"CRAZY. OVERWHELMING. EXCITING."
Lockstitch Operator, 4 years
"IT'S A GOOD FEELING TO KNOW THAT WHAT WE WE MAKE
IS GOOD ENOUGH TO BE ON THE WORLD STAGE."
Lacer, 32 years
On her first day of work in 1986, Donna Conley learned the craft of lacing footballs from the same teacher who taught her the most important lessons in life, her mother. “If you’re going to do a job, do it right, and take pride in what you do” she says, recounting the values her mother instilled in her from day one. With such a strong foundation, it’s no wonder Donna has become a stalwart of the craft, lacing footballs in Wilson’s factory for over 32 years.
The factory is so ingrained in Donna’s life, it’s become much more than a place of work. “There’s a lot of history here in this building”, she says, alluding to the fact that her mother, aunts, sister, brothers, cousins, and now her nephew Jimmy have all worked in the football factory. She even met her husband, a turner, in the football factory – although it did take them a year on the job together before he asked her out. “(The factory) has been a steady part of my life.”
With so much experience, the constant, unchanging process of crafting footballs could easily begin to feel routine, but Super Bowl time always energizes the building. “There’s more excitement” she says, “you come in early in the morning and you know it’s go time.” For her, few things can match the swell of pride when seeing the football on-field on Super Bowl Sunday, saying “It’s a good feeling to know that what me make is good enough to be on the world stage.”
“You know that everybody that has touched that ball has put their best effort into it. It’s special to see it on the field.”
"BEING AROUND THIS PLACE FOR BASICALLY 42 YEARS NOW, IT'S ALWAYS BEEN A FAMILY THING TO ME."
Turner, 10 years
The official records will show that Jimmy Conley has been working as a turner at Wilson’s football factory for 10 years. What that won’t tell you though, is that Jimmy’s journey into the craft started much earlier, when he was just 10 years old. Jimmy’s father, a turner at the factory for 20 years, noticed his son’s intrigue, and sat him down at the kitchen table with a broom stick to teach him how to turn a football.
“To my surprise, it was a lot tougher than I thought” Jimmy recalls with a chuckle. The surprising physicality to that integral part of the football-making process didn’t scare him away though, and Jimmy would eventually find his own way to the factory – doing that same job his father taught him as a boy. “Being around this place for basically 42 years now, it’s always been a family thing to me,” he says of his experience with the factory, at which his Aunt and Uncle both currently work. “I’ve known most of these people for most of my life.”
It’s that family connection and passion that got Jimmy interested in football in the first place, citing his father as his inspiration. “He just wanted us to fall in love with it like he did.” Now Jimmy has the chance to pass that love of the game onto his own kids, who he coaches in youth football. As a turner in the factory, he has the unique position of making the balls for the Super Bowl, as well that balls the go out to youth teams like the one he coaches. “The way my kids’ faces light up when I tell them I made that football,” he says, “it really puts things into perspective.”
Whether it’s on-field on the biggest stage or just one of his practices, Jimmy demands perfection in every ball he turns. On Super Bowl Sunday, it all comes full circle. “I know the pride and effort and dedication that we put into making these footballs,” he says, “this is a big stage for us.”
This year, Jimmy will be attending the Super Bowl for the first time, and his easily identifiable tattoos will help him stand-out among the craftsmen and women making footballs on-site – many of which are tributes to his family that influenced him so greatly. “That’s just a reminder everyday of why I get up and do what I do.”
"I'M JUST THANKFUL I CAN WAKE UP EVERY DAY AND
GO TO A JOB THAT I LOVE AND I'M GOOD AT."
Lacer, 24 years