How to Score a Super Bowl Football

GETTING a Super Bowl XXVIII game ball would be the ultimate prize for a sports-souvenir collector. But incomplete passes don't sail into the stands the way foul balls do in the World Series. If you want an official game ball, it isn't easy.

Seventy-two footballs with the official Super Bowl XXVIII logo will be sent to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, says Jim Calhoun, a spokesman for Wilson Sporting Goods, the company that makes the footballs. The game balls are hand picked by quality inspectors at Wilson's plant in Ada, Ohio.

But why 72 balls for a 60-minute game? Officials change balls after every kicking play, and many players want to keep them after touchdowns, especially in the Super Bowl. According to Jack Reader, the assistant director of National Football League officials, only 36 balls will actually be used - the same number as in a regular-season game. The rest are autographed by the teams and sent to the league commissioner to distribute for charity.

Not even the Pro Football Hall of Fame is guaranteed one of the Super pigskins, says Hall of Fame spokesman Don Smith. If they want a ball in Canton, Ohio, they must contact a team or the player who keeps a ball.

During the regular season, the Hall of Fame may talk to a player in advance if they foresee that he may break a record in a game. When Sterling Sharpe of the Green Bay Packers broke the all-time record for receptions in a single season this year, he agreed to give the Hall of Fame the ball for his record-breaking 112th catch.

The only sure way to get an actual Super Bowl game ball is to score a touchdown on Sunday. If you can't do that, you might wave to Alvin Harper of the Dallas Cowboys and hope that he tosses you the touchdown ball, as he did for one elated fan in last week's National Football Conference Championship game. Or you could console yourself by buying a look-alike. Wilson is shipping thousands of Super Bowl XXVIII footballs to stores. Suggested retail price: $99.

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