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Don’t believe what you hear about football and pigskin

Question: Why are footballs made of pigskin?

Answer: Pigskin is to a football as silicone is to human anatomy. Call it a euphemism. Call it poetic license. Call it a lie.

NFL and NCAA footballs are made of cowhide, not pigskin. That little fiction dates from American football’s rough draft, English rugby, for which the inflated bladder was, depending on whom you believe, a pig’s bladder, encased in pig hide or in any leather deemed to be as tough as a pig’s skin.

Like all things NFL, Super Bowl ball regulation is as tight as a Marine’s haircut. The 120 balls (versus 36 for regular-season games outdoors, and 24 for indoors) are under the control of game officials, and a second-string of balls can be made available overnight by supplier Wilson in case of misadventure, such as that at the 1998 game, when the game balls were lost. Or stolen. It’s unclear.

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The balls are identical except for 12 denoted with a small K; they are reserved for kicking plays. Thanks to the demands of CSI: Sports Memorabilia Market, NFL officials apply an invisible synthetic DNA to Super Bowl balls. Except for the NFL and Wilson logos, until 1986 such balls were as naked as the day they were tanned in Wilson’s Ada, Ohio, plant (the only football factory in America), but since have been dressed in the names of the participating teams, Super Bowl logo, location and date.

-- Ellen Alperstein


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