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PostPosted: Tue Jan 25, 2011 2:39 pm 
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1/25/2011 12:07:00 AM
By Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Amy Sancetta/Associated Press

To play the Super Bowl, you need a super ball.

Actually, you need 216 of them.

Several hours west of Pittsburgh, workers in Ada, Ohio, were in a mad rush on Sunday to manufacture hundreds of Super Bowl game balls in less than 24 hours.

Unlike a typical game ball, Super Bowl balls are mandated by the National Football League to be printed with the names of both teams. And so production could not begin in earnest on the balls until the conclusion of Sunday's AFC championship game.

The balls must in the hands of each Super Bowl team by today, said Molly Wallace, director of communications for Wilson Sporting Goods Co., which has manufactured the game ball for every Super Bowl at its football factory in northwest Ohio.

At the factory Sunday night, a crew of workers ate pizza and gathered around a television to watch the games -- and learn which team logo they'd be stamping on the footballs.

Despite the fact that the factory is only about half an hour from Findlay, Ohio, hometown of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Ms. Wallace said that the factory crowd wasn't necessarily pulling for the Steelers.

"Because they're in Ohio, there are a lot of [Cleveland] Browns fans," she said.

In preparation for the manufacturing marathon, workers at Wilson had designed and produced sample balls with each of the four possible Super Bowl matchups.

The footballs at the Wilson factory -- more than 700,000 of them each year -- are completely handmade, with workers cutting the cowhide (pigskins are a thing of the past), stamping the logos and tying the laces.

With the cowhides for the Super Bowl balls cut in advance, a small crew of workers labored through the night after the AFC championship game getting the balls stamped in time for the full staff of 120 to show up at its customary 5 a.m. start time.

Of the 216 official Super Bowl game balls, half will be delivered today to the Steelers and half to the Packers. The teams can practice with some of the balls, but must each deliver 54 balls to officials on Super Bowl Sunday.

Once the balls are inspected by the officials to make sure they haven't been tampered with, the NFL puts a dye on the laces.

"Once the balls hit the field, they're authenticated," said Ms. Wallace. "They can literally check it."

As part of the weeklong Super Bowl festitivities, employees at the Wilson factory will take their show on the road. A miniature version of the football factory will be a part of the NFL Experience in Dallas, where workers will demonstrate how an NFL game ball is put together.

Wilson manufactures sporting equipment of all varieties -- from baseball bats to badminton shuttlecocks. A Wilson volleyball had a starring role in the film "Cast Away," as Tom Hanks' only companion on a deserted island.

Wilson's Ohio factory is the only dedicated football factory in the world, said Ms. Wallace.

"All the products are made by hand," she said. "You don't see that much anymore."

Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.

First published on January 25, 2011 at 12:00 am

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