Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wilson Footballs and the NFL

I recently saw an official NFL football that had been used in a game and was given to the parents of a serviceman who had died in the line of duty. It was given to the officer's mom and dad by a Bears player and it was obviously something they treasured very very dearly. There was a question that the mom had concerning some numbering on the ball and I wrote Wilson to figure it out and they were kind enough to provide an answer.

I suppose for some people, the mere mention of markings on a football may seem a trivial topic in the face of tragedy. Yet, sports often invokes powerful feelings and profound meaning for fans. In sports, there is often relief to those who are suffering and inspiration for those who are feeling unimportant. For many others it just takes them away from the cares of everyday world.

I can remember my dad at a stage in his life when he was battling disease, sitting in front of the TV set during a heavyweight boxing bout moving his shoulders back and forth unconsciously mimicking the moves of one of the fighters. During football games you might see him thrust forward in his chair to add strength to a quarterback sneak on third and one. At one time he had been an athlete himself and he could somehow relive it watching sports on TV. I have come to understand that even things that might seem trivial can connect us with those things we deem most important in life. So here is a trivial posting about footballs that I hope will mean something more to some of its readers.

Wilson Football Facts

The official football of the NFL since 1941 is the Wilson football and for any sports lover who has seen one, it is a thing of beauty. Each NFL team receives 108 game footballs a week. Half are used for practice and half are used during the weekly gridiron contest itself. Special balls used by kickers are marked with a "K." These balls are delivered separately to the officials' hotel room about two and a half hours prior to kickoff to avoid any player "doctoring." Special precautions are taken to prevent tampering with the game balls as well.

Balls are handcrafted and marked with the date of their making using a number scheme that follows the letters "WK." The numbers indicate the month and year the ball was made. Wilson footballs are made at a special football factory in Ada, Ohio that employs about 120 people who make 700,000 footballs a year for the NFL, the NCAA, many high school associations, American Youth Football and others. These workers are special people who develop exceptional strength in their hands, arms, fingers and wrists depending upon their part of the operation. From what I have read, they love and revere their work although it is difficult and demanding.

The NFL ball was lovingly named "The Duke" in 1941 at the recommendation of George Halas to honor Wellington "Duke" Mara, the son of New York Giants founder Tim Mara. Wellington Mara led the Giants for decades and was inducted into the NFL Hall of the Fame like his father Tim. Wellington Mara was known as a man who was committed to the good of the league, the game, and the spirit of its people--both athletes and fans--more than the profit margins of his franchise. The Duke model was replaced by another Wilson ball after the 1969 season when the NFL and AFL merged. In 2006, Wilson again used the name "Duke" for the current NFL ball to once again honor Wellington Mara who passed away in 2005.

Every October, NFL footballs take on a new appearance and a new mission. Game balls are produced with pink ribbon decals to support breast cancer awareness. These footballs are used in games and subsequently auctioned off as part of the NFL's support of the fight against breast cancer. Again, there is profound meaning and emotion in a football.

Wilson is owned by Amer Sports of Helsinki, Finland. Amer Sports is a sporting goods company with internationally recognized brands including Salomon, Wilson, Atomic, Arc’teryx, Mavic, Suunto and Precor. In 2011, the company’s largest markets were the United States, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Austria. Wilson Sporting Goods corporate headquarters are in Chicago.

On a personal note, I'd like to express my appreciation for Amer Sports keeping their football manufacturing operation here in the states. We can use those jobs!

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