In the wake of the newest football scandal (centered around who else but the New England Patriots), where it has been reported that 11 of the 12 footballs allotted to the Pats in AFC title game were under-inflated, there has been a heightened focus on the actual ball used in the sport.
As it turns out, those same footballs got their start in Ohio.
Known for harboring the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, the Buckeye State is also home to the world’s only dedicated football factory. In 1955, the Wilson Company opened the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, Ohio. According to the official website, this was done “to ensure that Wilson footballs would not only be American made, but the highest quality footballs ever produced.”
The result? Wilson is the official football of the NCAA and the National Football League, and the NFL is the only major sports league whose balls are manufactured in the United States. Since 1941, each football used in every NFL game has been made by Wilson, and since 1955, those footballs have been coming out of Ada, Ohio.
For anyone wondering: As far as the scandal involving the deflated footballs goes, the Wilson factory had nothing to do with it. Each ball is inspected two hours and 15 minutes before tipoff and must pass certain criteria in order to be deemed play-worthy.
Side quip—too bad they couldn’t give the Browns a friendly home-town advantage with their footballs.
And just how many footballs are needed to fulfill the needs of both the NFL and NCAA (and select high school conferences)?
The factory produces 4,000 footballs a day and over 700,000 a year, but none of them are made via an automated process. Each football is crafted by hand (the factory employs 120 people) to ensure excellence.
Furthermore, the official NFL football has a name.
As stated on the Wilson website, “The NFL first used a ball in honor of Wellington Mara called ‘The Duke’ in 1941 at the suggestion of George Halas (the man who paired the NFL with Wilson), as Tim Mara had helped him arrange for Wilson Sporting Goods Co. to become the league’s official supplier of game balls.”
“The Duke” name was actually discontinued in 1970, as Wilson redesigned their footballs and gave them no official name. However, in 2006 “The Duke” name would return upon the passing of New York Giants owner Wellington Mara. The NFL elected to honor her by bestowing the original “The Duke” name back onto the Wilson Footballs.
So, Ohio’s connection to Football runs deeper than most even realize. And just to clarify, “The Duke” and all other footballs produced at the Wilson football factory are not, and never were, made of pigskin (but rather of Cowhide leather).