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A perfect way to honor legends

History. Tradition. Legacy.

When you think of the Steelers, you think of those three words.

And when you think of those who will be inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor, they are individuals who helped form that history, tradition and legacy.

So it only makes sense that when they are honored with induction into the Hall of Honor during the team's Alumni Weekend on Nov. 25-26, they are presented with something that embodies the history of the team.

Each Hall of Honor inductee will receive a replica of a steel football presented by the United States Steel Corporation and United Steel Workers to Art Rooney Sr. to commemorate the Steelers 50th Season in 1982. 

"We wanted to do something to replicate the football that was given to my grandfather during that celebration," said team President Art Rooney II. "We feel that this will be something special to give to those we induct into the Hall of Honor, and carry on the Steelers tradition. We think it's something that everyone will be happy with."

The footballs are being designed and produced by Matthews International, the oldest manufacturing company in Pittsburgh, in business since 1850.

"We have a great sense of pride in the shop," said Bernie Kuhn, production manager for Matthews. "These craftsmen and craftswomen throughout the facility, they do this day in and day out. When there was the opportunity to work with the Steelers, it's something everyone was excited about."

While the actual process of making the footballs takes a week in production with around 25 people working on it, the entire project has been a labor of love for all involved, starting with an idea and putting it together to be a piece that will stand the test of time.

"Just like everything, we never make the same thing twice," said Michael Slack, President of architecture products for Matthews. "We start with a pattern. We get image on pattern and impress it in sand. Then we have a cavity of the football that we'll fill. And finally we put it into an artisan's hands to apply the right patina finish and get the right look, luster, and bring out the highlights."

The steps are ones where precision is required, from the right kind of sand, including an extremely fine sand all the way to a binder sand that has glue in it. Once that cavity is created, the fill is added and melted at a mere 2,350 degrees. It's cooled for 30 minutes, then the sand is smashed off to reveal the football. And then, the finishing touches.

"For the Steelers we are using a unique finish we never used before," said Slack. "We brought a local artisan in to teach us how to apply the finish so we can match the ball the United States Steel Corporation gave to Art Rooney Sr. It's something we have never done before and we are doing it just for the Steelers."

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