When Leather Head Sports owner Paul Cunningham conceived his idea to construct a football, he wanted to accomplish a few specific things: create a football sized for an average hand and establish an element of nostalgia in a stylish manner. And thus was born the aptly named Handsome Dan football ($120), a hand-constructed ball named after Yale’s bulldog mascot.
It is a football that is at home both on display and in an impromptu game between mere mortals at a tailgate party.
Compared with The Duke from Wilson Sporting Goods, which was brought back as the official game ball of the National Football League in 2006, the Handsome Dan is a smaller prolate spheroid, about the same size as a traditional youth football.
“I designed it specifically for my hand. I’m an average-sized guy and have an average-sized hand,” says Cunningham.
The Duke, though, is designed for big professional football players with big hands, and so often a normal-sized man struggles to grip and properly throw the pro-sized balls.
The Handsome Dan’s superior grip stems also from its oilier leather. The oils react naturally with the skin and enhance the grip, even when wet. Cunningham says he usually stays away from garment and upholstery leather, because they are ultimately too soft to resist the pressure from the interior bladder.
“I have to find leather that resists stretching,” he says. “Shoe leather works well.”
Cunningham, based in Glen Rock, New Jersey, taught himself about leather when he began to take apart and then reassemble baseball gloves, eventually becoming a specialist glove maker for a short period of time. He also taught himself how to hand-stitch and to control industrial sewing machines.
More of an artist than an entrepreneur, Cunningham constructs all the footballs himself, one at a time, as the orders come in, and thus each football will show their own properties.
“It would be more analogous to handbag making and other fine crafts. I do think of it as more of an art form,” he says. Cunningham also will customize an order with a laser engraved message for an extra $30.
Click here for a video showing Cunningham in action.