How to Make a Football by Hand: The LEATHER HEAD SPORTS Football Giveaway

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 8, 2010 · 342 comments

in Blog


Editor’s note: There are few things more manly than the independent craftsman. The Art of Manliness would like to support the independent craftsmen out there by featuring from time to time a man who makes a living working with his hands. Today we spotlight Paul Cunningham, the owner of and master craftsman at LEATHER HEAD SPORTS where he makes handsome, handmade footballs and baseballs. Paul gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how he makes his footballs and has donated one of his footballs to be given away to an AoM reader. For a chance to win, see below for details.
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Football is a manly sport. Leatherwork is manly craft.  When you put them together, is there anything more manly?

As the long time Photo Editor for Major League Baseball, I had one of the best gigs in America: looking at baseball photos all day, while working with some amazing photographers, editors and designers.  It was a terrific job, which took me to the World Series every year.

Then, I resigned.  MLB is a special place to work, so when the shine wore off, I knew it was time to move on.

Moving on meant engaging my passions for craftsmanship and sports.  As my days at MLB waned, I began designing and making handsome leather goods. Once I resigned, I was ready to bring my designs to market.

Most footballs today are made cheaply in Asia.  To its credit, Wilson still has a factory in Ada, Ohio where all NFL footballs are made by American hands.  But Wilson is a huge multi-national corporation, and they won’t teach you how to make a football.  I had to figure it out for myself, and I thought it would be fun to share what I’ve learned.

Design

A football is made from four panels sewn together inside out.  Two of the panels are punched with holes to accommodate the laces.  Once the shell of the ball is assembled, it is inverted, filled with a rubber bladder, laced, and finally inflated.

Official NFL footballs are made for guys with really big hands.  Most men struggle to grip and throw an official size football.  I was inspired by the need for a football that would fit my hand, and it had to look old school cool.

Leather Selection

A stack of leather waiting to be turned into LEATHER HEAD footballs. It is indeed an honored cow, whose hide is chosen for such a high calling.

Once upon a time there were hundreds, even thousands of tanneries in America.  Environmental concerns and foreign competition drove most out of business.  The few that remain do a terrific job of producing a wide range of leather styles.  I visited one of the remaining tanneries in America and spent the day looking at leather samples.  I was looking for leather with very specific characteristics:  Brown in color, thick, firm temper, full grain, textured, etc.  Ultimately I wanted leather that would make a beautiful, tough, gripable ball.

After buying and testing many different sides of leather, I finally settled on one that was just about perfect.

A common concern about LEATHER HEAD footballs is their gripability.  An NFL ball is made from leather that has a rough texture embossed onto the surface.  For LEATHER HEAD footballs, I chose leather that has a light texture, but is also fairly oily.  The oil, rather than make the ball slippery, actually enhances the ball’s gripability.  Also, because LEATHER HEAD footballs are designed for average size hands, they are inherently more gripable than an official size ball.

Components

This picture shows all the components of a LEATHER HEAD football

A LEATHER HEAD football is made from the following components:

  • 4 leather panels
  • 4 liners
  • Lace hole reinforcements
  • Polyester thread
  • Bladder guard
  • Rubber bladder
  • Rawhide lace

Construction/Tools

Here are the step-by-step instructions for making a football.

Step 1. Lay a side of leather on your workbench and closely position four panel patterns on it.  With a sharp utility knife, cut the leather around the patterns.

Step 2. Transfer the leather to your die press.  Carefully position your cutting die on the leather and punch out each panel.

A cutting die is positioned on a piece of leather. Each panel is exactly the same shape.

Freshly cut football panels await the next step in the construction process at the LEATHER HEAD football factory.

Step 3. Sew a liner into the flesh side of each panel.

Step 4. Return two of the panels to the die press and with a special die, cut out the lace holes.

Step 5. Punch out a hole for the air valve.

Step 6. Brand your logo onto the ball.

With a special jig and branding iron, A logo is burned into each LEATHER HEAD football.

Step 7. Sew the bottom panels together.

Step 8. Sew the lace hole reinforcements and bladder guard in place.

Step 9. Sew the top panels together.

Step 10. Invert the bottom panels and insert into the top panels.

Step 11. Sew bottom and top panels together.

With a heavy duty industrial sewing machine, A football is sewn together.

Footballs are assembled inside out. Here is a fresh batch ready to be inverted.

Step 12. With a stout stick, and strong muscles, invert the ball so that it is right side out.

A LEATHER HEAD football in the process of being inverted.

Step 13. Insert a new rubber bladder, position the bladder guard, and partially inflate the ball.

Step 14. Lace the ball closed; trim the excess lace.

Lacing a LEATHER HEAD football.

Step 15. Fully inflate the ball and admire your work.

Conclusion

The world is teeming with an over abundance of cheap, massed produced junk.  Lately though, a craft movement has emerged to counter this.  It is a movement that attaches greater value to American made goods, often made on a small scale.  It can be seen in a wide range of enterprises, including locavore restaurants and pop up shops.  It also extends to many large brands like LL Bean who are now trumpeting their heritage products.  One of the best examples of this movement is the success of Etsy, a web-site marketplace for handmade and vintage items.

We now live in an internet enabled world that makes commerce available to everyone with an idea and a little gumption. If you have a passion, by all means, engage it.  You never know where it will lead you.

A completed LEATHER HEAD football.

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The LEATHER HEAD Sports Handsome Dan Football Giveaway


If you’d like to get your hands on one of these handcrafted footballs from LEATHER HEAD SPORTS, here’s your chance. Paul has agreed to give away one of his Handsome Dan Footballs to a lucky AoM reader. The beautiful fall weather provides the perfect opportunity to toss the pigskin (well, cowskin) around with friends and family, and this football will make you the envy of your peers.

How to Enter the Giveaway

Leave a comment sharing your favorite football-related memory.

We’ll randomly select one comment and that man will win a handmade Handsome Dan Football from LEATHER HEAD SPORTS.

The deadline to enter is Monday, November 15, 2010 at 10:00 CST.


101 Sergiu November 9, 2010 at 2:01 am

I’m from Romania, and football is not popular here too much. Me and certain fellow students who were passionate about it, started a team. We gathered and gathered, and now we can say that we have a league. It has 5 teams, but still, it is better than nothing. Anyway I can still remember the first time we had the practice, the joy of playing a sport that I really loved, and still love up to this day. We did not have equipment, but we played full tackle, which left us with some marks. Good times.

102 Ewert November 9, 2010 at 2:11 am

Great article, but… sorry guys. That isn’t a football. A ball is round… ;)

103 Mick November 9, 2010 at 3:16 am

Playing football during recess with my buddies every day back in high school.

104 Carolina November 9, 2010 at 3:27 am

My granddaddy and three if his brothers were leatherheads—they played football for USC, the eldest starting in 1929, and the youngest finishing in 1947. One of my favorite stories about my granddaddy’s career was when the Trojans took the train to Tulane University (where my granddaddy would make the play of the game, by the way), the train would stop each day, the team would get off and practice at some local high school, then hop back on for the next leg of the journey.

105 Ronald Squire November 9, 2010 at 3:43 am

Definitely when I was playing high school football and was during a huge game. I was a lineman on special teams when we had to punt. Once we punted the ball off I was charging down the field untouched. I had the punt returner for the other team in my sights about to completely obliterate him when BOOM! I was totally blindsided and fell into the dirt (it was a half baseball field type football field). I got up and jogged to the sideline only to look down and see blood everywhere. I had some incredible road rash and was bleeding everywhere. I got bandaged up and went back out to play in my left guard position on the line. I felt like a man. It was awesome!

106 Damien November 9, 2010 at 4:02 am

I am learning how to leatherwork right now but I never thought to make a football. Once I am better I well make one. The only memory of football I have is watching the game with my Grandma when I was younger.

107 Josh B. November 9, 2010 at 5:30 am

I played community football up until a few years ago. Some of my favourite childhood memories and best friends were forged on the gridiron.
I can recall one time in particular where the team had just finished a gruelling practice, dark clouds looming overhead the entire time. As if on cue, the heavens opened up just as we finished a cool-down lap. We stayed after and played a scrimmage match in the mud. Some of the younger coaches even took part in the game.

108 Paul November 9, 2010 at 5:33 am

The annual Turkey Bowl football game after Thanksgiving dinner every year was always a wonderful thing. Tons of uncles and a few cousins made for great calorie burning and good times. My favorite memory is when I was old enough to go from spectator to player. As one of the quick, young kids I was immediately made a receiver and the uncles did everything they could to get us cousins involved in the game. (We returned the favor later as ages increased.) I recall clearly my first reception and touchdown. It was glorious. We lost the game but it still felt wonderful to score and be told how much i contributed. Part of why football remains my favorite sport.

109 Chris November 9, 2010 at 6:03 am

My mom, not my dad, is the football fan. Washington Redskins through and through. I had a room full of Redskins stuff, a shirt for each day of the week, and even Redskins pajamas. Heck, I’d bet my receiving blanket was burgundy and gold.

Anyway, the best memory was watching the Redskins destroy the Broncos behind Joe Gibbs, Doug Williams and Timmy Smith. The put up, like, a 32 point second quarter or something crazy. My mom taped the game and for 10 years it wasn’t unusual to find her watching that second quarter on a weekend. I don’t guess the VCR still works, but if it did I’m sure she’d watch it, since the ‘Skins haven’t been much to watch in the past decade.

110 Josh November 9, 2010 at 6:08 am

In high school we used to go the local park after church on Sundays and play in the outfield of the baseball field. The park maintenance people must of hated us for how bad we tore that field up, but it was always an awesome time.

111 Will November 9, 2010 at 6:08 am

My dad was always distant, so I never learned about sports growing up. In fact, I was 30 years old before a guy at work taught me how to throw a spiral. I will be forever grateful for that, Mike!

112 Will J. November 9, 2010 at 6:13 am

I remember heading out to K. Royal Stadium in Austin, TX to watch Ricky Williams rock the show during his best years. Damn I love the Longhorns!!! HOOK’EM!!!

113 Mathias November 9, 2010 at 6:20 am

I remember the first time I watched a Super Bowl. I was a foreign exchange student in America and it turned out to be one of the best Super Bowls ever. It was the Patriots-Giants game. I still remember when Eli Manning dodged a couple of sacks and then made the pass to Tyree who rose up and made the best reception I have ever seen.

114 Jimmm November 9, 2010 at 6:40 am

A few years ago, I took my 6 yr old son to my high school’s Thanksgiving game. We were walking past the end zone during the point-after attempt. As the ball sailed into the near-empty stands, he climbed over several rows of benches to retrieve it, threw it in the general direction of the field, then ran back toward me, with a big smile on his face.

115 Erik November 9, 2010 at 6:44 am

One word: oskie. If you played defense, you know what I mean.

116 Taylor Norwood November 9, 2010 at 7:00 am

My Granddad was head football coach at a small college in Oklahoma (Northeastern State) for many years long before I was born. My brothers and I grew up calling him ‘Coach’ and hearing stories about his football glory days. He was constantly giving us football related advice, with his most common phrase being “Don’t duck your head while you’re running, keep your legs moving, and always spin out of the tackle.” As a kid, you don’t always see past the obvious meaning in things people say to you. It wasn’t until I was practically grown that I began to see football the same way my Granddad did– as a metaphor for life. When he passed away several years ago, it hurt bad. He was the first person I had lost that I was really close to. One thing that softened the blow was to see all of his old players come to the funeral and talk about that same advice, which had served them both on the football field and well beyond it. It is the same advice my own children will hear someday– Don’t duck your head while you’re running, keep your legs moving, and always spin out of the tackle.

117 Todd E November 9, 2010 at 7:15 am

Even as a grown man, my friends and I play an annual post-Thanksgiving tackle football game. We spare ourselves many of the niceties and stick with natural world landmarks and an all natural leather football. Sure, we’re sore for days afterwards. But it is all worth it in the pursuit of an amazing time playing an amazing game.

118 Ryan Boomershine November 9, 2010 at 7:24 am

I hadn’t been to a high school football game in 20 years, until I took 3 of my little boys a few weekends ago. It was a wonderful experience again.

This is a great post.

119 Jeremy B November 9, 2010 at 7:28 am

I’ll always remember my Dad watching me during every football game. Giving me encouragement and helping me improve my game.

120 Anthony November 9, 2010 at 7:28 am

My favorite memory by far was playing backyard football with a full-size NFL vintage football. That meant that we couldn’t get our 10-year old hands around it well enough to throw it far, thereby necessitating a more physical run game to get any yards. Those games had a certain purity and grit that is not always present.

121 Kevin D November 9, 2010 at 7:34 am

I came to play Football later in life and still am playing at 51. It is such a wonderful game if i am mostly a slow lineman. I get to play the game each week with my brother as we have for about 20 years now. I have scored a few touchdowns in those 20 years but it the fun of playing in all kinds of weather each Sunday in the Fall Winter and Spring that is best.

122 James November 9, 2010 at 7:45 am

I still remember playing pick up two hand touch football with the kids in my neighborhood growing up in the parking lot of the small church at the end of the street that I grew up on.

123 Michael Moore November 9, 2010 at 7:48 am

Some of the best bonding times with my father-in-law were spent going to BYU football games. That and the annual turkey bowl game where the whole family gets together and plays.

124 WD November 9, 2010 at 8:06 am

I’ll never forget the first time I got the wind knocked out of me, was during a game of “TOUCH” football.

125 FreedbyJC November 9, 2010 at 8:08 am

Tackle loco in the a yard with the ‘boys’….a wild continuous fumble drill…always sprinting on and off the field earning a Mr Hustle award… my two touchdown saving tackles in the homescoming game against the state champions…our only win that year . Good memories…

The continuous verbal and physical abuse by a coach who destroyed more players that he ‘trained’… playing with ‘absolute reckless abandon’ and destroyed knees, backs, concussions and wildman psyches before modern medicine and PTSD were even conceived. Bad memories…

Take the good, mix with the bad and realize that ‘This too shall pass’ and moving on to live a fulfilling life through the ‘lessons learned’ …PRICELESS!

126 Brent Furlow November 9, 2010 at 8:11 am

That is awesome that someone out there can still build footballs by hand. I think that it would be way cool to own one of these works of art!

127 Tom November 9, 2010 at 8:11 am

Probably the best I had playing football was in college playing 2 tier football. The field had 2 levels with a steep slope in between. the game was fast and furious and surprisingly, no one was hurt badly (I broke a finger).

128 Chuck November 9, 2010 at 8:17 am

My most memorable personal football memory was our Homecoming game when I was a senior in high school: recovering a fumble and getting my name announced on the PA system with my current girlfriend (who had flown in from Arkansas for the game) in the stands.

But my favorite all-time football memory was the 1969 Michigan-Ohio State game. Ohio State was the defending national champs who had embarrased the Wolverines the year before in Columbus. It was Bo Schembechler’s first year as Michigan’s head coach, and OSU was a prohibrative favorite to win. Michigan pulled off the upset, 24-12, and began the golden age of UM-OSU, Bo vs. Woody, epic football matchups. LIstening to Bob Ufer’s broadcasts of the games, even today, brings back all the excitement. The Game has never had quite the same aura since both of them retired.

129 Tim Etherington November 9, 2010 at 8:29 am

Thanksgiving 1979. Detroit SilverDome. Detroit vs. Chicago. The game comes to a tie and we go into overtime. Detroit loses the toss and has to kick to Chicago. Walter Payton receives the kick at the end zone and starts his run. He hits the line and spins, shaking off tackle after tackle and suddenly emerges into the open field. Then he pours on the Payton speed. No one can tough him and he crosses into the end zone at the other end of the field. Overtime lasted about a minute and twenty seconds or so. I’m from Detroit and was a Detroit Lions fan at the time but I immediately grew to admire Walter Payton’s skill. No wonder the Bears would go on in a few years to be Super Bowl champs.

130 Eli Roberts November 9, 2010 at 8:42 am

Winter 1995, Kansas. I was 10 years old with my two brothers and a couple of friends. It had just snowed 14 inches, and we played snow football in the fresh powder as much as we could that day. Snow football was one of those rare times where tackle football didn’t hurt (at all). We had the dogs join us (they chased us and tripped us), and we played until we were numb from the cold. It’s still my favorite football memory.

131 Steve November 9, 2010 at 8:43 am

My favorite memories are still being formed, watching my two sons learn to play and love the game – their first big tackle, their first touchdown – nothing makes a dad prouder!

132 -A- November 9, 2010 at 8:44 am

the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide National Championship Season!

ROLL TIDE!

killer footballs

133 Jeff Newberry November 9, 2010 at 8:46 am

My offensive line coach, “Hoss” Weber, was teaching the Freshmen a proper 3-point stance. In his most graphic description and gruff voice, he said, “Pretend that your eyeball has fallen out and you are reaching down to pick it up.” As he demonstrates this motion for us, this paragon of machismo glances down, then jumps up, spews out his Skoal, and screams, “Oh God, a snake!” and then runs behind our left tackle. Confused and shaken, we all look down to see this hideous reptilian beast, and behold a rather unsatisfactory specimen of earthworm.

134 Matthew November 9, 2010 at 8:49 am

One of my favorite memories is more of a collection of memories. I had never played football until I decided to play in high school my freshman year, and my father had significant reservations, however he let me play. And I will never forget that he always picked me up from practice everyday, and wanted to know how practice went, as well as coming to all of my home games (work precluded him from coming to most away games). He also always took me out for a late dinner when we got back from away games, just me and him, and that has always stuck with me, his dedication to support me just because I wanted to play.

135 Matthew R. Jones November 9, 2010 at 8:52 am

When I was about 8 years old I was playing on the playground at school, and was up on one of the towers near one of the slides – one of the ones that look like a elongated barrel. I heard a kid sort of whimpering, and in a distressed voice asked for help. He had climbed over the top of the plastic slide and was slipping over the edge. I grabbed his arm just before he fell about 10 feet to the gravel below. he was a skinny boy, about 5 years old with bright blonde hair. I didn’t think anything of it – I just helped the kid and went on my way. Well, the kid’s mother saw what i did and with tears in her eyes she thanked me up and down. Still, I didn’t feel I did anything worthy of the praise, maybe I was too young to realize the protective nature of mothers. The next day in class, the women interrupted my class to present me with a brand new football. I held on to that ball for years, and whenever I played with it I told all my friends the story of how I save a kid. I’ve lost the ball over the years, but will never forget how it came in my possession.

136 Josh November 9, 2010 at 8:52 am

When I was playing football in high school. My Senior year, we winning over our all time school’s rivalry which was the school 8 miles down the road from ours. Score was 21-20, and they had the ball 1 and goal with 4 mins left… I was playing right defensive end, somehow or some way, I got through the line and was just in time to make it when the other team’s quarterback was handing off the ball to the tail back. I was able to knock the tailback down caused him to fumble the football, I quickly recovered it. We were able to keep the ball moving and run down the clock to win it. When I got back to the locker room, I was nicked named “Lattimer” from the movie “The Program”. We were 7-4 that year. Football was all we ever had to play in school and if you didn’t play football, then you were a P*ssy. Needless to say, every since the 6th grade to 12th, we’ve all played it.

137 Jordan November 9, 2010 at 8:55 am

In Canada the CFL is king. When I was a boy my dad brought a friend and I to the Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp. I brought my ‘official CFL game ball’ and had it signed by all the players including CFL great Kent Austin. I still have that ball but more importantly, I still have the memories.

Beautiful work on these footballs!

138 John November 9, 2010 at 8:56 am

When I was a young boy, my father was in the Army and we moved around a lot. My dad was an officer and he worked a lot of long hours and I didn’t get to see him much. Seems like he was always working, gone somewhere.

However, there is one moment burned in my memory that I will never forget. One day, much surprise to me, my dad came home early. I asked him what he was doing home, and he said he wanted to bring me something. Then, he pulled a brand new leather football from behind his back and gave it to me. We went out and threw that ball until dark.

My dad had never surprised me like that, and to this day, that is a memory that I will cherish most of all.

139 Brian E November 9, 2010 at 8:58 am

It’s great to see a fellow New Jerseyan making such beautiful, hand made products!

My favorite football memories were made playing football ’til the streetlights came on with the neighborhood kids growing up. Not a very original memory for my generation, but we’re very likely the last to share memories like that. I hardly ever see kids in my neighborhood (or any, for that matter) playing sports informally anymore. No more street hockey, stick ball, baseball or even a good game of “wall ball.” I hope to be able to pass an appreciation for sports to my kids, and what better way than with an heirloom quality football?

140 Aaron S November 9, 2010 at 9:01 am

Learning about life’s little secrets from dad and his buddies while tossing the ol VINYL “pigskin” back and forth!

141 Sergey Goretoy November 9, 2010 at 9:01 am

I remember playing a game of “touch” football every Sunday, after church. Now the bad ankles only bring back the good memories.

142 Ray - Pure Spontaneity November 9, 2010 at 9:01 am

In my last game of high school football, we were in the semifinals and the other team had just gone up by 3 points with 6 seconds left. They kicked off deep to me and I caught the ball on about the 2 yard line. I then proceeded to run 40 yards untouched. As a would be tackler came at me, I made a cut, slipped, fell, and thus ended my high school career without anyone touching me.

143 matt November 9, 2010 at 9:03 am

When i first started dating my wife, i went to her families home for thanksgiving. during the halftime, they traditionally went out to play football. Stuffed with turkey, and a general lack of coordination with a football, i agreed to play. I had a great catch, only to be nailed into the dirt and mud by my future wife. It was pretty embarrassing how hard she hit me and how much i hurt.

144 Blake November 9, 2010 at 9:08 am

I played football in high school and we were terrible. We played in one of the highest classifications in our state and only dressed 20 players. Our coaches had a hard time getting the large student body to embrace our program. To make things worse our biggest rival was one of the best teams in the state in our same classification. We played them the last game of the regular season (of course we didn’t go to the playoffs). Your probably thinking I’m going to say we won or went into overtime etc… Wrong. We got destroyed 72-6, but the 6 points were amazing. It was the first 6 points of the game (we obviously missed the PAT) but on the opening kick off one of our guys made a big hit and the return man fumbled. The smallest man on our team , 5’4 110 lbs I believe, picked up the fumble and HIGH STEPPED into the end zone. Our bench cleared and we all celebrated in the end zone, we got a 15 yard unsportsman like penalty. On the next kick off, they made a decent return and then scored in 3 plays and the route began. For a few brief moments, we were IT.

145 John Lepine November 9, 2010 at 9:14 am

I was a nerdy little kid who didn’t like sports that much, but I’ve been making up for lost time this past year or two. There’s a group of us here at the University of Tulsa who play amateur tackle football on Sundays, and it’s a blast! Best memory would probably have to be making a jumping catch–we didn’t gain many yards, but it was gratifying nonetheless.

146 Richard Q November 9, 2010 at 9:21 am

My favorite football memory is when my uncle taught me the right way to throw a football. A simple thing, but memorable.

147 Ty November 9, 2010 at 9:28 am

For two years, every single Saturday my friends and I would go out and play some sandlot football–full tackle, of course. It started off small but it escalated. My favorite memory is when ten of us showed up to play football and then another ten guys (no one we’d ever meet before) showed up too. Suddenly we had a real game going, and that lasted for a year. Huge games of sandlot football, with lines and everything.

And then I had to start working on Saturdays and football stopped. Until now. I’ve finally got Sundays off and football is going to start up again, with a big, big game being planned for the 21st of November, which has been in the works for two months.

148 Josh November 9, 2010 at 9:30 am

Having grown up in Columbus, OH, I was a huge Buckeye fan. During my middle school years every fall, my friends and I would get together for The Game against Michigan. We would eat chili, watch football, and play full tackle games before and after the TV game. I was always one of the bigger built of my friends, but this never deterred me from putting everything I had into tackles. My best friend (was then and still is) was on the receiving end of a hit that might just have incurred a $20,000 fine. I think he still has recurring nightmares about that one!

149 Ted November 9, 2010 at 9:31 am

There have been many times I’ve been caught up in the sport of football – as a kid, sitting at my grandfather’s knee, watching Joe Paterno and Penn State play on Saturdays, in High School, traveling with the team to a heartbreaking state championship loss my senior year, and every time I get the chance to watch the Steelers in person at Heinz Field with friends or family.

150 Adam R November 9, 2010 at 9:36 am

Wow, so many football memories. I guess I will go with overall memories – going to the Nebraska Cornhusker games with my father-in-law. We have been going together since I married his daughter in 2000. He lives about 4 hrs away from Lincoln, so we head out in the morning and drive back home after every home game. There have been a lot of good times together, not only watching our beloved Cornhuskers, but also on the road trips to and fro. GO BIG RED!

151 David November 9, 2010 at 9:38 am

The Day I Made the Interception

On the day of the event, I never would have imagined it becoming a “favorite memory.” Thirty-plus years later, I can easily laugh.

One Fall day, we were playing football in PhyEd. I was easily the least athletic klutz in the class, so it was a great shock to everyone, myself not the least, when I found myself in position to snag the opposing team’s ball. It was too easy. With no interference, I reached up, pulled it in, and headed for the end zone. Everyone else stood frozen in disbelief. Halfway down the field, I realized that no one was after me. Had there been a penalty? Was I running the wrong way? I slowed and turned around to look. About the same time, the others woke up to what had happened and came after me. I turned and ran, but it was too late. They got me just short of the goal line.

It was both the zenith and nadir of my athletic “career,” all in one play.

152 Connor T November 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

Playing in the Astrodome was the best football memory for me. Growing up watching my favorite players battle it out on that turf and then years later getting to experience playing on that turf was very special.

153 Alex November 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

So many memories as a kid, playing football behind our neighborhood until it was too dark to see (and sometimes later). The best was playing in the snow!

154 Fred November 9, 2010 at 9:44 am

Without a doubt, my best football memory was as an 11 year-old watching the Jaguars cap off their wild playoff run in 1996 after a 4-7 start by beating the Falcons on December 22nd. Morten Anderson lined up for what would have been the game winning field game which would have ended the Jags’ season. With 73,000+ fans screaming, Anderson slipped on the turf and pushed the ball wide left. The stadium went mad and my mom and I were jumping up and down, giddy in excitement. Wins the next two weeks in Buffalo and Denver made the ’96 season an absolutely unforgettable one for any Jacksonville sports fan.

155 Joel November 9, 2010 at 9:44 am

Turkey bowl every Thanksgiving morning. Also going to Ohio Stadium for Buckeye football games. The way I tailgate now might be different from when I was a kid, but the chills that everyone in the stadium gets when the band comes out and leads the team “across the field”… well the whole experience is incomparable.

156 Kevin S. November 9, 2010 at 9:51 am

Playing football in the front yard with my dad and two brothers. It doesn’t get much better than that!

157 Dave November 9, 2010 at 9:52 am

My favorite memory/event during football season is the game (typically) once a year when the Indianapolis Colts play the San Diego Chargers. I’m a huge Colts fan, and my mom grew up in San Diego, and so the week before they play is always chock full of trashtalking, mocking emails and texts. It always ends with a watch party at Mum and Dad’s place, sitting on opposite side of the room with jerseys on. And lots of yelling.

158 Clif November 9, 2010 at 9:55 am

My earliest memories are of playing football in the yard with my dad at age 3 or 4, then going inside to watch Redskins games.

159 JoelmBenge November 9, 2010 at 9:56 am

My best and earliest football memory is getting a beer can thrown at my head by my uncle when I walked in front of the television during a Nebraska game.

Beautiful football! My dad has his father’s old leather football helmet and it has sat on a shelf for as long as I can remember. One of these would look so nice next to it.

160 Zac November 9, 2010 at 9:56 am

Growing up without brothers and sisters and a lack of neighbors I had to improvise in the team sports arena. Playing football in the back yard consisted of me chasing my dog and trying to tackle her while she ran around with a football in her mouth. Not the optimal pick-up game, but fun times none the less.

161 Bill November 9, 2010 at 9:58 am

Ahh… Football – what more needs to be said? Crisp fall afternoons, tossing the ball around with friends while the wind swept and swirled around us in beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow. Listening to the crackle and crunch of the leaves underfoot while we spun our tales and joked about. I can still smell that special fall scent, just slightly smoky hickory and oak, whenever I think about those days. Family, Friends, Football and Fall – simply amazing.

162 Brian November 9, 2010 at 10:03 am

My high school team was not very good my senior year. I started at offensive tackle and defensive end at 6′ tall and 190 lbs. We played the team that went on to win the state championship about our 4th or 5th game that season. I would like to tell you that we beat them, but we lost by about 30. I ended the game with around 7 or 8 tackles with about 3 being behind the line of scrimmage and graded out 90% on offense. After the game I was in the training room getting tape cut off my ankles and getting my elbow iced when the coach walked in. He was more of the negative reinforcement type, so I was surprised that he had left the rest of the team to come into the training room specifically to say, “For what it’s worth, I thought you played a hell of a game.”

163 Scott November 9, 2010 at 10:12 am

My best memory was winning the section championship my senior year when no one expected us to win any games.

164 David Civera November 9, 2010 at 10:13 am

Times with my dad playing ball or learning to ride a bike are the kind of memories I can give my two daughters

165 Jeff November 9, 2010 at 10:17 am

When I was growing up, my younger brother and I used to stand at opposite ends of our backyard, and take turns punting to each other, and attempting to make a solo tackle while the receiver tried to make it to the ‘endzone’. The best, of course, was coming in from a cold New England day to a warm house and some hot chocolate. Ahhh good times.

166 Nate @ Practical Manliness November 9, 2010 at 10:17 am

Playing football with my Father and Grandfather at Thanksgiving!

167 Coop November 9, 2010 at 10:18 am

Every Thanksgiving my family has our cousins over from Illinois to celebrate the festivities. We always seem to get into a father son football game out in front of the house. About five years ago we were playing out in the street on a cold fall day. My cousin Max passed the ball to his dad who was looking over his left shoulder in total focus. He made the catch and just as he turned to look forward again he smashed into the back end of his minivan! Immediately we all started laughing uncontrollably as the poor guy writhed in pain. To this day it is a memory we bring up every Thanksgiving, and only wish we had gotten on camera.

168 Shawn G November 9, 2010 at 10:20 am

When I was a kid and Barry Sanders played for the Lions, Thanksgiving was my favorite day to watch football. Our extended family got together to celebrate the holiday, and after the game was over we would head outside to play a pick up game in the backyard. It was so much fun running around with my dad, brother, uncles and cousins.

169 mark November 9, 2010 at 10:23 am

loved playing “tackle the man with the ball” until it got dark and you finally had to come in — cold, sweaty, hot and wet all at the same time. a quick bath and then off to bed. all was right with the world at age 9.

170 Zach Scott November 9, 2010 at 10:36 am

My junior year of college a buddy of mine scored some nose-bleed tickets for a Notre Dame game. Three buddies and I drove from Rochester, NY to South Bend and crashed in random dorm rooms throughout campus the night before the game. The next day we rolled into our seats on the top row and were stoked to be able to see our favorite team. After a few minutes of play we got a phone call from a friend and were able to move up to the second row where some seats were given to us. We were able to see Jeff Samardzija make his record breaking catch only twenty feet away. Although I am sure no trip will rival that one, I hope to make it to many more Notre Dame games in the future.

171 Cody Cranson November 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

Every year at Thanksgiving, my entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins…all 31 of them) would get together at my grandparents’ house. There would regularly be 50+ people in a small farmhouse. Always, right before dinner, we would all head out to the pasture to get in a good game of football. We would have three generations playing together, running, passing, catching the ball. It was always a ton of fun and made memories that will last me forever.

172 Brandon B November 9, 2010 at 10:39 am

My best football memory is going to the opening game in Chapel Hill two seasons ago. On the way to tailgate, my wife decided she better take a pregnancy test before partaking in all the adult beverages. By the grace of God, she was surely preggo. My boy is now 18-mo old and loves to throw around all his different balls. I can’t wait to share some football memories with him!!

173 Patrick November 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

Being of smaller stature and of overprotective parents, the most exposure I got to regularly playing football was during our lunch break in grade school. It was 2 hand touch with the NERF. I could still remember the rules – count 10 mississippis to blitz and 2 complete passes to get a first down. As I got older and in better shape, there were always people bigger and more athletic, so organized playing never happened for me. It was something that I really wished I tried. Flash forward about 10 more years to almost exactly this time last year, my brother and I were able to get some people together to play a little football. It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I ended up tearing my ACL about 15 minutes into our game. Now it’s a year later and I’m all recovered from surgery. It’s also fall again and I’m once again getting the urge to play. Good times.

174 Dov Engelberg November 9, 2010 at 10:50 am

My grandfather was a hard man. He rarely, if ever, showed emotion of any kind. This, combined with a grueling work schedule that had him in a lab most of his days and nights, made him a non-factor in my childhood, and, I’m sorry to say, also made for a very tough childhood for my father.
The one time I remember the three of us (him, my father, and I) sitting together and actually enjoying the time and each other’s company, naturally, was for a football game. My dad and his father were both Harvard men, and we sat down one Saturday fall afternoon, watched the Harvard-Yale game, and had chili dogs and beer (well, a soda for me).
Never before or since did the three of us spend more than ten minutes together, and it is my fondest memory of my grandfather.
Harvard, naturally, lost the game.

175 Vincent Cisneros November 9, 2010 at 3:17 pm

I look to the future and teaching my little girls that they can do anything they put their minds to, including making the football team, as my favorite football memory.

176 David November 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I was blessed with an awesome family: three great brothers, one beautiful sister, awesome parents and a whole host of aunts, uncles and cousins (25 of us on my mom’s side). Every Thanksgiving my mom’s side of the family gets together and even though there are plenty of parks nearby, we always end up playing football in the street. Over the years we’ve had plenty of scraped knees, elbows, banged heads and apologies issued to neighbors for denting their cars, and I love every memory.

One stands out in particular: I was thirteen or so and just really starting to understand the game. In the huddle I suggested a reverse pass. I came around from the end, took the toss from one uncle and saw another uncle open, running deep down the sideline/gutter into the endzone/in-between-those-two-trees-over-there. I threw a beautiful pass and…he dropped it. Even though we didn’t score, I was really proud my play had worked so well, and my uncles were pretty impressed.

I can’t wait for this Thanksgiving!

177 Joshua November 9, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I used to play center in both high school and college and I have small Irish hands, so I know all about how big those footballs can be. And then it would rain! Ugh! I wish I had one of those footballs. I would also use gloves (typically Newton), but once those got wet, they were useless!
So my favorite memory relating to handling of actual footballs was my freshman year of college and every Thursday practice was half-pads. They didn’t let us wear cups in college, because it reduced mobility, but when wearing pants, the “equipment” was usually kept in a separate place from where the ball gets snapped (the “taint”). However, at the first half-pads practice, the QB, not having been used to cupless centers, immediately recoiled his hand right before the snap, and of course, blammo! We both ended up running laps, me alot slower and wincingly than the QB.

178 David G. November 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm

While most people’s best memories are in the past mine are ongoing. I help care for my ailing grandfather and one of the things that has brought us together over the years is our regular schedule of spending Saturdays watching college football, especially his alma matter Ohio State. It’s been a joy to share this time with him and find a common activity that we can bond over in his golden years. And rooting for Michigan to lose to always fun.

179 Mike Donghia November 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm

My best football memory is from last winter. It had just snowed 6 inches and we got 10 of the guys from our dorm together and played a game of tackle football that lasted right until nightfall. There’s something about that togetherness and rivalry that makes being a man so good!

180 Dino November 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm

That is a sweet ball.

I (somewhat) remember playing a game of touch-football on autumn where I smashed into another player as we crossed in the middle of the field, his forehead to my chin; at 220+lbs each, I was told that it sounded like two large moist steaks smacking into each other. As I lay there laughing, with a small cut on my chin, I decided to should work on my passing skills so that I wouldn’t get clocked again.

181 Jon November 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm

My favorite memory has yet to come, but shall be fulfilled when the Chargers win the super bowl. I eagerly await the savory moment. In the meantime it would be great to throw around a real leather manliness football.

182 Alan November 9, 2010 at 3:42 pm

In college, my roommates and I decided to have a full-on tailgate outside of our house for the GA/FL game because none of us were going to make it down to Jacksonville. We spent the whole day outside – grilled out, watched football on 3 tvs, and threw the football around. One of my best college memories.

183 LLC November 9, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Favorite memory was playing in the Wyoming All-State Marching Band for the U of Wyoming/BYU (arch-rivals) game. There were 500+ of us forming a giant pep band in the endzone. Oh, and Wyoming beat BYU; a good day.

184 DY November 9, 2010 at 4:02 pm

When I was a kid playing Quarterback for my Pop Warner Cowboys, I remember running a bootleg in which I kept the ball. A fake hand off to the left and I turn to run to the right, but the defense was already closing in. So I turned around to the left but the fake hand off already drew defenders to that side, so again I turned to the right. By this time I had probably run back about 10 yards. But like a dart I ran to the right for the second time… This time, I wasn’t turning back. I broke a tackle, and dodged another as I found my opening and raced about 40 yards to the end zone.

Side note: My aunt and younger cousin were walking in just as I ran through the endzone, so I tossed the ball to him.

Good times!

185 Ronn November 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Being the son of a football coach, I have been around football all my life. I had even been a coach myself for a few years, but had been out of coaching for almost 20 years when my mom passed away in 2006. Having always wanted to coach with my dad and having just experienced this loss, I decided to not have the regret someday of not even asking, so I approached the head coach at the private school that my dad was coaching at and expressed my desire to coach with my dad. Thankfully, the head coach graciously allowed me to fulfill my dream and I was able to spend a season getting to go to work with my dad and getting to observe him being performing a job that he not only loved to do, but that he was also very good at. The bonus with regards to that season was not only the fact that we made the playoffs and thus extended the amount of time that I was able to coach with my dad, but also that we ultimately won the state title. What a wonderful season! And I remember hugging my dad, right after the last few seconds had ticked off the clock, and having the feeling that my mom, who had maybe missed a handful of games during my dad’s 40+ years of coaching, was there with us and as happy as she could be.

BTW, enjoyed the post and learning about Leather Head.

186 Brandon N November 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm

The 2007 UGA vs. Auburn Black Out game in Athens, GA. I’ve never seen a campus so excited or a stadium so loud. The place went nuts when the Dawgs came out in black jerseys with red helmets and they ran Auburn off the field.

187 John November 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I was going to say watching the Packers dismantle the Cowboys this weekend but that seemed like poor sportsmanship!

My Dad used to take my brother and me along with as many neighborhood kids as we could rustle up and conduct fumble drills to teach us to go after a loose ball. It’s funny to think now about diving head first into the ground along with a half dozen other kids and not coming away with a major concussion.

In my teen years football was one of the few things my Dad and I could relate through.

188 Brian November 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I was the first of the men in my family to play football in school. My brothers both went to smaller, country schools that only offered basketball and baseball. The same had been the case with my father. My freshman year of high school, I moved to a new school that offered football and I immediately signed-up. I knew very little; only what I knew from watching on t.v. I started on the varsity team my junior year as an offensive tackle. Playing football became my favorite sport. Not only do you have lots of teamwork, but strategy plays a very important role in winning games.

189 Matthew B. November 9, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Sunday morning little league football games in Cleveland. We played at St. Joe’s practice field which was right on the lake. Using hard plastic balls with the wind wiping in from the lake in the fall made for the true definition of a “stinger”. The smell of the grass and the cadence of the quaterback bring back great memories.

190 Chris November 9, 2010 at 4:24 pm

In early high school – well before most of my friends could drive – a bunch of us would pile into my parents’ van and head out to away games. Our team had one year where they were on fire and headed to the state championship. We still have good memories of those rides around the state to support the Warriors.

191 Dan November 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I remember watching football with Dad and when it wasn’t the Steelers or the 49ers, I would always ask who we were cheering for. The red ones or blue ones…etc. Of couse if Dallas was playing, then I knew we were to cheer for the other team.

192 Jeff November 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm

My first football game was seeing Michigan when I was probably 8 or 9 with my dad – I barely knew what was going on from way up at the top of the Big House. Fast forward to my college years and I had grown to relish seeing my wolverines play (especially since they were still the respected team I like to remember them as). Not only was it great to watch the games, especially as seniority led to better seats, but it was a wonderful time spent with friends, no matter what the weather or score.

193 Don F November 9, 2010 at 4:59 pm

During a touch football game in high school, one of my buddies declared “I’m not here to make friends” while arguing a touchdown. The phrase still comes up to this day.

194 Jacob Lee November 9, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Playing football with my grandpaw when i was just a little kid. cant get any better than that

195 Chris Lowe November 9, 2010 at 5:11 pm

my fondest football memory is when i would go to my grandparents every Sunday to play with the family.

196 Chris Lowe November 9, 2010 at 5:12 pm

actually… i just wanted my name in for the football. Im only 13

197 Andrew November 9, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Of all my football memories, the fondest is after losing the last game of my senior year. Yea, it was sad that we were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round, but what I remember is wandering around the field after the game, saying goodbye to guys I had spent the better part of four years playing with.

198 Aaron M. November 9, 2010 at 5:18 pm

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a yard with any large, open expanses. My best friend James and I would still play one-on-one football in the part of my front yard that bordered on the neighbors yard, as it was the flattest. We spent many hours beating each other up in pursuit of a tie-breaking touchdown. As you can well imagine, it was always a running game…

199 Brian Koser November 9, 2010 at 5:40 pm

My favorite memory is from playing flag football as a kid. I wasn’t the athletic type, and I only got one chance to carry the ball all season. It was a snowy winter day. Late in the fourth quarter the coach put me in as quarterback, in the spirit of giving everyone a chance to play. I took the snap, dodged a few defenders, and somehow ended up in the end zone for a touchdown! Best of all, my dad was there to see me make the play.

200 Scott Bonertz November 9, 2010 at 5:50 pm

My favorite memory comes from playing both ways on my high school 8-man football team and having to march in the band in my football pads at halftime. A uniquely small town experience.

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