the team's star point guard early on in his freshman year. Basketball was his passion. Every time he stepped out onto the court, it was as if he was coming home. He'd never felt that he'd belonged anywhere, until he found the sport of basketball. He had natural talent, he had been athletic his entire life, and he was the hardest worker his coach had ever seen.
He lived and breathed Scarlet and Gray. Even as a freshman, he was one of the leaders in the locker room. His teammates respected him, and that translated into the team's play on the court. Off the court, he liked to enjoy himself—some would say too much—but no one could argue with his results when it mattered.
By his junior year, it was obvious Tony could go pro. Teams were constantly calling him, encouraging him to declare for the NBA draft, and he faced a huge decision.
Before the that year's tournament, he was assured he would go to a team in the first round, which would guarantee him a professional contract, but not necessarily a whole lot of playing time in the first year or two. But after the tournament, after Tony DiNozzo emerged as the heart and soul of Columbus, as the face of Ohio State basketball, there was talk of Tony possibly being the number one pick in the coming NBA draft—that was, if he decided to turn pro.
It had been an arduous decision for Tony, but in the end, common sense, and a love for "old Columbus town", had prevailed, and he'd made the decision to return to Ohio State for his senior season. The hope was to lead the Buckeyes to a repeat national title, as well as to graduate with his peers.
His basketball coach had been wary of Tony playing football at all his senior year, but Tony was a natural competitorand there was no way he was going to shrink away from the gridiron. He wasn't ready to say goodbye to playing in the Shoe just yet—plus, that hated team from up north was scheduled to invade Columbus in November, and Tony was looking forward to being a part of the crushing of their biggest rivals.
Tony had a breakout season in football that year, returning eleven kickoffs for touchdowns, and another five punts, causing quite a few NFL teams to take notice. Tony quickly announced publicly that he had no plans to pursue a career in the NFL—he wasn't one to keep teams waiting for an answer that would never come.
Finally it was time. Beat Michigan Week. The freezing cold jump into Mirror Lake, which Tony watched, but did not participate in, knowing full well that he could not risk his health. The excitement and animosity towards Michigan throughout campus was palpable.
The game itself was intense. A defensive battle, with few first downs, hard-earned yards, and even harder hits. In the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes were down 13-10. Michigan had just scored its first touchdown of the game to put them ahead with less than a minute left. Tony was waiting at the other end zone, ready to provide the spark for the Buckeyes with a game-changing kickoff return.
He caught the ball, he ran, he juked, and then he dropped to the turf, submerged underneath a pile of bodies. Something was wrong. The crowd was cheering, the pile was clearing, but he wasn't getting up. He'd gotten them to midfield—they could almost taste field goal range—but for Tony, the game was over.
That was all Palmer knew. Tony had stopped talking after that, explaining only that some jerk named Brad Pitt, of all people, had taken him out, tearing his 3 of his ligaments and breaking 2 of his bones. He'd done his job—his team went on to tie the game with a field goal, and avoid a loss to their biggest rivals, but the consequences had been enormous for their star kick returner and point guard, Tony DiNozzo.
He never played basketball for his beloved Scarlet and Gray again. He never got a chance to lead his Buckeyes to a repeat. He never got to be a new ray of hope for a struggling NBA team as the number one pick in the draft. Basketball had been his life, and it had been cruelly ripped from him by some punk with a movie star name wearing maize and blue.
"Well, he never actually told me about the National Championship…I kind of already knew," admitted Palmer.
It was true. Palmer had watched the game in real time, had seen Tony DiNozzo become a national celebrity after his incredible performance in the national championship game. He had also seen Tony's career-ending knee injury, and had been devastated to see such an athlete forced into early retirement.
When he'd come to work at NCIS and met Tony DiNozzo, he hadn't even made the connection, that was, until a comment from Abby about Tony's playing days at OSU. He had been shocked and almost ran up to Tony to request an autograph, before realizing how inappropriate that would be.
As he grew closer to Tony, he started feeling tempted to ask, but he could never get it out. Finally, one day after a long case during Gibbs' Mexican hiatus, he'd been at a bar with Tony, and he'd asked. They'd both had a few—Tony probably more than he should—and the whole story came out; not that Palmer hadn't already known the facts, but it meant something to him to actually hear it from his friend.
Tony hadn't asked him to keep it quiet, but he could tell it wasn't a topic of conversation that Tony enjoyed. According to DiNozzo, only Abby and Gibbs knew Gibbs because, well, Gibbs knew everything, and Abby, because she was Tony's best friend, and with a little digging, she'd had him spilling his guts.
But for some reason, Palmer had always thought that McGee and Ziva knew as well—apparently, Tony had only given them the barest of details: "I played basketball for Ohio State." Yeah, that was definitely an understatement.
Palmer knew that it wasn't that Tony didn't want his teammates to find out; he just didn't want their pity, or their questions, or for them to expect him to revisit it. That didn't mean though, that they shouldn't know just how great Tony had been.
He smiled—he just found his newest project.
"I watched Tony play when I was a kid. He was amazing! A true athlete!" He explained. "You know, they're doing a special on the most legendary March Madness moments and players this Saturday, in-between the two Final Four games. I'm watching it over at Abby's place…you two should come!"
The invitation startled the two agents, but not as much as the idea that they were doing a special about Tony on TV that weekend.
"Wait, that's why ESPN called!" McGee gasped. "They want to interview Tony for the show."
"Why did he say no?" Ziva asked.
Both Ziva and McGee turned towards Palmer, who backed up slightly. "Hey, that's Tony's story to tell, not mine." Palmer said. "If you guys really want to know, you should just come over to Abby's on Saturday…I think the show will explain a lot."
Ziva shook her head. "I believe it would be better if I just asked him."
Palmer jumped up. "No!" He settled a little. "I mean, what I mean is, that Tony doesn't like talking about it. He's just gonna push you away. Come to Abby's, watch it with us, learn a little about March Madness, and then if you have any questions for Tony, well, you can ask, I guess. Plus, you'll learn about another American tradition!"
"This March Madness is an American tradition?" Ziva said quizzically.
"Of course! Well, I mean, yeah, I would say so,"Palmer said.
Finally McGee spoke up. "All right. I'll go." He was actually pretty curious about these new stories about his partner. Plus, over the past few years, he'd really started enjoying March Madness, and he couldn't think of a better way to watch the Final Four than with Abby.
Ziva still looked as if she was on the fence. "I do not want Tony to be upset with us," she said.
"He won't. Trust me on this, Ziva. He's okay with people knowing, he just doesn't like to talk about it."
"And he will not be upset that we did not invite him?"
"Ziva, he asked not to come. He told me to 'Pull all my little gremlin friends out of their nerd crevices and converge them in Abby's bat cave.' He's completely okay with it."
Ziva finally nodded. "Okay, I will come."
Palmer smiled. This was the perfect opportunity to show Ziva and McGee a different side of Anthony DiNozzo.
Thank you for reading, and please review! Chapter two will be posted probably around Sunday. Also, yes, I am a Buckeye fan, but other than Duke and Michigan, the teams I picked are totally random and I have nothing against any of them. I picked on Duke because my friend is a Duke fan and I started this story right after they got eliminated (I have no secret hatred for Duke, I promise). And Michigan was chosen for obvious reasons, because they are OSU's big rival and because NCIS has established that Tony was playing Michigan when he hurt his leg. Thank you for reading!