It's here: big twin crispy curls! Only $1.49! That's what the sign says outside Hardee's, the only restaurant in Ada, Ohio.
"If we need a shepherd...we must be sheep." That's the sermon pastor Robert Cassady delivered a few Sundays back at Ada's First Baptist Church.
"We're the football capital of the world." That's Ada's civic credo. The town is home to a 52-year-old football-manufacturing factory, by far the biggest one owned by Wilson Sporting Goods of River Grove, Ill.
Nestled amid the corn and bean fields of Hardin County, Ada is seven miles from Dola, which is three miles from Dunkirk, which is 14 miles from Mount Blanchard, which is 12 miles from Findlay. The name Ada came not from the Vladimir Nabokov novel, but instead belonged to a postal official's favorite sister. It's the sort of drowsy little college town-Ohio Northern has its campus here—in which you can watch the corn grow, fill your tank at the Sohio station, toss back a brew at the Regal Beagle, or get buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
"The last exciting thing that happened in Ada was back in '78, when they put in the new sewer line," says Peggy Price, who runs the football plant's power press. When her foreman saw the ditch being dug along Main Street, he exclaimed, "I told you Ada's a dead town. Look! They're burying it."
Dead Ada may be, but it gives life to more than a million footballs every year. The bins in Wilson's ballworks brim with the newborn K2 Pee Wees, 1001s, Super Bowl XXVs, Touchdowns, Vinny Testaverde Autographs, and NFLs—the triple-lined, lock-stitched beauties a select few of which, those chosen for the pros, are called the " Green Berets of footballs" by company public relations man Alan Schultz.
The college and high school balls are distinguished by the half stripe on the ends. Colleges can play with any brand they want, but these days the college ball that started it all for Wilson, the KR, is nowhere in sight. Named for Knute Rockne, the KR is now as outmoded as the Notre Dame Shift. But the plant still makes plenty of Dukes, which was the official ball of the NFL from 1941 to '70. "We've been the league's sole supplier of balls for almost 50 years," says Schultz. "Since the U.S. entered World War II, every pro touchdown, field goal and extra point has been made with a Wilson ball." Not to mention every fumble and every interception.
Wilson took over the factory from the Ohio-Kentucky Manufacturing Company in 1955 and the next year came up with balls made from a slightly tacky but "fumbleproof" skin known as "TD leather," the result of a special tanning process.
Since then, the changes haven't been so obvious, though Wilson now puts out an "exotic" line in fake crocodile, horned toad, elephant, ostrich—everything, it seems, but real pigskin. "Footballs have never been made out of pigs," says Dan Riegle, a hog farmer who works as the factory's purchasing manager. "You just can't throw a good spiral with a pig." Then again, footballs can't walk the extra 10 yards into the end zone. (No one is certain how pigskins came by their name, but there are historical references to 12th-century "futballe" players in England using inflated pig bladders as balls.)
Footballs have always been made out of cows, which is something everyone in Ada knows from the age of three. "You get about 10 balls to a hide, 20 to a steer," says Bill Cheney, a cutter. He's 58, and he's been at the plant for 42 years.