BROCKTON — The Pats may have been sent packing, but every play made in Sunday’s big game will still have a touch of New England in it.
In Brockton, the Super Bowl story lines will go beyond the retirement of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and the coaching showdown between the Harbaugh brothers. Here, it’s all about the game ball.
For the past 30 years, Brockton Plastics, now called Creative Extrusion & Technologies Inc., has manufactured the laces on every official NFL football under an exclusive contract with the Wilson Sporting Goods Co., which makes the footballs at its factory in Ada, Ohio.
For employees of the family-owned company, it’s still exciting to see their work featured on a nationwide stage every week, but particularly in the Super Bowl, one of the most-watched sporting events in the world, said Melissa Hopkins, principal and chief operating officer.
“It’s a little hoot for our employees because we do so many different components for so many things, but when they see the laces in a game, or see it on the football, they really can see something that we’ve done,” Hopkins said. “Our kids, every time we watch a game, they say ‘Great laces!’ or ‘Look at those laces!’ They get a kick out of it.”
Company president John Hopkins, Melissa’s brother, said he still catches himself looking for a good shot of the laces on television.
“They’ll do some up-close shots, especially when the kickers are kicking, they’ll show the laces,” he said.
There will be plenty of chances to catch glimpses of the company’s product Sunday night. According to Wilson, which has manufactured the official ball used by the National Football League since 1941, 120 footballs are used during the Super Bowl.
Each ball is made of four equally sized leather panels cut and stitched together at Wilson’s Ohio factory, with an opening left for inserting its air bladder. Once the bladder is in, the opening is hand-laced closed with a 46- to 50-inch-long strip of material made by Creative Extrusion.
“Every time we watch a football game,” Melissa Hopkins quipped, “we just pray to God that it doesn’t unravel.”
The lace is still made from the original three-decades-old formula created by Wilson and Brockton Plastics, John Hopkins said. He is guarded about the exact formula, but said the lace is made from a PVC resin compound and other materials that come together as a diminutive pellet. Thousands of those pellets are then heated up until they melt into a pliable substance that can be pushed and shaped through a die.
“It’s like a pasta machine pushing out a piece of pasta,” he said. “It looks simple, but there’s a lot of complicated parts to it.”
John estimates that the company manufactures at least 30,000 laces a month for all Wilson-made footballs, not just for NFL use. Creative Extrusion also makes laces from different formulas for footballs manufactured for retail sales, as well as for youth, high school, and college teams. The family company also has contracts with the likes of Nike and Rawlings.
“We make hundreds of thousands of yards of lace a year,” John said. “We’re one of the major suppliers of football laces, and the largest domestically. We make over 100,000 yards a month in laces.”
Despite its big-name clients, the company employs just 25 to 35 people, many of whom have been with the company for 10 to 15 years. Creative Extrusion itself is the product of a merger between Brockton Plastics, which did business under the name Rextrude, and the Algers Corp., a manufacturer of leather and fabric components. The company makes everything from football laces to the insulation for electrical staples to parts for windows and doors.
Algers was founded in Brockton in 1914, and was purchased by the Hopkins family in the 1930s, said John, 56, who started sweeping the factory floors at age 9. Brockton Plastics opened in the early ’50s.
Both companies are a vestige of Brockton’s mighty manufacturing past as the shoe capital of the world. Shoe manufacturing work began to be shifted overseas in the early 1980s, and the Hopkins siblings decided Algers needed to diversify, John said.
“It was hard to find customers,” he said. “Customers would fall like every year, and you couldn’t replace them.”
In its heyday, Algers produced leather and fabric components for the luggage, sporting goods, and shoe industries, with clients including L.L.Bean and Florsheim. The niche now represents just about 5 percent of the company’s business, John said.
“We did pipings for computer cases, we did some piping for some golf bag manufacturing, things like that,” he said. “Speed bags, we did that. The cowboy boot, that was one of the last shoe types to leave the country.”
In 1993, the siblings began talks with the family who owned Brockton Plastics to purchase the company, after their mutual accountant suggested the move. By 1996, the deal was done.
Staying in this hardscrabble city has worked out for their company, the Hopkins siblings said, because of its good employee base and its proximity to major highways.
“We’ve seen businesses go in and out, certainly, but I think the administration, the [City Council are] always trying to attract business,” Melissa said.
Mary Waldron, executive director of Brockton 21 Century Corporation, a private nonprofit serving as the city’s economic development agency, said it’s “very cool” that the NFL football’s laces are made locally.
“There are so many things that are here in the city that blow you away, like Montilio’s bakery, they bake for presidents, governors,” she said. “If we take our time and do an inventory, it’s amazing there are companies that have been here hundreds of years. Just surviving in this community and being in business for so many years is a success.”
Mayor Linda M. Balzotti said she is glad Creative Extrusion is among the companies that continue to call Brockton home.
“I think it’s great that the City of Champions is being represented in the Super Bowl,” said Balzotti, who admitted still feeling the sting of the New England Patriots’ elimination from the playoffs.
“But frankly, I’ll be waiting for Beyonce at halftime; that’ll be my thing this year.”
Visit http://bo.st/brocktonlaces to see John Hopkins talk about football laces.