Small town, huge Super Bowl 50 responsibility

The factory has been churning out footballs for the NFL since 1941

The handmade balls are exclusively made at the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, OH.

ADA, Ohio (WANE) – The Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events of the year and a small town in northwest Ohio plays a role in it that many people may not be aware of. Workers at the Wilson Sporting Goods factory in Ada, Ohio have been producing handmade Super Bowl 50 balls around the clock.

Ada, Ohio Wilson factory
A worker laces up a football at the Wilson factory in Ada, Ohio.

“All of our employees know this is prime time,” said Dan Riegle, the plant manager. “This is a big event – The Super Bowl. We’re a big part of it.”

Riegle is what you might call the quarterback of the factory, based in a town of about 6,000 people. They’ve been the only maker of NFL footballs in the world since 1941 – including the ones used in all 50 Super Bowls.

From the moment the final two teams are known, the 140 workers get to work – cutting, stamping, lacing, molding, and inspecting cowhide.

Emmitt Lawrence, who has worked at the factory for 45 years, turns the balls right-side out once they’ve been stitched on the inside. His role as a “turner” is considered the most difficult in the plant.

“I love it because I know that I turned most of the balls they’re going to be playing with,” Lawrence said. “They’re going to be scoring the points with the balls I actually touched.”

Each team will get 108 balls with the special Super Bowl 50 stamp. Thousands more will be shipped to stores for the fans. While the balls are usually stamped with roman numerals, this year there is a golden “50.”

Besides that, not much else has changed since Wilson made the factory a football-only plant in 1955. This year’s ball has the same exact material and dimensions as the one from Super Bowl 1 in 1967. The plant even has sewing machines that are more than 60-years-old.

SEE | Photo Gallery of Wilson Football Factory

3,000 handmade footballs of all sizes are churned out daily, from peewee footballs to those used in professional European leagues.

Kaitlin Long is going on her tenth month working at the factory. She said she never watched a football game until she joined the long-standing operation.

“I want to see my work out on the field and I think that’s really awesome that you get to say that,” the lockstitch machine operator explained. “There are only two of us here that sew these footballs. I feel that’s some pretty big bragging rights.”

Of all the footballs produced, it’s the balls used in the Super Bowl that get workers there most pumped.

“To be made here in Ada, Ohio by people that come in here every day and work hard, that’s pretty neat,” Riegle said. “We’re real proud of that.”

This weekend, he and his squad are in San Francisco exhibiting at the NFL Experience. They’re showing fans how their footballs are made. Riegle only asks that people do one thing when they watch the big game on Sunday.

“Make sure you keep your eye on the ball because without it the game would be pointless.”

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