Fans of old-time football will see a long-lost friend on the fields of the NFL this season.
That's right, "The Duke" is back!
Not the Duke of Hollywood. The late, great John Wayne is still dead and buried (but that's him, back in his playing days at USC). Ditto the Duke of Windsor, a short-lived product of the curious European practice of peerage.
We're talking about the mightiest duke of all: the one and only Duke of Pigskin. If you're old enough to remember "The Brady Bunch," there's a good chance your first football was none other than "The Duke." In fact, we're fairly certain it was "The Duke" that did so much damage to the precious nose of that hot little muffin Marcia back in the famous sitcom episode. (See below for a gratuitous photo of a very sexy adult Marcia Brady. Hell, you can even join her fan club and gawk at her photos page all night.)
For those of you who had the misfortune of growing up in the post-Brady Era,"The Duke" was the name of the official NFL football used from 1941 to
1969. It's no different than the Wilson football the league has used since, except it bore the distinct imprint of "The Duke" beneath the threads.
Its history is an interesting one. It was originally named in honor of Wellington Mara, whose dad, Tim, was then the owner of the N.Y. Giants. The story is that Mara named his son after the Duke of Wellington. Giants players, in turn, took to calling the boy "The Duke." Chicago Bears owner George Halas suggested naming the ball after Wellington because his dad had played a pivotal role in nailing down the partnership with Wilson to produce the official NFL game ball.
The league did away with "The Duke" with the AFL-NFL merger of 1970. But it's back this year – again in honor of Wellington Mara, who succeeded his dad as the influential honor of the Giants and who died last October at age 81. (The words "The Duke" appeared prominently in the original football that bore the name. In the new version, it will be offset to the left of a sizable image of the familar NFL shield logo. See picture below.)
With an old favorite back on the gridiron, we took the opportunity to dig up some Cold, Hard Football Facts about the oblate spheroid we all know and love as the football.
Wilson's old balls
Wilson has been making the official NFL football since 1941. The two parties recently extended their contract through 2011, according to the NFL, which would mark the 70th anniversary of the partnership.
Specialty footballs
The NFL introduced its first specialty pigskin in January 1986, with a one-time Super Bowl XX logo football.
The tradition grows
A unique imprinted football has been used in each Super Bowl since and, more recently, in other special games, such as those on Thanksgiving.
Pigskin dimensions
The length of the NFL game ball is 10 7/8 to 11 7/16 inches from tip to tip. The circumference is 27¾ to 28½ inches if you measure along the laces. The circumference is 20¾ to 21¼ around the fat side of the ball, measuring perpendicular to the laces.
It's still handmade
The variation is due to factors such as temperature and humidity, along with human error, as each ball is still handmade.
The short-lived white football
Old-time football fans might remember seeing photos and game clips featuring a white football. It existed during the 1951 season, the first year of night football in the NFL. It was intended to deflect weak stadium lighting and illuminate the ball, according to Wilson spokeswoman Erin Quinn. The process of creating white leather "was too intricate to warrant the consistent use of this endeavor," she said.
The white stripes
You might have noticed that the footballs used by the NCAA – also made by Wilson – have half stripes of white around each end. These serve no purpose other than to differentiate the college football from the pro football. However, the NFL dipped into white-striped footballs once – in Super Bowl VIII. You can see the stripes clearly in this photo of Miami's Larry Csonka doing what he did all day: using the Minnesota defense as his personal pigskin bitch.
Smaller balls in college
College teams have a choice of using one of two footballs, according to Wilson spokewomen Quinn and Molly Wallace. One version is the standard size of an NFL football. The other has dimensions that are roughly a half-inch smaller than the dimensions of the NFL ball.
Our favorite word is skewered
"Pigskin" is arguably the most commonly used word here on and a word that instantly makes all of us think of autumn days tossing around, well, the ol' pigskin. But it turns out the pigskin has never been made from pigskin. "The theory is that the bladder originally used was a pig bladder," said Wilson's Wallace. "But the outer part of the ball has always been cowhide."