Most biographies begin by telling of a birth. Mine will not do the same because I was not born; rather, I was produced with many others of my kind in a factory somewhere. I do not know much about my past. Supposedly some Europeans played a game with something that looks like me and other countries saw, changed the way I looked, and now I’m quite popular. Some humans throw me, some catch me, some sign me, some cradle me, some put me in a glass box to display on the mantle, and some see me as a symbol, but most just have fun with me.
I suppose I should now describe myself. I have very rough, brown skin with a few stitches here and there, but the most obvious ones are on my belly. My name, Wilson, is tattooed on my side. My makers must like that name because they give it to many of us. (Occasionally, my kind will be stamped with other logos. They usually read “NCAA” or “NFL”—it depends on who is going to use us.) Maybe I used to be a perfect sphere, but now I look like someone grabbed my sides and stretched them out to a point. Some people say I have the shape of an egg. Whatever an egg is, I’m not sure. The “sphericals” unlike me are symmetrical and beautiful.
Those “sphericals” have many different looks. Some are white and pleated with Japanese cousins named Tachikara. Some are formed from hexagons and have black and white skin. One kind has rough skin much like mine, but it is orange rather than brown with black lines circled around it. Finally, the smallest of them are either white wearing red stitches proudly or bright green with furry skin and white lines circling it. Whilst being so physically different, we all have one common purpose—recreation—but my purpose sometimes extends further than that.
My purpose is to fill people with a desire to compete, a hope to win, a dread of loss, a passion to practice, and a need to show the world of what they’re capable. These feelings start young in the hearts of elementary school boys. They carry them to high school and use them to show colleges why they should play at that school. After college, some men still have those feelings so strong that they utilize them and go “pro.” I rarely have the luxury of being held by small, soft, delicate hands. The hands that do hold me are large and rough. Some have tape on them; others, gloves; and, still, some go bare.
When I’m being used, I go through many different situations. I’ve flown, been dropped and picked back up, sat on, tripped on, thrown to the ground, pushed across lines on the gridiron, kicked, hugged, sweat on, bled on, and held up for the world to see as a symbol of not only six points on the scoreboard, but also the struggle by eleven men to get those six points.
I recall January 10, 1982 where I was thrown by a man in a number 16 jersey that read “Montana” on the back and “49ers” on the front. He threw me with 51 seconds left in the game. If his team didn’t score, they would lose the game to a team called the Cowboys. This “Montana” from Notre Dame let me go. I flew through the air for what felt like an eternity. I was high up in the air and a man in a number 87 jersey labeled with “Clark” jumped to catch me. It was miraculous. The “Hail Mary pass” resulted in not a catch, but The Catch. It’s still famous over a quarter of a century later.
No matter where I am, who’s using me, what’s written on my side, or how many points are scored with me, I have the power to make people extremely happy and proud or I can put them through a miserable week and a horrifying loss. That’s a lot of pressure to put upon an object that has no control over itself. Some people call me a football for the sport that uses me and what people do with me, but you can call me “pigskin.” It’s what I’m made of. Everyone should be known not for what they say or do, but for their gumption, passion, heart, and temerity—what they’re made of is who they are.