June 9, 2006

Calvillo comes to grips with new CFL ball

Alouettes pivot adjusts as pigskin changes its stripes

By Herb Zurkowsky,
Montreal Gazette

Anthony Calvillo has spent most of his life passing a football, and as a professional quarterback, touches the ball on every offensive play.

So, when he learned this winter that the CFL was considering changing its design, he had obvious concerns – especially when he tested it during the winter and had trouble adapting. The Alouettes veteran wasn’t enamoured with the ball through the opening days of training camp, either.

“I’m not used to it yet,” he said at the time. “At times, I’m throwing a curve, because my finger catches the thread. I’m having a difficult part, mentally, getting used to the new balls.”

That was then and this is now. As Calvillo prepared for last night’s start – his first this season – against Winnipeg in an exhibition game, he gave the new ball his blessing.

“I have no problem or issues at this point,” said Calvillo, entering his 13th season. “It was just a matter of getting used to it.”

It might not be discernable to fans in the Molson Stadium stands, but the CFL has made a subtle change to the pigskin. The two white stripes on the ball are now sewn on instead of painted. The size of the stripe also increased by 30 per cent. In the past, the painted stripes became slick and, in one game last season, the paint actually came off.

The new ball, it’s hoped, will be easier to grip in wet conditions. Whether that will mean a decrease in fumbles and interceptions remains to be seen. A similar ball has been used at the U.S. college level for more than a year.

“The grippable area isn’t as slick,” said Jim Sanderson, business director/team sports for Wilson, which manufactures the ball in its Ohio factory. “The quarterback and receivers, when they pull the ball off, this should help them with the passing game.”

The weight of the ball hasn’t changed, so the kicking game probably won’t be affected.

Wilson, which has been working with the CFL for more than a decade, approached the league during the winter after making the modifications. Team equipment managers received the ball in February to sample. Calvillo’s initial displeasure came after throwing inside a gymnasium.

He was among the minority.

“We had some issues with the striping,” explained Kevin McDonald, CFL manager (football operations/player personnel). “We threw it around with the equipment managers. Some teams tested the ball over the winter. The feedback was favourable, so we made the decision. We relied on the test results and conversations with the clubs.”

Als centre Bryan Chiu, who like Calvillo, touches the ball on every play, never had any issue. “A lot’s in your head,” he said. “It’s the same size and shape. It’s just that the stripes come out and aren’t flush with the ball. It never affected me. My job’s to snap. My thumb’s in the same spot.”