How a cow becomes a football

Super Bowl XLVI footballs await completion Wednesday at NFL Experience. (Ben Liebenberg/NFL)

INDIANAPOLIS — Next time you sit down to enjoy a nice steak or a juicy hamburger, especially if you live in the Midwest, keep this in mind: That cow you’re eating also might be playing on Sundays.

That’s one of the many things I learned during a visit to the Wilson exhibit inside NFL Experience.

Wilson, an Ohio-based company that has been the sole producer of official NFL footballs since 1941, had one of the largest crowds Tuesday afternoon as fans flocked to watch three workers make Super Bowl XLVI footballs essentially from scratch.

Here’s the rough step-by-step process of how you turn Mrs. O’Leary’s cow into a football (and don’t worry, PETA: Wilson’s PR chief assured me the cows’ purpose in life isn’t limited to their NFL responsibilities; their Angus beef is enjoyed by diners across the Midwest).

Step 1: Workers cut out the four leather panels that make the ball.

Step 2: The hide is stamped with the official NFL seal.

Step 3: Someone sews the panels together, leaving a 2 1/2 inch gap, while the ball is inside out.

Step 4: The leather is placed into a steam house for 15 to 20 seconds, then is turned right side out.

Step 5: Another person inserts a “bladder” into the ball, which makes it inflatable, then adds the laces.

Step 6: The ball is placed into a molder featuring 2 1/2 inches of solid steel for the final shaping.

Step 7: Inspection.

The whole process takes about 90 minutes at the company’s factory in Ada, Ohio, and Wilson has been building these balls more or less the same exact way since the ’40s.

No robots working here. Humans 1, Machines 0.

– David Ely

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