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Photo-story: Ada seamstress recounts her NFL career

Sitting in the Ada Public Library meeting room listening to a presentation by Jane Helser is a reminder that, yup, you really can’t judge a book by its cover. You wouldn’t guess that she’s rubbed elbows with NFL greats, until you take a peek at her memorabilia and photo albums from a 48-year career at the Wilson Sporting Goods football factory at 217 Liberty St. The factory is the sole manufacturer of NFL and Super Bowl footballs.

Her presentation title, 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 talents as a football sewer at the inaugural NLF Experience in Atlanta, Georgia. She says she was surprised to be asked to participate.

Helser may not seek the spotlight, but the spotlight has found her. She has been featured in the New York Times—in “A Seamstress Who Handed Off to the N.F.L. for 48 years”—and was featured on the ESPN+ series Peyton’s Places with Peyton Manning.

Remembering the day of the ESPN+ filming at her house, Helser says she was glad she didn’t know Manning would be there--It was stressful enough already. Having spent time around professional film crews, she noticed that something was strange about the atmosphere at the shoot. While paging through her photo albums at the kitchen table, Manning walks up from behind (he has to duck under the doorway) and starts asking questions. It takes a little while for Helser to discover that she’s been set up.

The experience with Manning is a high point in Helser’s history. She displays a Wilson uniform shirt signed by the record-holding NFL quarterback. Another surprise for the sewer was the joy some pro football players have found at the NFL Experience, when they were given the chance to make their own footballs. One such player has been sending Helser two dozen roses on Valentine’s Day for years.

The presentation also revealed that Helser is a highly skilled craftsperson with a great love for her work. She provided the audience at the Ada Historical Society event a glimpse at the making of NFL footballs, showing the football bladder and a die for cutting leather.

The event was a chance to rub elbows with—as one news story has described Helser—a “legendary seamstress” and to get an insider's perspective on the making of an American icon, the NFL football. 

Helser is featured in episode 12 of Peyton’s Places, “The Birth of the Ball,” which can be streamed HERE. A free clip is available HERE on Twitter.

Read the New York Times article on Jane Helser HERE.