NFL footballs take detailed journey from factory to field

Those shiny “NFL 100” logos on all the footballs being used to commemorate the league’s centennial season are part of a lengthy process that goes into making each handcrafted leather game ball.

Wilson has been the official game ball of the NFL since 1941. The size, shape and feel of the football have evolved over the years, but the personal touch remains the same.

“It's very much a hand-crafted item sewn and constructed in Ada, Ohio,” said Kevin Krysiak, Wilson Global Director of Innovation. “There's not a lot of automated equipment. It's a lot of sewing machines, turning the ball inside out. The process we have, the dedication of our operators and workers at the factory to produce a consistent product definitely makes the Made-in-America story much more relevant and something that we're very proud of. The ability to produce that product, still having that handcrafted perfection to it, we feel really makes a difference on the field.”

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There are 25 steps to making every NFL leather game football and about 50 sets of hands touch each one that takes approximately three days to make.

Four panels, sewn together with more than 250 stitches, comprise one football. There is one lace on a football that is threaded by hand, through 16 lace holes. Small “Ws” are stamped into the leather of a Wilson NFL football to prove that it is authentic.

The size, shape and weight of the football have been the same from the first Super Bowl. Every football is 71 centimeters long, 55 centimeters wide at the widest point, and weighs approximately 425 grams.

Krysiak said Wilson reps collect insights from players and equipment managers to make sure the balls are consistent.

“Right when they come out of the box, they have that glossy finish and that's something the equipment guys scrub out, put some mud on them to get the grip right,” Philadelphia Eagles practice squad quarterback Kyle Lauletta said. “You obviously want it grippy. You don't want it slipping out of your hands. You really grip it in your fingertips, so that's where you need to make sure it feels good for you.”

YOU GOT AN OPENING?

With Dallas set to visit New England, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told a story on his radio show of a chance meeting with Bill Belichick at a ski resort in Colorado.

It was after Cleveland had fired Belichick in 1995, which was around the same time the Cowboys had become the first team to win three Super Bowls in four seasons. And it was before the Patriots hired Belichick in 2000 and soon began their run to six championships.

“There was a line and I’m sitting in the back and somebody bumps up against me a few times and I turn around and there was this guy I couldn’t make (out who he was) because he had his ski stuff on and goggles, and raised up and it was Bill,” Jones said. “He said, ‘I can coach if you ever get an opportunity, don’t forget about me.’ And I thought about that many times. You never know when you can find a great coach. You can find him in a ski checkout line sometimes.”

Belichick recalled the encounter happening at Snowmass.

“I was out there with family and Jerry, he’s got on a big white jacket with a blue star, coming off a couple of Super Bowl victories out there,” Belichick said. “But yeah, Jerry and the Joneses have always been great to me, always had a great relationship with them.”

Belichick wasn’t so sure about the part of lobbying for a job.

“I don’t know if I quite remember it the way Jerry described it,” Belichick said. “But he’s probably got a better memory than I do. But no, we were out at Snowmass and it was kind of the end of the day and, you know, picking the kids up from ski school and whatever. Can’t beat Snowmass.”

One thing’s for sure. It was a painful story for fans of the Cowboys, who haven’t been back to the Super Bowl, or even an NFC championship game, since the year the Browns fired Belichick.

MEMORY LANE

Derek Carr can remember the details of his first career pass, the two touchdowns he threw, and all the hits he took from Rex Ryan's blitzes from his first career game.

But as Carr prepares to return to the Meadowlands for the first time since making his NFL debut in 2014 against the New York Jets, he has no interest in looking back at that film.

“I don't want to see what I was then,” Carr said. “I just remember going out there and just throwing fastballs, like if I guess wrong at least I throw it hard and hopefully they don't catch it, but, no, there is probably not much to learn off that tape for anybody. I definitely had a good time, it's definitely a game I remember. I still have the football that was my first touchdown, so I definitely remember that stuff and I'll tell those stories.

“When I'm old, I'll probably tell my kids 100 times because they'll probably forget by then. You have good memories, but we ended up losing the game, so it wasn't too fun.”

Carr went 20 for 32 for 151 yards that game with TD passes to Rod Streater and James Jones in a 19-14 loss.

INCHING ALONG

The Dolphins’ two top rushers are no longer with the team. Mark Walton was suspended and then cut this week after his arrest on charges of punching his pregnant girlfriend, and Kenyan Drake was traded to Arizona last month.

That leaves Kalen Ballage as the top rusher on the active roster, even though he’s on pace to finish the season with just 195 yards. In 64 carries, his longest gain is 8 yards.

Ballage is averaging 1.9 yards per carry, which ranks 233rd in NFL.

“It’s a team stat,” offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea said. “We’re involved in that as a coaching staff - we can do a better job of putting Kalen in a position to be more successful. This is a team effort, and it takes all of the other guys to do their job for him to do his.”

The Dolphins rank last in the NFL in yards rushing per game and per carry.

SUDDEN IMPACTS

Rookie pass rushers are pouncing on quarterbacks at a near-record pace.

Jacksonville’s Josh Allen has eight through 10 games, putting him on track for 13 this season - which would be 1½ behind the rookie record set by Jevon Kearse in 1999.

San Francisco’s Nick Bosa has seven and Oakland’s Maxx Crosby has 6½, including four last week against Cincinnati, highlighting a crop of rookies that has 76 total sacks. That ties last year’s rookie class for the second-most through 11 weeks in NFL history.

Only the 1987 rookie class had more in that span, with 84. Among the sack-happy newcomers that season: Cornelius Bennett (8½), Jerome Brown (4), Brian Bosworth (4) and John Bosa (3) - father of Nick and Joey Bosa.

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AP Pro Football Writers Schuyler Dixon, Josh Dubow, Rob Maaddi and Dennis Waszak Jr., and AP Sports Writer Steven Wine contributed.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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