Stitched, stretched, laced: How Super Bowl game balls are made

The Big Game

NEXSTAR – New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady has been on quite a run as of late. The 41-year-old quarterback has been on the field at the Super Bowl for the past three straight seasons, and four out of the last five. There is, however, an even more impressive run at the Super Bowl that puts Brady’s to shame.

It’s a run that has lasted 53 straight years. Every game ball, at every Super Bowl, every year, has been manufactured at Wilson Sporting Goods

Ask Deb Ellis what she does for a living and you’ll be, well…

“Shocked, they’re like you what?” Ellis said. 

Ellis helps make footballs–NFL footballs– and her company, Wilson Sporting Goods, has been doing it for more than 75 years.

“George Halas, one of the founding fathers based in Chicago reached out to Wilson Sporting Goods to develop the first NFL ball and we’ve been the only football used by the NFL since 1941,” Mike Kuehne said.

Who could have imagined cowhide could look so good. Stitched, stretched, and laced– that cowhide goes through quite a bit to take the shape of an NFL football, including a stop at the sauna.

“You can’t leave it in there too long because it will discolor the leather because once you’re done steaming it you put it up on this bar and line the seams up with the grooves and pull it through little by little,” Jim Gatchell said. He’s been making footballs for 41 years.

Once the ball is softened up, it’s then passed along to be inflated and laced, which is no easy task. 

“It has to be the same width all the way down, so you eye-ball that as you’re going down the ball,” Ellis said. “You’re constantly looking at that ball. You don’t take your eyes off it really.”

Laser-focus concentration, like a receiver catching the game-winning touchdown pass. These employees are game changers in their own rights. 

“What’s the one thing everyone is looking at?” Katie Long, a lock stitch operator, said. “They’re looking at that ball that I made, so definitely there’s a lot of pride involved.”

They should be proud.

All NFL balls are made in Ada, Ohio– population, 6,000–  at a plant with roughly 80 workers who will all leave their marks on Super Bowl 53.

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