(Photos: Jeff Rutherford)

Ada, Ohio came to Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52. Workers, machines, equipment and footballs. But mostly footballs. The Wilson Sporting Goods Company, located in Ada, makes the official footballs for Game Day.

To demonstrate the craft of football making, Wilson’s brought their factory to Super Bowl Experience. A simulated, reduced factory but each step in the football making process is exactly what is done at the full-scale factory in Ohio, said Molly Wallace, Director of Experiential Marketing for Wilson. “There are 25 to 30 steps in our real factory, but the work stations [at Super Bowl Experience] are the accurate ways we make footballs.”

The 5 steps to football making are sewing, turning, lacing, molding and customizing.

“Every football is hand-stitched,” said Wallace. “We make 700,000 game footballs a year. Not just for the NFL, but also college, high school and youth.” Footballs were once a pigs bladder, hence the name pigskin. “The footballs are now 100 percent leather,” she said.

(Above) Lacing a football

Wilson’s football factory in Ohio has become a family tradition of craftsmen. Rosie, demonstrating the step of molding the football, has been with the company for 40 years. “My mom has been with Wilson’s for 46 years, my uncle, 50 years, 3 aunts for 47 years, and cousins, too.” This will be the last chance for fans to see Rosie at work, as she plans on retiring in August. “Coming here [to Minneapolis] was my very first airplane ride. I liked it!” Wallace said a big party is planned for Rosie’s retirement. Replacing Rosie on the molding step will need to be earned and then trained by Rosie.

There are 120 employees at the Ada plant. Employees become perfected in the craft of football making.  “There’s a lot of pride in making footballs and a real team environment,” said Wallace.

The footballs are inflated to 120 pounds of air in 1.5 minutes to make 13 pounds of air pressure. Then, the football is weighed, measured and the laces and seams inspected. “The number one rule is consistency,” Wallace said. “There is a number on the inside of each football so if one becomes blemished, we know who made that football.”

The Wilson football making demonstration at Super Bowls began in 1992 at the first Minneapolis Super Bowl, Wallace said.

Twenty-six years later, watching Rosie demonstrate her 40 years of craftsmanship, in the year of her first airplane ride and the year she retires, is a moment, well, in Super Bowl history.

Fans attending the Super Bowl Experience can purchase a customized football, molded by Rosie.

(Above) Tools of the football craftsman.

(Above) Footballs before inflation.

(Above) Customized footballs.

 

 

 

 

 

About Barb Teed

Barb has a M.A. in Liberal Studies from Hamline University, St. Paul, Minn., a B.A. in Media Studies from New School University, NYC., and Associates of Arts degree in Anthropology from Normandale Community College, Bloomington Minn. I was born in Duluth, Minn.