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# Daily Life & Activities / Sports

## Super Bowl Cows

A football is often referred to as a “pigskin,” though it’s been a long time since that term was accurate. Modern day footballs are made out of cow leather, which is manufactured from the hides of slaughtered cattle. That got us at Book of Odds wondering: Forget human beings, what are the odds a cow will make it to the Super Bowl?

Let’s see. There are roughly 66.2 million adult cattle in the United States; of those, 1 in 1.99 are slaughtered every year. Wilson Sporting Goods®, the official supplier of footballs to the NFL, manufactures about 2 million footballs per year. Of those, about 700,000 are regulation NFL footballs.

According to the Wilson website, one hide can produce 15-25 footballs. Taking the midpoint of 20, that means that roughly 35,000 cow hides are used to manufacture regulation NFL footballs. How many of those are actually used by the National Football League?

Well, NFL rules require that a team provide 36 new balls for each outdoor game and 24 for each indoor game, as well as 12 balls used solely for kicking, regardless of the venue. There are eight NFL teams that play in domed stadiums; since each team plays eight home games per year, that’s a total of 64 games requiring 36 new balls. The other 24 teams play outdoors; they play a total of 192 home games, each requiring 48 new balls. Multiplying through, we find that NFL teams must use 11,520 footballs every regular season.

But this is only half the story: We also need to account for the playoffs. There are 10 playoff games every postseason, not counting the Super Bowl. If we assume that the average playoff game requires the same number of balls as a regular season game, we can simply divide 11,520 by 256 (the total number of games played every season), and multiply by 10. We find that NFL teams use another 450 balls during the playoffs.

The Super Bowl is its own entity. To be on the safe side, the NFL orders 76 balls specifically for the big game. In total, then, we’re looking at 12,046 game balls used per year. That seems about right; in a phone interview, a Wilson representative told us that they distribute around 12,800 footballs to the NFL every year, leaving around 750 extras for various uses.

Let us get back to our cows. We found earlier that the hide of one cow can make about 20 footballs, which translates to 35,000 hides a year going into the manufacture of regulation NFL footballs. With 1 in 1.99 adult cattle being slaughtered every year, 1 in 952.4 cows that are slaughtered will see their hides turn into an NFL football. Of those, 1 in 58.11 will be used in an NFL game. And of those, about 1 in 158.5 will make it to the Super Bowl. Multiplying all those numbers through, what are the odds a randomly chosen cow will see its hide made into a football used in the Super Bowl?

Just around 1 in 17,420,000.

Which is about the same as the odds a person will be diagnosed with the plague in a year: 1 in 17,610,000.

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anonymous

The math is flawed, per their website Wilson provides each team with 54 practice balls, 54 game balls, and 6 kicker balls for the superbowl, for a total of 228 balls not the 76 mentioned above.

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zturpin

Seriously, folks, the Houston Chronicle photo is illuminating:

http://www.chron.com/sports/photogallery/The_making_of_Super_Bowl_footballs.html#20272776

In the picture, Wilson's leather cutter cuts many panels from a single large strip of hide. Given the size, presumably she uses few total hides. Those few hides constitute a non-random source of panels. And the panels -- that pointy-oval shape is called a 'vesica' -- are cut specifically for the Super Bowl balls.

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Flying Goat

Actually, the odds are zero. If the hide of a randomly chosen cow is, in fact, used to make a football used in the Superbowl, the cow presumably won't have been seeing much at all for quite some time.

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stomv

I submit that you may be off by a factor of 4.

A football has four panels, sewn together (inside out) to form the football. What makes you think that the four panels all come from the same cow? If not -- if, in fact, they come from 4 random selections of the 48,000ish panels, then you've got four times the number of cows showing up. This ignores the slight chance of drawing two panels from the same cow randomly, and so it's a slight approximation. The point stands:

*if* the panels of the football are selected randomly (not from the same cow), then roughly 4 times as many cows are likely to end up in the Super Bowl.

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horsttesten

Hello,
maybe my first post was not clear enough. I do not doubt, that whoever makes footballs will make about 20 footballs from any given hide.
What I doubt is, that somebody says: This is a wonderfull hide, lets make 20 footballs and mark them as Superbowl footballs. (Although of course nothing is impossible,) I just assume that the criterion for a Superbowl football ist that it is the best football (best meaning best complying with the regulations) and that there is no regulation that all Superbowl footballs have to come from the least number of different cows.

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chefsven

Now this begs the question, how many NFL footballs are given an endearing name like say 'Emily' 'Hortensia' or matbe just something simple like 'Moo baby'?

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IStan

totally agree with localneighbors.

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localneighbors

You guys have waaaaay tooo much time on your hands

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zturpin

@horttesten - On 3 Feb, 2010, the Houston Chronicle ran a photo essay on the hand-crafting of Super Bowl footballs. On slide 2 of 17, you can see Wilson's leather cutter, Michelle Burkett, cutting the panels for the Super Bowl XLIV balls from a large sheet of leather:

http://www.chron.com/sports/photogallery/The_making_of_Super_Bowl_footballs.html#20272776

It's unclear how many of those large hide-sheets Wilson uses to make the Super Bowl gameballs, but it's obvious from the picture that they don't use 76 separate hides for 76 separate balls. JB24's got it right: those Wilson folks are economical.

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JB24

@ horsttesten - If you ran a football manufacturing plant wouldn't you create your product with the least amount of input material as possible? Cow leather costs money, no doubt.

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horsttesten

Funny but unfortunatly wrong.
Gassko and Stancyk computed the probability of a cattle in a given year making the superbowl under the assumption that the 76 superbowl footballs are made from the least number of cattle hides possible. You can sum up the article in two sentences:
One needs 3.8 cattle to make 76 footballs (76/20). The odds a cattle makes it into the supberbowl this year are 66.2 million divided by 3,8 which gives you a 1 in 17.42 million chance.
A better analysis is:
All cattle are eventually killed and their hides are used. So for the probability a cattle makes it into the superbowl, you just need to consider the year the cattle dies. Thus you start with the 66.2/1,99 million cattle that die every year.
Then you need to ask yourself: How many cows make it into the superbowl every year. At least 4, since you need 3,8 hides to make the 76 footballs. But how likely is it that out of the 700,000 NFL regulation footballs you select the 76 footballs from just 4 cattle hides? It is much more likely that the footballs come all from different hides. Thus 76 cattle make it into the superbowl every year. 66.2 million divided by 1.99 divided by 76 equals about 1 in 438,000 cattle make it into the superbowl. This probability is about 8 times less likely than that for a highschool male (chance 1 in 64,000 from an earlier post on this site) but still much higher than the original estimate of 1 in 17.42 million.

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ashapiro

Gassko and Stancyk rock

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