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The Duke

Michael Marsh
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

After 37 years on the sideline, The Duke is back as the official game ball of the National Football League. So forget the Nerf football the dog has gnawed and forget the dusty, deflated spheriod with the broken lacing that lurks somewhere in the garage. When you line up for this year's Turkey Bowl, throw the pigskin that Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr immortalized, the ball that Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb and the brothers Manning will be firing for touchdowns this season.

Manufactured by Wilson Sporting Goods, The Duke is a throwback, a tribute and a piece of precision engineering packed into one elongated leather orb. The NFL will use it in every game, including the Super Bowl, and it is the first rebranding of the league's official ball since 1969.

The story of The Duke begins in 1940 when George Halas, owner of the Chicago Bears, and Timothy Mara, owner of the New York Giants, chose Wilson to be the NFL's football supplier. A year later, Wilson unveiled a redesigned football and called it The Duke after Mara's son, Wellington, who had become co-owner of the Giants in 1930 at age 14.

The Duke would be the league's game ball for the next 28 years and would help define the NFL's seminal moments. The Duke was discontinued after the 1970 Super Bowl. A new ball was introduced with the start of the next season, which marked inclusion of the American Football League in the NFL, a development that Wellington Mara had spearheaded. The latest incarnation honors its namesake, Wellington "Duke" Mara, who died in 2005 at the age of 89 as one of the most influential owners in NFL history.

Other than the logo, the ball is identical to that used last year and, with the exception of some minor tweaks, is the same ball used for the last 25 years. Wilson's Ada, Ohio, football factory turns out some 700,000 pigskins a year, using the same skill-intensive process, in which top-grade cowhide leather is pressed and shaped, stitched and laced around a synthetic bladder (originally it was a pig bladder, hence the pigskin). Lock-stitching is the key to the ball's durability, integrity of shape and performance in the NFL's bone-crunching conditions. We think it will hold up just fine for your touch football game on Thanksgiving Day.

Visit www.wilson.com.

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