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The Footballs of the Super Bowls
Who Makes the Footballs for American NFL Football Games
The Wilson football factory is the Official NFL football manufacturer. They make over 700,000 leather footballs each year including 228 official NFL footballs used during the Super Bowl. Wilson is the only football only factory in the U.S. and in the world. Wilson started making the Official NFL Game Ball in 1941, and the current factory located in Ada, Ohio began producing these game balls in 1955. Since the first Super Bowl in 1967, Wilson Sporting Goods has produced the footballs for every big game.
The History of Wilson Sporting Goods Company
Wilson Sporting Goods Company manufactures, designs, and distributes sports equipment from tennis rackets to clothing, footwear, balls, and all equipment for sports including tennis, golf, baseball, badminton, basketball, squash, badminton, volleyball, soccer, football, and racquetball. Wilson Sporting Goods Company was founded in 1913 and started out as Thomas E. Wilson Company. The name was changed in 1931. In 1989, a Finnish company, named Amer Sports Corp. bought Wilson Sporting Goods and still owns it today. The factory in Ohio is only football dedicated factory in the world. They have made every single NFL game ball. The first three Super Bowl footballs were made in their Chicago facility. The Ohio factory has been making Super Bowl footballs since 1969.
What Are the Measurements of an Official NFL Football?
The length of the NFL football is 10 7/8 to 11 7/16 inches, (28 to 29 centimeters), long.inches measured from tip to tip. The circumference is 27¾ to 28½ inches (72.4 centimeters) measured along the laces. The circumference is 20¾ to 21¼ (54.6 centimeters) around the thickest side of the ball, and measuring perpendicular to the laces.
American Football, Made in America Footballs
The National Football League is the only U.S. major sports league that makes its balls in the United States. In baseball, the World Series balls are made in a factory in Costa Rica. The National Basketball Association makes its basketballs in China. The footballs made in this Ohio factory also makes the leather footballs sold in retail stores. The synthetic cheaper footballs are made overseas. This factory makes 4,000 footballs a day. Over the year they produce 700,000 footballs.
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Super Bowl Footballs
Are the Super Bowl footballs different from the other footballs for the NFL games throughout the year?
The footballs used in the Super Bowl are specifically made prior to the Sunday game. Every football used during the Super Bowl has the names of the two teams who play printed on it. The balls can’t be made until the winners of the playoffs are determined. Employees show up at the football manufacturing plant during halftime of the second playoff game, and start producing the game balls as soon as the game is over and they will work through the night.
The factory starts production on Sunday night right after the final championship winner has been determined. All the Super Bowl footballs must be in the hands of the teams playing in the Super Bowl within two days, that Tuesday.
By Monday Wilson will have produced 216 footballs. Half of these game balls will go to the NFC winning team, and the other to the AFC team. Each team gets 108 and will set aside 54 for the Super Bowl, and use the other 54 for practice. In total 228 balls are produced specifically for the game. 12 of these footballs are specifically made for the officiating crew with a “K” emblazoned on it. They are put into boxes and sealed with anti tampering tape and sent one week prior to the Super Bowl to the official NFL Super Bowl hotel.
They are then delivered to the hotel room of the officials about two and a half hours before the start of the kickoff of the game. The 54 game balls that were set aside for the game are presented to the officials on Super Bowl Sunday and inspected. A special DNA ink is put on the laces to show they are the actual balls used on the field for the big game. This authentication avoids fakes from being sold in the market.
These balls will used for place kicks and for kickoffs. Some of these footballs will be taken out of game and sent to the Hall of Fame or given to the teams as part of the team’s trophy cases. After the game balls are made, the factory starts going into mass production for retail sale.
In total they produce 10,000 to 20,000 leather footballs for retail sale, depending on the demand. In addition to NFL footballs, this factory produces footballs for college games, high school, and youth leagues throughout the year. Every single NFL football used from pre season through the Super Bowl is exactly the same. The only exception are the special balls marked with a “K” for the Super Bowl kickers. Super Bowl balls are closely monitored to prevent any team from tampering or changing the footballs in any way prior to the Super Bowl game.
The National Football League first started imprinting the Super Bowl logo and the names of the teams on the footballs in 1986. Since then, the Super Bowl footballs have been mandated by the NFL to have be imprinted with both teams names on the game balls. This makes the Super Bowl footballs different than the typical game ball.
The Making of a Football
How are Footballs Made?
The Wilson football factory makes footballs almost by hand.
A football starts out with large long sheets of cowhide that have been cured, tanned, and pebbled to the specifications the Wilson Corporation has set up with the “W” for Wilson embossed on the cowhide. Using a giant type of cookie cutter shaped the size of a football, the football is cut from the leather. A machine stamps the flat shaped footballs with the names of the two teams, the NFL logo with black or gold foils, the date and location and the names of the teams who are playing each other.
Then the two upper panels of the ball are fed into a machine that makes the holes for the laces. The leather panels are attached to a rigid lining to it to help keep the football form. This lining is the backbone of the whole football. Then all the panels are sewn together, inside out, on sewing machines and the football begins to take shape. The balls are sewn inside out to hide the seams and protect the stitches.
All the official footballs used for NFL, college, and high school games are sewn using a specific lock stitch machine so that each stitch is locked into place. Should one stitch come undone, the whole ball will not unravel. The balls are turned outward by putting them into a steam box to soften and then turned outward by hand, with a metal rod and a lot of arm strength. Then a bladder is inserted inside so that the football and the balls are partially inflated so they can be laced up. Then the football is molded so the ball will get it proper shape. An inflating pin is put in the football and it is filled with high pressure.
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Every Super Bowl Football is Inspected
Prior to the NFL championship games, Wilson produces a few dozen balls with the possible team match ups. Some of these footballs are sent to the sportscasters on television who will show the official Super Bowl balls with the actual teams who will be opposing each other right after the championship games have ended.
The balls are inspected, weighed, measured, and checked for flaws. The seams of the four panels need to meet in a perfect cross at both corners. Any imperfections and the ball is removed from Super Bowl contention and marked for retail. The Super Bowl balls use only the balls made to perfection. There are 16 lace holes on an NFL game ball. Each football is approved as an official game ball, all with the same weight and size. The minute a ball hits the football field, it is authenticated.