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January 1, 2012

A football for the rest of us

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If you're an NFL quarterback, spinning a regulation football comes with the teritory.

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For the rest of us, throwing a perfect spiral with one is more likely to be an accident than a routine occurrence.

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Now comes Paul Cunningham of Glen Rock, New Jersey, who hand makes regular guy- (and girl)-friendly throwing footballs one at a time from start to finish, using heavy duty boot leather and rawhide laces, each iteration distinct and unique.

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Lifetime warranty.

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These footballs, designed to fit comfortably in the hand of a layman, were brought to the attention of the greater world when Jason Gay's article, headlined "Is This the Perfect Football?", appeared in the December 15, 2011 Wall Street Journal.

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Excerpts follow.

Cunningham would try to grip the NFL's official ball — "The Duke" — and it never felt right. The Duke was rocklike, intimidating. It may have made sense in Ken Stabler's hand, but not Cunningham's.

"Most guys can't throw that ball," Cunningham says, flipping a Duke over. "It's huge! It's always been uncomfortable for me."

So Cunningham tweaked around with a new kind of football. He found soft, supple boot leather at a tannery in Maine. He kept his design simple — rawhide laces, almost no print on the outside. Most important, he made it smaller, easier to grip than the iconic pro model.

"I designed it for my hand," he says. "It was just a ball that guys could hold and throw."

The ball, nicknamed the Handsome Dan (an homage to Yale's bulldog mascot and Cunningham's brother, Dan), was an immediate success. It sells for $120 and put Cunningham's company, Leather Head Sports, on the radar of style blogs and menswear magazines. "Footballs started making real money," Cunningham says.

Cunningham flips the Handsome Dan over.

It's impossible not to grip it and want to chuck it around. The worn-looking leather evokes a whiff of nostalgia — one can imagine Bronko Nagurski charging up the middle with one — but it's warm, forgiving.

"It wants to be played with," Cunningham says. "It doesn't want to sit on a shelf. And frankly, the ball improves dramatically with some use."

Leather Head doesn't have an ad budget. There's no PR person. He doesn't want to make a hard sell.

Paul Cunningham grips the football that changed his life. There's no TV spot, no billboard ad, no celebrity endorsement needed. Just throw it. That's the sale.

Apply here and here.

January 1, 2012 at 01:01 PM | Permalink


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