from The New York Times

Eli Manning’s Footballs Are Months in Making


Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When Eli Manning drops back to throw his first pass Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, the football in his hands will be as familiar as an old friend.

That is because the ball has been scoured, scrubbed, soaked and seasoned, a breaking-in process that takes months and ensures that every ball used by the Giants in a game will meet Manning’s exact preferences. The leather will have been softened, the grip enhanced and the overall feel painstakingly assessed.

There are no new balls thrown around in a N.F.L. game. A new ball, despised for its sheen and waxy gloss, is as popular as a late hit.

For every N.F.L. game, each team has 12 to 20 balls that it has meticulously groomed and prepared according to the needs of its starting quarterback. The balls, brushed and primed using various obvious and semisecret techniques, bear the team logo and are switched out from sideline to sideline depending on which team is on offense.

That means that from series to series, the ball in play can feel wholly different, but each team’s quarterback always has a ball prepped by his equipment staff the way he likes it.

Nothing is left to chance. The Giants, for example, have a special set of a dozen pregame practice balls so Manning can warm up with footballs that will feel exactly the same as the game balls, which are inspected and approved by the game officials before play starts.

In all, there are always about 36 specially marked Eli Manning balls sequestered and protected in four large ball bags. If a coach looking for a ball at practice should unwittingly approach one of the bags, the team’s equipment director, Joe Skiba, will pounce: “Get away, those are Eli’s game balls.”

Skiba added: “No one is allowed to touch those balls. They’re precious jewels. Too much work has gone into them.”

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