Some CFL players noticed subtle changes in the feel of the football at training camps this year.
Others were oblivious and were surprised when informed the league has introduced new balls.
The CFL rolled out a new football this season with harder leather and a slightly larger circumference.
The NFL’s Wilson ball — inscribed with the name ‘The Duke” in honour of football legend Wellington (Duke) Mara — was tested by the CFL last year.
The new CFL Wilson ball has the same laces and markings as the previous version, but the leather of The Duke.
“It’s just a nicer leather,” Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said.
“I think they come out of the box nicer. The biggest thing with the nicer leather is it wears in faster and it’s a better hold to it to me. The other ones, when they wore down they really were worn down.”
Quarterbacks had their hands on the new footballs the most in CFL training camps.
“It feels a little more aerodynamic, but it’s nothing crazy,” B.C. Lions quarterback Jon Jennings said.
When the CFL announced the ball overhaul in March, senior director of football operations Ryan Janzen said Wilson believes the leather holds pebble better.
“Once I did realize they were the new balls, I kind of compared them next to each other,” Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols said.
“I think they probably have a little bit better grip, at least for the way that I like them.”
Saskatchewan Roughrider quarterback Brandon Bridge hopes the new ball will be easier to hang on to in wet weather.
“The old CFL balls, it was just so hard to even get a grip of,” he said. “The NFL ball is pretty good whenever it rains.”
Montreal Alouettes receiver Chris Williams noticed a distinct difference between the feel and size of the old and new editions.
“You can definitely tell it’s a little bit harder than the other one,” he said. “As a receiver, it just makes us focus even more because it’s coming and it’s going to be hard and you’d better catch it for your safety.
“A little bigger. For me it helps. I can see it a little bit easier and it’s more surface area to catch, easier on the hands and all that. I like it so far.”
The Canadian ball is inscribed with the name of CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie. An official CFL ball retails for $135.
Stampeder receiver Marken Michel says he doesn’t notice a difference when Mitchell throws to him because he caught NFL balls in off-season training.
Canadian teammate Anthony Parker also said the ball felt the same to him.
“To be honest, when Bo is throwing you that ball, they always feel hard,” Parker said. “They look the same, they feel the same, but apparently the guys not wearing gloves do notice it a little bit.”
Lions quarterback Travis Lulay was among those in the don’t-care camp when it came to the new balls.
“If you hadn’t said anything, I don’t think I would know (there’s been a change),” Lulay said.
“I’ve never been one of those guys who are super particular about the balls, and I’ve tried to train myself that way, because I hate when I get into a game and the ball feels foreign.”
It’s been the laces, not the leather, that’s forced American quarterbacks to adjust their grip upon arrival in Canada.
“That’s a huge difference because the CFL lace is a raised rubber and the NFL lace is very low on the ball,” explained Calgary quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who was a rookie last season.
“The ball at the beginning may feel big in the CFL because the laces are raising your hand on the ball.”
— Bill Beacon in Montreal, Judy Owen in Winnipeg, Darren Steinke in Saskatoon and Lowell Ullrich in Kamloops, B.C., contributed to this story.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press