From shaving cream to pressure gauges, preparing and then protecting the game balls for Sunday's Grey Cup is a meticulous process.
A whopping 48 game balls will be methodically prepared for Sunday's Canadian Football League championship game at TD Place in Ottawa, then given to league officials 90 minutes before game time; the officials guard them carefully through the game.
The two competitors – the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders – will each bring 12 balls to be used by their own squads on offence. The Grey Cup host club – the Ottawa Redblacks this year – prepares 24 kicking balls.
Those kicking balls are brand-new, delivered to Ottawa Thursday from the Wilson factory in Ada, Ohio, printed with a logo for the 105th Grey Cup.
The Redblacks equipment staff lathered each with a shaving cream that includes aloe to soften up the leather and make the ball less rigid. That is left on for about 20 minutes. The kicking balls were then wiped off and brushed with tack, using a horse brush. The wax gives the ball some grip. They are inflated to 13 pounds per square inch and measured using a pressure gauge.
"It's quite a process," said R.J. James, head equipment manager for the Ottawa Redblacks. "We take a lot of pride in it, because you want consistency among all the game balls."
Typically for a regular-season game, the kicking balls carry over from game to game, but brand-new ones are used for the championship game. The CFL wants many to get used in the game so a consistently high-quality ball is always in the game. That also means more will be available for other purposes later – such as being auctioned, made gifts or archived in some sort of museum or Hall of Fame.
The Stampeders and Argonauts each sent a kicker and equipment manager to inspect the kicking balls prepared by the Redblacks. Each team received a couple of extra balls so they could practice with them, but those extras will never get into Sunday's game.
The balls to be used on offence have already been used this week in practices by each team, broken in to the liking of each quarterback. The teams submit the game balls to officials 90 minutes before the game.
"We have a very strict policy," said Darren Hackwood, the CFL's head of officiating. "Once they present them to officials, they can't have them back. Our guys measure them with a gauge to make sure the pressure is to specifications. They are then guarded in the officials' locker room until game time and, during the game, we have a four-person team that watches and manages the game balls on the sidelines."
The weather will be a big factor in how many balls get used. If it snows or rains – as the forecast for Ottawa suggests – more of the balls will cycle in and out of the game, so a dry, clean one is being used as often as possible. But balls won't be switched out too often – keeping the game moving quickly is also a big priority.
The ball used in the kickoff of a Grey Cup game is typically removed from the game and set aside for the Hall of Fame.