Occasionally we can’t resist a good story swap with the Ada icon. Here’s a piece of local history being told at an event hosted by the Ada Historical Society.
ADA—Sitting in the briefing room at the Ada Public Library and listening to a presentation by Jane Helser reminds us that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. You wouldn’t guess she’s rubbed elbows with NFL greats until you take a look at her memorabilia and photo albums from her 48-year career at Wilson Sporting Goods’ football factory at 217 Liberty St. The factory is the sole manufacturer of NFL and Super Bowl footballs.
The title of her talk, “My time at the Wilson Football Factory,” is perhaps a bit of an understatement. Helser has attended ten Super Bowl games and first demonstrated her talent as a football seamstress at the inaugural NLF Experience in Atlanta, Georgia. She says she was surprised when she was asked to participate.
Helser may not seek the limelight, but she found the limelight. She was featured in The New York Times in “A Seamstress Passed to the NFL for 48 Years” and on the ESPN+ series “Peyton’s Places” with Peyton Manning.
Helser recalls the day ESPN+ was filming at her home and says she’s glad she didn’t know Manning would be there — it was stressful enough as it is. After spending some time with professional film crews, she noticed that there was something odd about the atmosphere on set. As she leafs through her photo albums at the kitchen table, Manning approaches from behind (he has to duck under the door) and begins asking questions. It takes a while for Helser to discover that she has been duped.
The Manning experience is a high point in Helser’s history. She shows off a Wilson jersey signed by the NFL quarterback who holds the record. Another surprise for the sewers was the delight of some soccer pros at the NFL Experience when they got the chance to make their own soccer balls. One of those players has been sending Helser two dozen roses for Valentine’s Day for years.
The presentation also showed that Helser is a highly skilled craftswoman with great love for her work. She gave the audience at the Ada Historical Society event an insight into how NFL footballs are made by showing the football bladder and a punch used to cut leather.
The event was an opportunity to rub elbows with what one news article called Helser, a “legendary seamstress,” and get an insider’s look at the making of an American icon, NFL football.
Helser can be seen on Peyton’s Places Episode 12, The Birth of the Ball, which can be streamed HERE. A free clip is available HERE on twitter.
Read the New York Times article about Jane Helser HERE.