Once Pep Guardiola said, “The most difficult thing in football is to score a goal.” Indeed it’s true but wouldn’t the game be turned into a nightmare if the ball itself is misconstructed. The football ball is the heart of the game and hence acts as the philosopher’s stone in a football match. The first ball was used in the game of American football in 1869 and since then it has evolved much to take its present shape.
The American football ball also referred to as the pigskin or a gridiron football has a rough similarity to a prolate spheroid. The balls are constructed with cowhide leather ideal for professional and collegiate matches whereas, for the recreational and youth leagues, the balls are made from rubber or plastic. Hugh “Shorty” Ray, in 1934, introduced new balls and held the credit for the particular shape of the ball which is highly effective in forward passes.
Generally, the official college football has a length ranging between 10.5 to 11.5 inches and a circumference of 28 inches on the long side and 21 inches on the short side. It has two stripes each of 1 inch that are 3 to 3.25 inches apart. In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was founded which marked the Spalding J5-V as its official ball for the league matches.
The American NFL footballs are manufactured by cutting a large sheet of leather into four panels. The panels are then subjected to be checked for blemishes. Then the linings for each panel and reinforcements for the opening of the bladder and valve rings are added. Later these panels are hand sewn together inside-out and the ball is turned through the lace opening via an iron post and slight muscle power. After the bladder is inserted, the ball is double laced by hand and is then over-inflated to 80 psi.
Gridiron football has its earliest roots in elite American Universities. The traditional balls were round, hard to carry and throw along with a sloppy grip. The earlier balls resemble soccer type footballs, but later in 1874, it was replaced by rugby ball. The new ball resembled watermelon but yet hard to throw.
In 1912, the ball’s shape again changed to take the present oversized form. The new balls weighed from 14 to 15 ounces with a long axis approximately 28 to 28.5 inches and the short axis about 22.5 to 23 inches.
Traditionally, white balls were used for the matches played in the night to make them more visible, but with recent advancement, in artificial lighting, the balls aren’t restricted to white. In 1955, Wilson developed the TD football that was composed of tanned-in-tack material regarded as Grip-Tite. The ball had a better grip even when it’s wet. In 1981, Wilson introduced the Ultra Pebble designing of leather to enhance the grip. The balls interior consists of three-ply polyurethane bladder.
Some other variants of the ball were also introduced in the past few years for recreational purposes. One such example is an all-polyurethane foam football developed by Fred Cox (Minnesota Vikings’ kicker) which he sold to a toy brand Nerf.