how a football is made

How is a Football Made?

Football season is in full swing! And while our beloved Chicago Bears upset the San Francisco 49ers in week 1, they couldn’t beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in week 2. We’ll get them eventually, but for now it’s time to look towards the future and hope for a win going into week 3. Football is always our favorite time around the offices. High schools and colleges are back in session with their seasons in full swing, while NFL teams start their march towards the Super Bowl. Programs around the country need help promoting their teams and schools, and we help provide those helmet decals, wall decals, and more! The one thing we don’t provide, however, is the footballs themselves. Just like NBA basketballs, NFL footballs are created to strict design specifications, which help keep the playing field level, in terms of equipment. The football itself should not be a tool used to give one team an edge over another team, which is why “deflategate” with Tom Brady became a talking point in 2015. The controversy surrounding this stemmed from Tom Brady asking ball handlers to release some of the air out of the footballs used in the AFC Championship game. By releasing some of the air from the balls it allowed Brady and his receivers to be able to grip the ball better than if it was inflated to its proper specifications. This is the exact reason why it’s important for the NFL, and it’s production partners, to adhere to the strict specifications designed for the footballs used during the games. So, what are these specifications and how exactly are footballs made?

Making of an NFL Football

The Leather

Just like NBA basketballs, all of the leather used for NFL footballs comes from the Horween Leather Co. in Chicago. Horween has been the supplier of the leather used in NFL footballs since the 1940’s and is the sole supplier of leather for Wilson sporting goods. The leather for NFL footballs is put through a tanning process as well as a process to ensure that it meets the proper requirements for thickness and weight. While the leather is supplied by Horween Leather, that leather is cut into shape and stitched by Wilson at one of their factories.

Size, Shape, and Construction

The size and shape of the NFL football has not changed since the very first Super Bowl game. Each football measures 71 centimeters long and 55 centimeters wide at its widest. It also weighs approximately 425 grams. Each football is created by stamping out 4 pieces of leather which are then sewn together by one piece of continuous lace. This lace is used to create more than 250 stitches through the 16 lace holes that make up the football. This entire stitching process is done by hand, but there are some parts of the process that are done by hand driven machine. Any stamping or foil that is being added to the balls for design are done before the pieces are stitched together. This process is done by a machine which stamps in whatever logos the NFL wants on their balls as well as embossing them with foil coloring.

Sewing the Football

While the lacing on the football is all done by hand, the process of sewing together the 4 pieces of the ball is done by an industrial sewing machine. Glue is also put in place near the thread in order to ensure that the balls are properly sealed and keep their shape. After the sewing is complete the balls need to be turned right-side out, as they are inside out up until this point so that the stitching isn’t visible outside.

Bladder and Lacing

After the ball is sewn together the bladder is added to the inside. The bladder is the rubber material that is used to hold the air inside the football when blown up. As the bladder is being inserted the lacing is being started. The lacing process is done entirely by hand and needs to adhere to the exact number of laces.

Shaping and Quality Assurance

The next step in the process is to shape the ball. Each ball is put into a shaping device which fills the ball up to 120psi as the machine keeps the ball in shape. This allows the ball to be the exact shape and dimension that the NFL requires. After the balls have been brought back down to 13 psi and removed from the shaping machine, they are ready for the NFL… but not before one last quality assurance check to ensure that every ball used the NFL meets the exact size and weight requirements put forth in the rules. So next time you watch a football game, keep in mind the number of steps it takes to make a football and how many actual people are touching it by hand before it reaches the quarterback.
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